Though European cities began offering public restrooms in the mid-nineteenth century, New York City never seemed to adopt the public sanitary trend. While New York citizens have been concerned with the public health crisis caused by a lack of public restrooms, NIMBY-ism from residents, landlords, and developers strikes after planning committees chose public restroom sites. This tension has been documented since at least 1895, when citizen committees formed after Tammany Hall investigations became flooded with requests for more public restrooms.
City sanitation officials have been following research on public health for over a century, attending the 43rd American Public Health Association Conference in September 1915. MIT Public Health scientist William Sedgwick addressed a crowd that included New York Governor Charles Whitman with the following admonishment, “Probably the most flagrant failure in American sanitation today is the almost universal lack of public convenience or comfort stations in American cities and towns. Failure like this to provide proper public toilet facilities is to fail in one of the very elements of sound public health.” (“News of the societies”, 1915)
Despite these long-standing concerns and education efforts, New York still has yet to build enough public restrooms to meet the needs of city residents or tourists. Some articles below provide interesting snapshots into historical efforts to provide more public restrooms in New York.