Home Lifestyle Book Review: Public Baths. Article on Urban Utilities, by Julien Damon, SciencePo les Presses, 2023.

Book Review: Public Baths. Article on Urban Utilities, by Julien Damon, SciencePo les Presses, 2023.

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For once, our review will not be devoted to a book on management, but to a topic that might seem out of place, on the question of public toilets, or urban amenities…

Thus, the sociologist Julien Damon relives, in a richly documented and illustrative way, the history of the “little corners” that invites us to take an urban and historical excursion based on this particularly illuminating phenomenon of urban inconvenience. We discover key societal issues and practical technological innovations, but also glaring shortcomings. The author does not fail to present himself in the future, to suggest promising avenues, at least for Western countries.

To adhere to the contemporary period alone, comfort innovations appear, especially from the end of the nineteenth century (such as the sewage network). If public toilets gradually declined in the twentieth century due to the improvement in sanitary equipment for housing, it was Decaux who implemented an important technical innovation in the early eighties, first in Paris. With automated public toilets (“bathrooms”) in place of the old vapasiennes. However, Damon does not fail to stress the “inequalities of intimacy”, particularly with regard to mobility (such as bus and taxi drivers, delivery workers, postal drivers, truck drivers, police patrols and, of course, the homeless). shelter). And this has nothing to do with cities in developing countries, a la “world without toilets,” despite improvements that are still vastly insufficient.

According to the sociologist, the future of amenities in Western cities must pass through a real demand for the dignity of the right to the toilet, a right that strangely does not exist in France, based on access, cleanliness and safety. But in a more offensive and more original way, it proposes that places which can in fact be accommodated in emergency areas of public toilets (bars, cafes, restaurants, etc.), benefit from a kind of public service mandate linked to the obligation of the means, strictly guaranteeing the three conditions mentioned: free, Cleanliness and security, unified and monitored. Even if these suggestions do not solve all problems, they are still compelling evidence.

A work of good quality, certainly welcome, and readable…in the toilet, ‘one of the last places one reads’, suggests Julian Damon.

Jean-Pierre Bouches

Director of Research at the University of Versailles / Paris Saclay

Member of the Scientific Council of Networks and Head of Innovation

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