Open-air urinals spark outrage in scenic Paris neighbourhood
'We need urinals, obviously,' says gallery manager Fabienne Bonnat, 'but not this type — not there'
Fabienne Bonnat says public urinals are direly needed in the bustling Paris neighbourhood of Ile Saint-Louis — but she doesn't understand why they have to be completely uncovered.
"That means that if, you know, a man has to do what he has to do, it's just open. So everybody who passes by will have a beautiful view," Bonnat, who manages an art gallery on the island, told As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway.
"We need urinals, obviously. But not this type — not there."
The eco-friendly devices are bright red boxes with openings in the front and floral displays on top containing straw, which transforms into compost for use in parks and gardens.
Paris authorities have installed four of them in spots where public urination has been a problem, and a fifth is planned.
'An invention of genius'
Their inventor, Victor Massip, has defended his "uritrottoir" — a combination of the French words for "urinate" and "pavement."
"People urinating on the streets of France is a serious problem and we knew there was a demand for a solution, so we've come up with one," he told the Telegraph.
Ariel Weil, mayor of the fourth district of Paris, has called them "an invention of genius."
"If we don't do anything, then men are just going to pee in the streets," he said. "If it is really bothering people, we will find another location."
La question du site spécifique est à décider avec les habitants mais le dispositif, imaginé par l’inventeur nantais <a href="https://twitter.com/LeboT?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@lebot</a>, fabriqué en France, écologique, testé avec succès à Nantes, qui en recommande une batterie, & même à <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/paris?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#paris</a> depuis des mois, reste une invention de génie ! <a href="https://t.co/fVUeoy25OF">https://t.co/fVUeoy25OF</a>—@ArielWeilT
One urinal in particular — installed not far from Notre Dame cathedral and overlooking tourist boats passing on the Seine — is causing a lot of consternation among locals.
"It's an open door to exhibitionism," Bonnat said. "Who likes to see that?"
Several residents have written to the town hall to demand its removal and are planning a petition.
"There's no need to put something so immodest and ugly in such an historic spot," Paola Pellizzari, 68, owner of a Venetian art store, told Reuters.
"It's beside the most beautiful townhouse on the island, the Hotel de Lauzun, where Baudelaire lived," she said, referring to the 19th-century French poet.
A part of Parisian history
While the project is new, there is a history of public urinals in Paris and other European cities.
In 1800s Paris, hundreds of public urinals — called vespasiennes or pissoirs — were installed all over the city for men traveling to and from work, Raymond Morris, managing director of the British Toilet Association, told CNN.
But in the early 1960s, city government start replacing the vespasiennes with public pay toilets.
In the 1930s, more than 1,200 vespasiennes were in service. There is only one left standing.
Some have branded the new installations discriminatory, noting they are only accessible to those who pee standing up.
"They have been installed on a sexist proposition: men cannot control themselves — from the bladder point of view — and so all of society has to adapt," said Gwendoline Coipeault of French feminist group Femmes Solidaires.
"The public space must be transformed to cause them minimum discomfort. ... It's absurd, no one needs to urinate in the street."
Bonnat echoed that sentiment.
Asked whether those in need of urinals should just hold it, Bonnat said: "Sorry to say, but women do. So why not men?"
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Fabienne Bonnat produced by Zara Syed.