Parisian leaders are trying to tackle a problem that is evident to anyone who has ever tried to catch a glimpse of a historic site in a historic city and instead caught a foul-smelling whiff of stale urine.
Meet the uritrottoir, a portmanteau of the French words for “urinal” and “sidewalk.” It is a bright red, free-standing dry urinal that’s meant to give people — well, some people — a place to go other than a cobblestone street or scenic bridge. The uritrottoirs are filled with straw, allegedly odorless, and use the nitrogen and other compounds in urine to produce an organic compost.
But disgusted people who live in the city’s northern neighborhoods have pointed out one big negative to the trial run of the device: The uritrottoirs’ design doesn’t prevent the rest of Paris — including some people cruising along on tourist barges — from seeing someone relieving himself.
On the other hand, flowers grow out of the top.
Ariel Weil, mayor of the 4th district of Paris, has called it “une invention de génie” (an invention of genius) that could solve a problem that persists in cities such as Paris, at least until it rains.
"If we don’t do anything, then men are just going to pee in the streets,” Weil told Reuters news agency.
But residents of the upscale and historic neighborhoods that are dotted with the red urine bins say they feel there has to be a better, less unseemly way.
"There’s no need to put something so immodest and ugly in such a historic spot,” Paola Pellizzari, who owns a nearby art dealership, told Reuters.
Many have chafed at the design, which doesn't include any type of enclosure to prevent the rest of Paris from seeing someone relieve himself.
Another resident said that “it is definitely a desirable and historic neighborhood, but seeing people urinating right in front of your door is not the nicest thing.”
Responding to critics, Weil insisted that Paris had to do something. Some don’t like the public urinals, but they are better than nothing, he said.
The Paris City Council will review the pilot program in September.
"If it is really bothering people,” Weil insisted, “we will find another location.”
The problem of public urination, of course, is not limited to France. Since the early precursors of toilets were put into use 5,000 years ago, people have been trying to persuade their less-civilized brethren to refrain from going to the bathroom out in public. The advent of cities made things worse, in a way, forcing myriad passersby to experience what happens when a building’s exterior wall becomes an impromptu urinal.
In India, a man painted images of gods on his wall to stop people from going, the BBC reported. And in the state of Rajasthan, a group of volunteers has attempted to shame public pee-ers by playing drums and blowing whistles.
The Germans even have a whimsical-sounding word for the act, wildpinkeln or “wild peeing.”
A team in Munich is working on a way to stop drunken fans from urinating along the lengthy walk between the city’s soccer stadium and the nearby subway station. According to CityLab, the solution involves a long, unplanted strip of flower bed, which would go over a giant tank, topped with bark chips to reduce the odor.
And somewhat diabolical locals in Hamburg’s St. Pauli quarter have started coating walls in a “splash creating, urine retardant paint” commonly used on ship hulls that basically coats the wildpinkeler in his own urine, the newspaper wrote in 2015.
The Germans also have a word for this: