Crapping on Cambridge’s First Public Crapper

The city is opening its first public toilet this Friday. How long before someone overdoses in it?

first public toilet cambridge

I’ve peed on the streets of Cambridge—more than once, in fact. Faced with a long walk home after hours of being over-served by heavy-handed barkeeps, I’ve ducked into shadowy alleys to empty my bladder. Gross? Sure. Illegal? Definitely. But I’m far from the only perpetrator.

Hoping to reduce the volume of urine spilled on the streets, the People’s Republic is having a grand opening for its first public toilet. Think: a less portable, slightly sleeker Porta-Potty dropped into Harvard Square’s General MacArthur Park. It’s inspired by the “Portland Loo,” weighs approximately 6,000 pounds, and—according to the Harvard Crimson—costs $90,000, plus the additional $400,000 in installation costs.

The city has hailed the common commode as a “simple, sturdy, graffiti-resistant, flush toilet kiosk” that is “safe” and “clean” and will be accessible 24 hours. Sounds great. Really. But let’s not get carried away.

First, claiming that the structure is resistant to graffiti is preposterous. Sure, the slick coating may render cans of Krylon and fat paint markers ineffective, but graffiti artists are a creative bunch, and they absolutely love stickers. Give a good tagger a roll of blank USPS postage labels and they’ll blanket the city, public pisser included. And let’s not forget that our vandals are bold and brash—they’ve thrown up pieces on vintage trolley cars and scrawled eyesores across the Boston Public Library. When they get wind of this allegedly graffiti-resistant toilet, it’ll be a race to the bottom to see who can make their mark first.

Putting overwrought claims of graffiti-proof finishes aside, there’s a dark inevitably tied to the public bathroom: It’s only a matter of time before someone overdoses in it. As the Boston Globe pointed out, one of the driving forces behind the bathroom was Christ Church Cambridge’s decision to close its public restrooms following a spat of overdoses.

Our shortsighted disdain for supervised injection sites—sanctioned safe areas where trained personnel ensure that people don’t die after shooting up—leads drug users to take incredible risks, like locking themselves in a bathroom late at night to inject a potentially lethal amount of heroin into their forearm. When that first overdose occurs, people will almost certainly grouse. They’ll look past the root causes in favor of lamenting how the heroin crisis is so bad that people are dying in Harvard Square’s half-a-million-dollar public bathroom.

Of course, for the vast majority of folks, the public bathroom will be a safe reprieve, an oasis of waste disposal. And I’m sure next time I find myself teetering through Harvard Square with a boozy bladder about to bust, I’ll thank the lord for the people’s loo, no matter how bad it smells.