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Construction has begun at the inaugural site of Philadelphia’s public restroom pilot, with the city’s first Portland Loo expected to arrive this week.
The permanent, ADA-accessible bathroom is coming to the southeast corner of 15th and Arch, right across from LOVE Park. It’s the first of six Portland Loos — a standalone design originally commissioned for its namesake Oregon city — Philly officials plan to install in six neighborhoods over the next five years. The second is slated for Clark Park later this year.
The Center City Loo was initially projected to be delivered last fall. But manufacturer delays pushed the timeline back, city spokesperson Sarah Peterson told Billy Penn.
The city expects it to finally arrive this week. Once it’s delivered, the unit “will then be stored for a short time until the installation,” Peterson said. Work is already underway to prepare for the potty to be put in.
It’s not clear yet when it will be open to the public, though. The city hopes to have a “more concrete timeline later this week,” Peterson said.
“Since this is the first Loo that will be installed, we want to provide flexibility in the construction process and ensure it is functioning properly,” she said. “We will do outreach to key stakeholders and share on social media when the Portland Loo is open for the public to use.”
Until then, three traditional porta-potties — which used to be at the spot where the permanent toilet will be installed — are open for public use on the side of the Municipal Services Building that faces Arch Street. They’ll be there until the Loo is ready to use, Peterson said.
When that happens, Philadelphia will join a list of dozens of cities who’ve installed a Portland Loo, including Hoboken, Miami, San Antonio, and Vancouver. The modular toilets are also coming next year to New York City, where city leaders have been considering it since 2019.
In Philly — where public restrooms can be hard to come by — the city’s been pondering public potties for years, but officials started the public engagement process on this pilot project in 2021 and announced last year that they’d be moving forward with installing several Portland Loos in different neighborhoods across the city.
West Philly is one of the next locations that will get a Loo, per Peterson. The city has been working with the Friends of Clark Park since late last year on figuring out how it could fit into the upcoming “Master Plan” for the park that the group has been working on with Parks & Rec and University City District.
Public restrooms were the number one requested Clark Park amenity in a survey with 900 respondents, Peterson said.
“We expect to order the Loo in the next month, and it is expected to be installed in summer or fall of 2023,” she said. Anyone who wants to share feedback can fill out this Google form.
Sites in North Philly are also under consideration for a Loo, according to Peterson.
Additional locations will be “decided by the need for harm reduction interventions, which looks at factors including substance use, homelessness hotspots, and racial equity,” she said, and the city is planning to do “extensive community engagement” in each neighborhood where they’re planning to put a Loo.
Employees from the Department of Public Health’s Substance Use and Harm Reduction division will maintain the toilets, which the publication Smart Cities Dive reported will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
According to a blog post from the city last year, the Portland Loo is known to be “durable, easy to clean, and having a crime prevention design features like graffiti-proof wall panels” — and one of them can fit “a bicycle, a stroller, or two adults and a child.”