Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gender-neutral washrooms and safety

Gendered public washrooms are not the only option
by Tarah Hodgkinson

Gender-neutral washrooms are popping up all over metropolitan areas, including universities, government buildings, community centers, and trendy cafes. Many of these washrooms existed long before they were labeled “gender-neutral.” They were simply single-use washroom facilities in places that didn’t have room for more than one washroom.

There has been a lot of concern over the last few years regarding gender-neutral washrooms. Are they more dangerous? Are they putting women and children at risk of potential predators? What does the research say and how we can move forward in making safe spaces for everyone?

Single-use washrooms have been around for a long time

We’ve written in this blog before about how bathrooms are a basic human right. However, for many non-binary and trans people, proposed anti-trans laws in the United States make a simple, human action a political and personal minefield.


The research doesn’t support the concerns around safety issues. Gender-neutral washrooms (or even washrooms that allow you to choose based on your self-identified gender) do not make bathrooms unsafe for women or children. Incidents are rare in the first place and have been found to be completely unrelated to legal decisions.

Second, gender-neutral washrooms improve safety for those who identify as trans or non-binary. These individuals suffer much higher rates of intimidation and harassment than the general population and, therefore, creating safe washrooms can improve safety for the trans population while not increasing risks for others.

Third, gender-neutral washrooms benefit more than the non-binary and trans community. These washrooms improve accessibility issues and reduce wait times for women since women spend slightly more time in the bathroom than men.

Everyone needs to pee in safety

Women who attend large events, like a concert or the theatre, are acutely aware of the long lines for women’s washrooms. In fact, some sporting facilities have increased the number of washrooms for men, creating further disparities in access to washrooms for women.

Some might laugh off the problem of women’s washroom lines, but if you are dealing with an invisible disability or you are pregnant, the lack of easily accessible washrooms can lead to some major issues.

The fact is, from all the available research, concerns about safety and gender-neutral washrooms are not based on the empirical evidence. Instead, they appear based on the politics of exclusion! And even with all the available evidence, decisions about safety should not only be based only on research; they should also protect those who are the most marginalized and at-risk in our communities.

Sometimes that means just changing the sign on the door.

Monday, July 22, 2019

"I'm just lonely"

Homeless person sleeping on metal access control bollards on a rainy night
- the public realm can be cold
by Mateja Mihinjac

A couple of weeks ago a North American native man sat next to me while I was enjoying my lunch and observing the busy downtown street that had been pedestrianized during a special event in Saskatoon, Canada. I greeted him and asked how he was doing. This initial interaction led to a conversation I did not expect.

As we started chatting I soon learned he was homeless and unable to get back to his home on a First Nation’s Reserve, so he’s been sleeping in downtown streets. I offered him the rest of my lunch and a soda drink, which he accepted with gratitude.

Then he shared the words that touched my heart: “I’m just lonely.”

He explained that he often walks up and down the street to kill time, trying to get some money and just trying to survive. This day was no exception. He said he’s never seen this many people in this street, usually occupied with motor vehicles. Despite the business of the street, however, he felt lonely because he had no one to talk to. I felt honoured to have had a chance to make a connection with him and offer him what we often fail to show to street people: attention and respect.

It brought to mind two essential steps we have learned in SafeGrowth that underlie meaningful relationships and the ability to establish trust with those most vulnerable.


Years ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow described the importance of human connection and sense of belonging in the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

As social beings we have an innate need to connect with fellow humans and, in its absence, we crave social contact. Even more, loneliness has been identified as a growing health and social concern that reduces longevity and quality of life.

Loneliness, distrust of strangers, vilifying others
- the social sickness of urban places
Yet, especially in public places, we often ignore opportunities for social bridges or are afraid to establish the connection because we feel too vulnerable, are distrustful of “strangers”, or we fear or stigmatize them. Some people vilify groups or individuals whose lives and choices they poorly understand without offering an opportunity to get to know them.

Establishing a connection with a smile and hello can be a simple initial step to building meaningful relationships. Some think this can be misinterpreted, but in truth, it isn’t difficult to be straightforward and honest.


Meaningful relationships and human connectedness helped us survive in tribal communities and those same values can now help us survive and thrive in neighbourhood communities as well.

Our work in SafeGrowth hinges upon residents and local communities establishing trustful relationships and working together in common purpose - prerequisites for building the social glue for neighborhood problem-solving and change-making.

Summer activities in public spaces - year-round, active social spaces
provide chances for positive connection


Having had a chance to live in different countries and meet people of various backgrounds I have learned to appreciate the importance of establishing connections with strangers. I make the effort to acknowledge, establish eye contact, smile or say hello to anyone I meet, regardless of their background or appearance.

Because of this I have been able to establish meaningful relationships in my personal and professional life, and am very fortunate to do so. I hope I will never have to say those three scary words: “I am lonely”. No one should.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

We the north - Twenty years later

The pedestrian entranceway built at San Romanoway

by Gregory Saville

Some high crime neighborhoods seem to remain that way forever, like a horror film that won’t end. Grandparents in those places share flashbacks with their grandchildren about ‘the old days’ of gangs and guns, while their grandkids still face those same neighborhood profanities decades later!

There is a theory in criminology called ‘deviant places’ that goes something like this: High crime neighborhoods persist for decades regardless who, or what generation, lives there.

Yet the San Romanoway apartments in north Toronto, a place we revisited a few months ago, is living proof the deviant places theory needs rewriting. It should be called the ‘reclaimed places’ theory because, if you know the incredible success at the San Romanoway neighborhood, you’d know that those chanting ‘it will never change’ are wrong.

Locally-led, non-profit, SRRA - two decades of community-building


Read the history of SafeGrowth and you will learn that in 1999, not long after we created 2nd Generation CPTED, Gerard Cleveland and myself were asked to work with an urban design and crime prevention team to review conditions at a high crime apartment complex in the infamous Toronto Jane/Finch corridor. This was the San Romanoway apartments, a story that I published a decade ago, and now consider an embryonic version of SafeGrowth.

Food programs in the community dining hall
Since those early years, plenty has happened at San Romanoway where 4,000 residents live in 3 huge apartment towers. Most significantly, the crime and violence that plagued that troubled community has subsided considerably. It hasn’t vanished – last year they had a homicide. But, as SRRA program manager Cathy McCulloch told us, that was a rare event. In fact, on whole, crime is down and livability is up. It's a far better place than what we found 15 years ago during interviews and surveys. San Romanoway is no longer a horror movie; it’s a coming-of-age film about turning night into day!

Childrens play areas and sports programs are still thriving
Credit goes to the residents and the local organizers who have done all the hard work to transform the neighborhood, especially the non-profit, San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA) – a group that still chases funding dollars but, somehow, keeps many of the programs running. Sadly, it hasn’t kept them all running and it hasn’t been easy! They have faced financial cuts, labor disputes, and defunded programs. As one of Canada's most successful crime prevention and community-building projects ever accomplished, they still don't get nearly the funding they deserve!

SRRA program manager Cathy McCulloch shows off
art by local photographers - a celebration of life at San Romanoway

In spite of it all, somehow, the SRRA persists and residents, along with leaders from the property owners, community leaders, and police, keep disproving the ‘deviant-places-never-change’ theory. As the photos from our site visit illustrate, places can change.

Toronto basketball fans just celebrated the 2019 national championship Toronto Raptors with a “We The North” chant. I’m reserving my chant for the supporters, leaders, and members of the SSRA. You are truly "We The North"! You rock!

San Romanoway community gardens at the start of planting season