Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where to Go in Vancouver

Vandals have broken into Scotland Yard and smashed all the toilets. Police say they have nothing to go on.
-- The Two Ronnies

One of the "causes du jour" in my day job as media relations guy for the BC Electric Railway Company is the desire for public restrooms at transit stations. I won't go into the entire debate here, but it leads to a broader issue: public restrooms in general. The City of Vancouver has again approached us at Gospel Mission about keeping The Lord's Rain open in the evenings, seven nights a week, to give people a place to go. We sent them a budget; we're waiting for their response. (A similar overture in 2009 came up short for lack of funding.)
I don't mind saying: if a politician were to add "public restrooms" to his or her platform, I think they'd be surprised at how that might turn the election. They'd get my vote, anyway. The heck with the current mayor's obsession on making Vancouver "the greenest city" or "wiping out homelessness by 2015" (as if!): providing a clean, safe place where someone can go to the bathroom is symbolic of actually caring about someone's comfort and well-being.

"Going green" more often than not implies giving up something: the car, creature comforts, warmth in the winter -- even a job in resource-based industries. I think people are getting tired of being told to give something up. Besides: I promise you that the majority of people on the Downtown East Side don't give a hang about being eco-friendly when they're living in substandard conditions, surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty. But turn the "greenest city" efforts towards providing said clean, safe place to go to the bathroom, and people will actually see that someone truly cares.

(How about a 21st-Century take on 1st Corinthians 13, from - ahem - my book A Very Convenient Truth, soon to be e-published?)
Though I speak with words of tolerance and use inoffensive terms for racial and gender descriptions, and have not love, I am like a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I understand all the implications of my carbon footprint and recycle diligently and use public transit and eschew my private auto for the sake of creating a greener city; and have not love, I am nothing.
And though I devote my spare time to fighting for social and ecological justice and quit my job even when I can’t afford to because I believe my employer does not use proper environmental practices, and have not love, it profits me nothing.
At any rate, we get so hung up on being "friendly". "Bike-friendly," "car-friendly," "business-friendly," or "family friendly", but the simple pledge to provide something as basic as a place to relieve oneself can put the city on track to something I haven't heard much lately:
People friendly.

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