The 11 Year “Pilot Project” That Has Wasted Over $750,000

Tomkins Park public washroom nothing more than city’s “unsafe injection site”.

Over the course of the last month or so I have wandered all over the downtown area taking photos. It has served as a means of helping me deal with the recent loss of my brother, giving me an outlet to focus on creatively.

The other night I went down 17th Avenue, long a trendy spot for bars and restaurants and home to the famous “Red Mile”. It was lit up for the season, and the streets were open following the interminable months of construction that local businesses had to endure. There are a number of new bars and eateries and it is one of THE places to go if you ever visit Calgary. I recommend parking somewhere along the avenue and walking it, since you can’t get the full flavor of the area driving through it.

I started at 14th Street and would make my way towards 4th Street. Tomkins Park is a pleasant green space at 17th Avenue and 14th Street with benches, trees, and a small grandstand. Things that one would expect to see in a public park. At the far east end of the park is a structure that went up in 2008, a new shiny self-cleaning public toilet. It was to be part of a Public Toilet Pilot Program.

It would come at an initial cost of $200,000, something which raised more than a few eyebrows at the time. It would be completely automated, and people would have a time limit to adhere to. Go over the 10 minute mark and lights would flash and it would emit a loud beeping sound. Surely this would keep the nogoodniks out of the shiny new biffy. It was to be modeled after those in some European cities, at a time when Calgary seemed to be going through an identity crisis of sorts.

We would become like the European cities that some in administration wanted us to look like. There was a general consensus that we simply didn’t have enough public toilets. Now, this was also in the days before the streets of San Francisco had turned into the worlds largest toilet, and it’s not like we were hip deep in crap here or anything. But, we asolutely had to have it.

I wanted to take a couple pictures inside since the light on the outside said it was empty, but it was otherwise occupied by someone who was in the process of shooting heroin into their veins. The stench that came out told me I probably wouldn’t have lasted long enough in there to take one picture without wanting to be sick. I didn’t bother to hang around to wait for him to get out.

$50,000 is spent annually to maintain this “public facility”, which let’s face it is more an “unsafe injection site” than a public toilet. Over the course of over a decade taxpayers have forked out nearly three-quarters of a million dollars, and there is no end in sight for this. It’s at the “being looked at” phase within the machinations of the municipal bureaucracy at the moment, so it may well eat up another hundred grand in expenses before a decision is finally rendered.

This city is in desperate need of leadership at this moment because right now there is none. The mayor and many of his council colleagues have hijacked city council’s ability to get anything done. I may not have cared for the policies of previous mayors like Dave Bronconnier or Al Duerr, but they could at least run a council meeting and knew how to work to get things done.

It’s like this; I spoke with a retired widow on a fixed income and this year despite the fact that her property decreased in value she will see a whopping seven and a half percent hike in her property taxes. Not to mention the other increased fees and levies that will be imposed upon her and other Calgarians.

It somehow seems ironic whenever a toilet stands testament to the waste and incompetence of an administration. Maybe instead I’ll have a nice bronze plaque made to commemmorate the latest piece of public art, entitled “Council”.

Here’s your legacy Mayor Nenshi. It isn’t the Olympics you wanted, but at least it’s something.

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