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functional art

An outdoor public urinal a few blocks from the provincial legislature is shown in this undated handout photo.

B.C.'s capital city of Victoria has installed its first outdoor public urinal and the mayor says he's confident no one will regard it as flushing money away.

On Friday, the city unveiled the custom-designed urinal, which boasts low-flow technology and low-voltage interior lighting. The roofless and partly see-through pissoir - that's Parisian for urinal - will provide downtown washroom access 24 hours a day.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the city is always looking for ways to improve the downtown experience, as he called it, and he believes the urinal will do just that.

"We recognize in most major cities, whether you go to London, Paris, Seattle or Portland, world-class cities have these public facilities available out there," Mr. Fortin said in an interview Friday.

"We had a laugh, we thought we should actually do it as a public art unveiling and say it's functional art that's also used as a urinal."

The green-painted structure looks like a curving thicket of metal poles and is mere steps from a busy intersection. Mr. Fortin said the design is unique to Victoria.

"It allows for a certain amount of privacy and modesty but it also allows for anybody who's using it to see what's happening in the street in and around them," he said. Mr. Fortin did not elaborate on why being able to see outside while using the facility was a plus.

The urinal was installed after complaints from local businesses about public urination. Mr. Fortin said he's pleased the project was delivered on time and for the return of college and university students this fall.

When asked why the city went with a urinal, as opposed to a full toilet that could better serve both genders, Mr. Fortin said one gender in particular has proven to be at the root of the problem.

"Let's be straight-up - the major part of our problem is coming from late-night urination, which is men," the mayor said.

"We realize [the urinal solution]is not perfect, but we didn't want perfect to get in the way of good."

The urinal is part of a pilot project, and if it's deemed to be a success, the city may install additional units. The urinal will be monitored closely and city staff plan to assess its cleanliness, safety and frequency of use.

"We actually measure and capture how many litres of urine go into our urinals," Mr. Fortin said.

He added that the city has been bringing out temporary portable bathrooms on busy nights, and having a permanent fixture might well save some money.

When asked if he's used the facility himself, the mayor said not yet.

"Why has everybody asked me this?" he posited.

"No, no, I haven't used it yet. I'm pretty good at planning. So before I go out or leave a facility or restaurant, I want to use it there."