Facility Mag wants to end the reign of public bathroom codes

Facility Mag’s Twitter account is not what you would expect for a media startup.

“Hello Manhattan!” its most recent tweet reads. “The bathroom code for the Shake Shack at the Fulton St subway station is 6063!”

Facility is a magazine about bathrooms, with a whole section on its website dedicated to a lengthy list of bathroom codes for various spots throughout New York, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle and Cleveland.

“When you write about bathrooms, you can really talk about the whole world,” Erin Sheehy, editor in chief of Facility, told In The Know.

To Sheehy, bathrooms encapsulate “our most private, intimate moments to huge infrastructural issues to every major struggle for civil rights.” Plus, there is a sort of embarrassing or taboo element to talking about bathrooms that Sheehy finds freeing to build a project like Facility Mag around.

There are also more pressing conversations around sharing bathroom codes beyond making your life easier during a Starbucks run. Facility‘s staff aims to start a conversation about public spaces, the politics of those spaces and the activism that has changed and can change those spaces. For example, the first issue — now sold out — featured stories on the 1917 bath riots on the El Paso-Juárez border with Mexico, the origins of sex-segregated bathrooms and a history of fluorescent lighting.

“Our cities are not meeting our basic needs,” Sheehy said. “Ultimately, we at Facility think there should be more public restrooms everywhere, and that they should be accessible to everyone.”

The actual Facility magazine is print-only, but its co-founder, Elizabeth Gumport, had been tweeting bathroom codes from her personal Twitter account before Facility built out its social platforms. According to Sheehy, it just made sense to utilize the Facility accounts for what Gumport was doing — making public restrooms more accessible.

“Quite simply, we do not have enough public restrooms,” Sheehy explained. “When you stop to think about it, it’s crazy that you have to pay to use the bathroom.”

The pandemic made it very clear there was a shortage of public restrooms in the U.S. With the closing of bars and coffee shops — typically thought of as readily available facilities for the general public — there were barely any other options available to the public.

“Infection fears led cities to padlock the few public restrooms that were available,” Elizabeth Yuko wrote in Bloomberg. “Stories emerged about Amazon and Uber drivers resorting to peeing in bottles, while unhoused individuals relied on adult diapers or 5-gallon buckets filled with kitty litter. Public urination complaints spiked in cities.”

This has been an ongoing issue in the U.S. In 2011, Catarina de Albuquerque, a UN special rapporteur, gave a report after she reviewed the quality of public sanitation, drinking water and restrooms in the U.S. and was stunned to see how little was available in one of the richest countries in the world.

A month ago, CEO Howard Schultz apologized for closing Starbucks bathrooms, which, for years, had become the U.S. government’s answer to the lack of public restrooms. When Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City, he famously said, “There’s enough Starbucks that’ll let you use the bathroom,” in response to concerns about the city’s facilities.

In the last few decades, local governments have closed down more public bathrooms due to high maintenance costs, budget cuts, crime and other factors. When private businesses like Starbucks or gas stations and McDonald’s became known as popular options for restrooms, the issue was left alone.

According to THE CITY, a regular park bathroom in New York City — “a no-frills rectangular structure with four walls, several toilets and a number of hand-washing sinks” — could cost around $3.6 million.

“Going to the bathroom is a basic human need,” Sheehy said. “This lack of bathrooms affects us all, but some populations suffer more.”

These populations are the people Facility hopes to reach by publicizing not just bathroom codes, but clear descriptions of how easy to get to the bathrooms are.

“If you have issues with continence, if you’re breastfeeding, if you have small children, if you’re trans, if you have mobility issues, if you don’t have money to pay to use the bathroom in a business, if you’re homeless — the list could go on,” she said.

For example, if the bathroom is up a flight of stairs in an establishment or requires someone to walk through a fancy hotel lobby, it’s crucial for certain people to know that ahead of time.

“If we begin to think about bathroom access as being connected to all these other social issues, we can see the ways that a lot of our struggles, with bathroom access and beyond, are interconnected,” Sheehy concluded.

While Facility is New York-based, Sheehy encourages readers to send through any bathroom codes for any establishment in any city so that the magazine can share them.

“I love it when people tell me they have actually used the bathroom codes, or have shared them with people in their lives,” she said. “Liberate the bathrooms in whatever way makes sense for you!”

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