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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dreams for Abandoned Bathrooms

New York City has a general lack of public restrooms. Our public space was not always so harsh; parks were once much more generously equipped with comfort stations. Many of them became unfortunate casualties of hard times and crime decades ago, and their public service has been slow to return as the City's fortunes have improved. While many of them should be returned to public use, or replaced with modern facilities, to meet public needs, some of them were poorly planned and located in areas with little activity.

On Mosholu Parkway, below the side of Jerome Avenue, in the shadow of the elevated 4 train, there stands an abandoned comfort station that has poor prospects as public restrooms due to a site that has low foot traffic and limited visibility. The roof and odd yard beside it are frequent victims of dumping. Much of the building is sealed, but one of the restrooms is enclosed with an open-air gate. The space appears to be secured for use as storage, although there is no evidence anything has been stored here for quite some time.

A photo posted by Urban Residue (@urban_residue) on

The only visible activity through the gate is some more litter and the empty cans from someone leaving cat food. Feeding sites for feral cats is something I've observed at abandoned comfort stations elsewhere. There is something both comforting and terrifying about wild feline colonies taking over abandoned places where long-gone people were once so vulnerable.

Urban space abhors a vacuum, and imaginations inhabit vacant places. Among the people who conjure up possibilities for the use of this empty building are the Friends of Mosholu Parkland. A place overlooked by most people and seen as an ugly old building by most of the rest appeals to them as a possible base of operations for their gardening tools and other supplies.

The Friends of Mosholu Parkland recently completed a mural designed and executed with community participation on a concrete retaining wall outside Mosholu Playground. It may be a bit kitschy, but a good exercise in community building made a dull wall into a more cheerful place that residents feel they own. Given a chance, perhaps they could transform the forgotten old bathroom building into a cheerful little spot that could serve as a permanent base of operations for more community activities up and down Mosholu Parkway.

Open gate into a bizarre little yard next to/above the closed comfort station

Trash accumulates on the roof of the comfort station as little saplings grow from the accumulated dirt

Trash and empty cat food cans are piled inside the open-air gate on one side of the former restrooms

A photo posted by Urban Residue (@urban_residue) on

A photo posted by Urban Residue (@urban_residue) on

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