First ‘Portland Loo’ Public Toilet Facility to Open Along Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

Cincinnati Parks announced that they will install a first-of-its-kind public toilet facility at Smale Riverfront Park. The facility, often referred to as a ‘Portland Loo’ due to where it was first popularized, is an effort by city officials to come up with a more functional and affordable public restroom option.

The idea of installing such facilities throughout Cincinnati first came up in June 2011 when then political activist Jason Happ proposed them as a form of social equity. The issue came up again following the renovation of Fountain Square, and the subsequent frequent closures of the public restrooms built near the elevator head house next to Via Vite.

“Though some of us have more means than others, that doesn’t mean we are always prepared or capable to go buy something just for the privilege of using a toilet at a private business. That’s why, for years, I have been talking about the Portland Loo,” Happ wrote for StreetVibes in November 2012. “In short, the Portland Loo is an elegant solution for the problem of easy access to clean and safe public facilities.”

The issue resurfaced recently when community leaders, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach (D), called for the installation of a Portland Loo facility at Findlay Market.

“With more people, there’s more need for public restroom facilities that we just don’t have,” Seelbach said in January 2013. “A lot of research and thought has gone in to making sure that behavior that we don’t want to happen, doesn’t.”

While project officials have designed permanent restroom facilities into Smale Riverfront Park, the new Portland Loo will give Cincinnati Parks the opportunity to see how such a facility works for their operations. The idea is that such a system would allow for more public access with fewer operational costs and risks.

“This is an opportunity for the Park Board to test how well this facility works as a ready and free comfort solution for our community,” Willie F. Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks, explained to UrbanCincy. “What we believe, however, first and foremost, is that the Portland Loo will become an essential park enhancement that demonstrates utmost respect for the human dignity each and every citizen deserves.”

As of now, public restroom facilities in city parks are often closed or not fully operational. They also often are considered a public health and safety concern due to their design. Some of the biggest benefits of the Portland Loo system is that they are designed in manner that allows for 24-hour use and are easily monitored, cleaned and maintained.

According to park officials, the improved safety is due to the angled lower louvers at the top and bottom of the facility, which allows for external monitoring of what is happening inside without disturbing the occupant’s privacy. They also say that the facility will be covered in graffiti-proof coating.

The new facility at Smale Riverfront Park will come online June 19 and will feature an outside hand-washing station, rooftop solar panels to power the station’s lights, and will be handicap accessible and include room for a bike or stroller.

Using just 1.28 gallons of water per flush, the toilets are also comparable to sustainable low-flush toilets that use anywhere between 1.1 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Should the results of this first installation come back positive, it would seem likely that the City of Cincinnati would revisit the idea of installing one at Findlay Market where its bathroom facilities are also considered to be problematic. Beyond that, several other parks and neighborhood business districts might be ideal candidates for further expansion.

On the 47th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Northside neighborhood leader James Heller-Jackson discussed the hopes the community has for improving Jacob Hoffner Park in the heart of the neighborhood’s resurgent business district.

“The neighborhood has said that they want somewhere they can hold events, and have it [Hoffner Park] be the center of the community,” Heller-Jackson said on the podcast. “There are also some amenities that we would like – like bathrooms for instance. Those would be awesome there and would make it a lot easier to have events there.”

For now, however, the first Portland Loo will be put to the test along the central riverfront. Carden says that Cincinnati Parks will then assess if and when additional Portland Loos will be added to other parks in the system.

  • I’m going to keep beating this drum, instead of pressure washing the sidewalks in front of the old TJ Maxx every morning they need to install a Portland Loo near 4th and Vine.

    • EDG

      That area is essentially a living room for homeless and the city is worried about occasional noise from a megabus stop

    • That is a terrific idea. I can think of so many places where these would be well-suited.

  • matimal

    Why are so many britishisms becoming popular in the U.S. today? Is it because America is becoming more class conscious like Britain? Is it a way for the professional classes to show they are different from others?

    • David Thomas

      People can’t stop watching Top Gear on Netflix

    • EDG
    • matimal

      The world “loo” is a britishism. I was just wondering how it came to be used in the U.S.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Its rather hard to tell, but I reckon its changing due increases in globalisation.


    • matimal

      I wonder if Americanisms are creeping into British usage such as ‘can’ for toilet.

    • because its fun to say Loo

  • Dunlap Stark

    Nothing about cost?

    • The Portland Loo will cost less to build and maintain than the full bathroom facilities that Cincinnati Parks previously planned for Smale Park. And it was funded by private donations, so no precious taxpayer dollars were harmed in the process.

    • Dunlap Stark

      It’s an important concern the article neglected to mention, that’s all. Taxpayer dollars are in fact precious.

    • There have been varying costs mentioned in other articles. The oft-cited amount is $100,000 per facility, but that number has been disputed just as many times.

      I suspect the costs can vary greatly depending on where the facility is located. If you put it in an area without plumbing, then you need to figure that out. The cost to build the facility, not including installation, is around $60,000.

    • EDG

      Cincy is doing quite well, I don’t think 60K is going to break anybody

  • David Thomas

    Can’t wait to take a Cincinnti Poo in it

    • matimal

      I hereby christen this Loo by the power invested in me by….

  • EDG

    It’s Skyline time!

  • Jonathan Hay

    They should consider 1 or 2 by bus stations in UC and 1 for the northside. We should consider facilities near larger bus stops and maybe a bit more protection from the elements. 🙂