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Editorial: Tempest in a park potty

The controversy surrounding the proposed McLaughlin Playground potty – or in the parlance of the bureaucracy, the “comfort station,” shows just how difficult it is...

Potty starts with “P” and that rhymes with “T” and in Holliswood that stands for trouble.

The controversy surrounding the proposed McLaughlin Playground potty – or in the parlance of the bureaucracy, the “comfort station,” shows just how difficult it is to get anything done in New York City, no matter how well intended.

On the one side of this dispute are Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, at least some community board members and the parents who understand that, when a kid has to go, he (or she) has to go.

On the other hand are folks who fear that a “comfort station” will attract the wrong element to this playground. Drifting in the middle is City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (the man who would be the next borough president) who at first set aside $650,000 for the public potty and then withdrew the funds.

At first Leffler favored the plan because it makes sense then that every playground in the city should come equipped with a comfort station. Then he took the money back.

Community Board 8 approved the potty in a 27-to 11 vote on Jan. 10. Neither the councilman nor the board members anticipated the heated opposition to the bathroom.

Like the folks in River City, the members of the Holliswood Civic Association, at least some of them, envisioned a host of problems that might be brought on by the bathrooms. They charge that the toilets will attract vagrants, encourage loitering and diminishneighborhood safety. 

The people supporting the public potty say that there is more at stake here than momentary relief. Without a public restroom, the playground will not qualify for a park attendant who couldorganize activities for the children.

It is no an exaggeration to say that even small playgrounds can attract a bad element. The tiny Poppenhusen Playground on 20th Avenue in College Point is a good example of how bad things can get. There is a group of aging alcoholics who call the playground home.

They sit there from early morning until late at night drinking beer from bottles tucked inside paper bags. They use the restrooms and when the restrooms are closed, they urinate on the walls. The police have tried with little success to keep these bums from abusing the playground.

But we make a big mistake when we allow vagrants and winos to drive public policy. The police have can keep vagrants from turning a playground into a Skid Row. They can strictly enforce curfewskeeping gangs and drug dealers from hanging out in the park after dark.

There is no reason why this or any playground can’t be a happy place for children without becoming an eyesore or nuisance for other area residents.

To say that we cannot build public restrooms in any city park or playground is to raise the white flag of surrender.

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