If you’ve ever been downtown for Art Walk or any other special event, you’ve probably noticed a few consistent elements. You’ll almost always find food trucks, local vendors, and some sort of live music playing.
But there’s another, far less desirable sight that you can count on: rows of port-a-potties set up near the main stretch of activity.
Those lovely portable toilets, as unsightly as they may be, are an unfortunate necessity in downtown Jax. There are no readily-accessible, permanent public restrooms downtown – and there haven’t been since the city sealed off the old Hemming Park restrooms back in the ‘70s.
Those who are too skittish to visit a port-a-potty usually have to duck into places like the library or the Landing to try to find a “clean” restroom. (The Landing’s restrooms, it should be noted, are just a tiny step above a port-a-potty in quality.)
There are some obvious reasons why the city has avoided building stand-alone public restrooms. They require frequent cleaning and maintenance, as well as security to keep crime away – part of why the Hemming bathrooms bit the dust decades ago.
Jax is also certainly not the only major city to avoid providing downtown restrooms. Downtown Miami just opened its first public restroom in 2018.
That being said, cities across the country have managed to come up with safe, cost-efficient methods for providing public restrooms downtown. New design innovations have allowed for easier cleaning and monitoring of activity. And given Hemming Park’s already-intense police surveillance, placing a restroom nearby would make the most sense logistically.
Also, the lack of public restrooms means that those who spend a lot of time wandering around downtown – such as the city’s homeless population – are more likely to use the streets as a substitute. If you’ve ever walked around downtown and felt like you smelled urine, you were probably right.
If the city is hoping to continue its downtown growth and foster a reputation for innovation, providing permanent, stand-alone public restrooms should be considered a major priority going forward.