Simon Akam (NYT - free registration required) writes about the dearth of automated public toilets (APTs) in New York. Only one is running today; the plan is for 20 throughout the five boroughs, one day.
The APT project is part of a larger deal between the city and a company seeking to also build bus shelters, newsstands, and bike lots - paying the city for the privilege - in return for the ad space from which the company plans to profit.
The project, as one would guess about any effort to improve life in the Big Apple, has suffered numerous hassles, including the need to secure sewage and water hookups, connect phone lines (for automated trouble reports), and deal with at least one neighborhood's complaints that the steel crappers somehow don't resemble pieces of Victorian architecture.
Will adding 20 public toilets make life in New York more livable? Consider Akam's description of the city's one working model: "Inside, revealed for the admission price of 25 cents, is gleaming metalwork and a machine that dispenses toilet paper while making a mewling sound like that of a small wounded animal."
Read the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/nyregion/31toilets.html