Deeply woven into the psyche of our cities planners are many challenges of great significance: traffic lights, pedestrianisation and the night-time economy to name but three. The third member of this triumvirate of city signifiers brings many benefits but has also led to the emergence of a rather peculiar and problematic cityscape feature: the urination hot spot.
That’s right: those places in the city which quietly and unassumingly attract hundreds upon hundreds of visitors nightly to relieve themselves before they gleefully hop back up the street to join their fellow cavorters in fuelling themselves up before visiting the next urination hot spot. No need for a tourist guide, website or city ambassador here: urination hotspots apparently announce themselves with the minimum of fanfare but with the maximum of impact.
Now there’s nothing odd about having a piss outside: it’s something that is as natural as eating kebab and chips in windy bus stops. No, what’s remarkable is that our collective pissing has generated places which are like magnets to urine: places which call to our bladders, ‘Piss here, please piss here! Not over there but just right here!’ Just as our architects have dreamt up fabulous new city vistas, so our collective bladders have replied to those dreams with their own unmistakable response to city living: the urination hot spot.
Now what’s that all about? Intuitively you might imagine that the pattern of piss over a city centre in one night would be randomly spread: people pissing wherever and whenever the fancy takes them. But apparently not: the phenomenon of the urination hot spot suggests that certain spaces in cities are privileged with being pissed on more than others; and that there is something magnetic about those spaces where, like in all good capitalist morality tales, wealth attracts wealth and piss attracts piss.
We might ask ourselves: is there something in the architecture of the city which attracts piss heads to piss where others have pissed before them? Or is there something hormonal about piss which biologically communicates with other people’s bladders over the ectoplasmic equivalent of wi-fi and which urges passing strangers to “Piss here! Not there but here!” Or is it a cultural phenomenon? A kind of “I pissed there cos my dad pissed there and his dad pissed there before him?”
Whatever the reason, you’ve soon got a urination hot spot on your hands (if you’re very unlucky). And if you’re a city planner you’ve got an even bigger problem in your face (or nose) if your job is to improve the quality of living in your city: how are you going to get rid of such urination hot spots?
Given the managerialist culture those planners work within, there’s only one thing you can do first of all: measure them and implement interventions which are intended to reduce or remove them altogether. And this is where it gets tricky. How do you baseline a urination hot spot?
Presumably you would need to measure the volume of piss poured into the hot spot over night and compare measurements both before and after your intervention strategy. But before that happened, you’d have to have a definition of what constituted a urination hot spot in the first place. How would 15 Guinness drinking rugby players emptying their bladders over half an hour register on the UHS scale? (See, there’s an acronym already – a sure sign we’re working in a genuine managerialist culture). And how would they compare with a gaggle of estate agents drinking litres of Pino Grigio over the same period of time?
The managerial challenges are endless but one thing is certain: the Urination Hot Spot is, along with pigeons, McDonalds and inexplicable public art, here to adorn our streets and boulevards for many years to come.
(Although one solution is here.)