New City Hall should include a public restroom
Scott Burlingame, Minot
As the Minot City Council moves forward with plans to move City Hall downtown into the old Wells Fargo building, we have an opportunity to leverage this opportunity to build publically available and fully accessible restrooms downtown.
In working with people with disabilities and those living with the effects of aging, I can tell you the lack of available and accessible restrooms is a major deterrent to many making use of the downtown area. For a few years now, a group of advocates I work with has set a goal of having one publically available accessible restroom on each block in downtown Minot.
Let’s look at who benefits from this:
Who Benefits from a Public Restroom in City Hall?
1. Businesses: Make no mistake, in a perfect world, every single business in our city would have a publicly and ADA accessible restroom. I hope that through continued advocacy efforts, we will get to a point in the future. Unfortunately, we are years from that reality. Right now, the cost of putting fully accessible public restrooms into every business creates an undue hardship for many small businesses.
There are many benefits to area businesses of public restrooms. First off, restrooms draw in people. The number one reason people stop in a town when traveling is to use the restroom. Once they use that restroom, they are four times more likely to spend money in that town than if they had not used a restroom.
If somebody is already downtown, we want to keep them there. There is a direct correlation between how long a consumer spends in an area, and how much they spend. We want them to stay longer, and spending more. We can’t have them leaving as soon as nature calls.
2. People with Disabilities and the Elderly: People with disabilities, the elderly, and their friends and family represent a significant part of our economy. In working with this population my entire life, I can tell you they make decisions on where they go based on the availability of accessible restrooms. It doesn’t matter how great the stores are, how good the food is, or many events are held downtown, people will not participate if restrooms do not exist.
3. Tourists and Visitors: Tourism should be a growing part of our economy. We want people from all over coming to our town and enjoying what we have to offer. In order to do that, must make sure people are more likely to feel comfortable visiting. They will feel more welcome if they won’t have to search all over for a bathroom.
4. Homeless People: As I have been talking about the need for a public restroom, I have received feedback that they may just be used by homeless people. I think we need to lean into that rather than avoid it. Minot has a homeless crisis and it is getting worse. We need a better community solution and I welcome a much longer and more nuanced discussion around that. However, part of the solution has to start with helping people regain dignity from what is likely the worst moment of their lives. We don’t help them do that if they have to sneak into a business in which they are not a customer to use the restroom. We don’t do that if we force them to use the restroom outside. We can and should give them a place to go with dignity.
A public restroom can also serve as a place for our community providers who are addressing homeliness to provide information and offer support.
5. The Taxpayers of Minot: The City Hall should be the people’s building. Most citizens of Minot will never attend a City Council meeting, serve on a board or commission, or have a meeting with city staff. By making a public restroom part of the new City Hall it allows many more people to get tangible benefits from this massive investment.
All across the country, cities are creating public restrooms as a tool for making communities stronger. If accessible public restrooms can happen in cities all over the country, it can happen in Minot. We just need to understand the benefits of it and find ways to make it happen.
A public restroom as part of a downtown City Hall will be a win for everyone.