Don's diary: Bog standards in Seoul and London

November 22, 2002

Wednesday
Arrive at World Toilet Summit in Seoul, South Korea, after airport delays caused by typhoon winds. Greet Koo Ue, director of the Japan Toilet Association, who pioneered the Asian "restroom revolution" (from "hole in the ground" to modern toilet technology), and Jack Sim, president of the World Toilet Organisation - the other WTO. Among 300 delegates, there are new faces from Mongolia, Turkey and Uzbekistan in addition to regulars from Malaysia, China and India. At a signal from the chairman of the Korea Clean Toilet Association, we cut the ceremonial tape together, with much bowing and clapping.

Thursday
Listen to each others' toilet talks, then I do my turn on "Downtown restrooms", focusing on the need for an integrated spatial strategy for city-centre toilets. Speakers from the Russia Toilet Association explain how, in the "socialist period", there was not a dry tree or wall in Moscow during the May Day parades because toilet provision was not a priority of state planning. They thrill us with their account of the recent entrepreneurial Russian toilet revolution that targets the tourist trade.

Friday
Hold our annual WTO committee meeting. The Korean chairman requires a two-thirds majority on all decisions. Haggle over the percentage, the contest being between adopting a western majority or eastern harmony, without anyone losing face.

Saturday
Tour of Korea's finest loos. The Suwon World Cup Stadium provides 151 restrooms to accommodate 43,000 spectators, plus three restrooms outside the stadium in the shape of soccer balls. Toilet provision is based on a ratio of 60 men to 40 women and is family oriented, with "multipurpose rooms" for baby changing and the disabled. Notices inform users: "Form single lines" and "Your character remains where you have been, clean up after yourself - it is the first virtue of a responsible citizen."

Wednesday
Get back jet-lagged. After checking on my research bid at the office of the deputy prime minister, set off for London premiere of Loos for London , "my" programme in the Carlton TV Metroland series. Curious experience seeing myself on the big screen with audience reacting enthusiastically. Making a silly arse of myself to get public toilets into the public consciousness and on the government agenda is a small price to pay.

Thursday
London again for filming of "studio discussion" on "the worst public loos" for BBC Watchdog . "Good evening," says the presenter, as we sit in a grim studio "shed" in Acton's back streets at 9.30am. Discuss viewers' nominations, then "vote" for the worst public loo. Lively debate breaks out over Westminster's street urinals, which make very public provision for men and nothing for women. The judges include Lucinda Lambton, author of Temples of Convenience and Chambers of Delight ; Richard Chisnell, director of the British Toilet Association; me; and a young Labrador that I met before on location in his first acting role sniffing out bad toilets. Having chosen "a winner", we stumble out into the cold light of the day. Never work with dogs and toilets.


Clara Greed is reader in (town) planning, University of the West of England, and author of Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilet (forthcoming from Elsevier). Metroland will be shown on ITV on November 28; Watchdog will air on the BBC in February.

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