City Council Supports Restroom in Cambridge Common

Cambridge Common is likely to soon see its first permanent public restroom.

Following a Monday night vote by the City Council, the City Manager’s office will consider constructing the proposed restroom facility as part of an extensive renovation of the park. The larger renovation project, which is slated to begin this spring at the earliest, will involve replacing all pathways, benches, and trashcans, as well as installing additional lighting in the Common.

Currently, the park houses a temporary restroom facility, the authorization for which is set to expire at the end of the month. To give the city more time to plan a permanent solution, the Council also passed a resolution requesting that the City Manager look into extending the temporary bathroom into the winter.

Advocates for the homeless gathered at City Hall Monday night to lobby in support of the two resolutions.

Reverend Joseph O. Robinson of Christ Church Cambridge spoke in favor of extending the temporary restroom facility. He noted that although the Church opens its restrooms to anyone in the community, security concerns have made it increasingly difficult for them to continue this policy.

“It seems to be right and fair that public bathrooms be available to people of all walks of life in all parts of the city,” Robinson said.

Echoing Robinson’s concerns, Councilor Minka Y. vanBeuzekom emphasized the need for a public restroom to ensure that the homeless population—as well as children, sports teams, and other visitors to the Common—are not forced to use private restrooms in Harvard Square.

“At some point when you ask private entities to have their facilities open to the public, it doesn’t work anymore,” vanBeuzekom said.

Councilor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 agreed that such a facility benefits a much wider community than just the homeless.

He pointed to the “long distance” separating public restrooms in Harvard Square and Porter Square as good reason to move forward with the plans for a permanent facility.

Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi said that the biggest challenges in proceeding with that proposal would be designing the facility to reflect the historical aesthetic of the park while simultaneously upholding standards of cleanliness and security.

Rossi cited the public restroom in Bryant Park in New York City as a model of what he would like to see the Common’s permanent restroom become. But his mention of Bryant Park, which is privately owned, raised questions among the other councilors about how to secure funding to construct and maintain the proposed facility.

In response, Rossi said he would look into forming a coalition of local businesses to help defray costs for the proposal.

—Staff writer Amanda E. McGowan can be reached at amanda.mcgowan@college.harvard.edu.

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