New York City's public parks are among our finest treasures, sprawling green oases offering priceless respite from the surrounding concrete hot box metropolis and its streams of sticky trash and sweaty bodies. Public park restrooms? Not so much.
A new investigation from NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer found that the city's 1,428 park bathrooms are—just as you suspected!—plagued by decrepit infrastructure, maintenance lapses and general ickiness.
The review counted nearly 400 sinks, toilets, walls, ceilings, changing tables, and other features that were damaged or missing during their latest inspection. One hundred park bathrooms were deemed, simply, “unacceptable." And the report found 53 restrooms that may be actively dangerous—posing "hazards" that range from exposed wires to damaged safety straps at changing stations to noxious odors.
For those who've stepped foot in the chamber of chaos at Tompkins Square Park optimistically known as a bathroom, this will come as no surprise.
Topping the list of neighborhoods with gross lavatories were Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where 40 percent of park bathrooms were found to be unacceptable, followed by East Harlem (39 percent) and Flatbush and Midwood (33 percent).
"Every neighborhood, including in low- to moderate-income areas, deserves quality public spaces," Stringer said in a statement. "NYC Parks must expand the number of these bathrooms in neighborhoods in need and provide the resources to bring existing facilities to an acceptable standard. Here’s the bottom line—we all have to go. It is the City’s responsibility to make sure there is a safe, clean place to do so in our parks.”
Stringer's inquiry also confirmed that New York's bathroom-to-person ratio remains stubbornly out of whack. Citywide, there are just 16 park restrooms for every 100,000 residents—leaving New York at a shameful 93rd place among the country's 100 largest cities. Cincinnati, whose most famous resident is a dead gorilla that used to fling feces at his neighbors, has nearly eight times as many restrooms per person.
Moreover, the report found that 69 percent of bathrooms throughout the five boroughs are not ADA accessible, while 73 percent do not have changing stations. This latter stat is particularly disconcerting, notes Stringer, because the whole point of having public bathrooms in parks in the first place was—according to Robert Moses at least—so that parents wouldn't "have to trudge home from Central Park every time their baby’s diaper need[ed] changing."
(Courtesy Comptroller's Office)
The report concludes with a set of recommendations from Stringer, which include installing changing stations at each of the city's public bathrooms, "dramatically" building out new facilities in underserved areas, and investing in maintenance and operations to improve existing bathrooms.
As it happens, this year's fiscal budget added $44 million to the Parks Department budget. On Thursday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver gathered in Queens to tout the investment, and to launch 2020 as "the Year of the Park."
"We are grateful that so many passionate New Yorkers care for our parks,” Silver said in a statement, adding that the agency "will work hard to ensure that the benefits are equitably applied across the parks system to those areas most in need.”
A spokesperson for the Parks Department did not immediately respond to Gothamist's inquiries about the report and its recommendations.
UPDATE: Following publication of this article, a spokesperson for the Park's Department disputed the report's findings.
"This administration has invested in the construction and reconstruction of more than 15% of our park comfort stations—27 have been completed, and 76 are active capital projects. Since 2015, we have worked to standardize their design and each facility includes changing tables—in the men’s and women’s restrooms.
"Through our robust PIP inspection program, and park management and staff oversight, we closely monitor the conditions of each of our 690 comfort stations. Our reporting shows that they are open on average 94% of the time (FY16, FY17 and FY18) during the season."