Chavez Park drinking fountain

Drinking in the park

August, 2009

Codornices Park drinking fountain

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We've been spending a month back in our old hometown of Berkeley, California. Of course, there are features that distinguish Berkeley from Oxford -- the hills, the ocean, the redwoods and eucalyptus, the sunshine -- but one that particularly struck me this time were the drinking fountains and toilet facilities in all the municipal parks. It's not just Berkeley. The whole Bay Area, at least, seems to have these basic amenities in parks, as does Portland, Oregon, where we've also just been visiting. Some parks have clean, well-lighted, well-functioning toilets, while others have dingy, rudimentary sanitary facilities, but they all have something. Where I grew up, on Long Island, you also expected to have them, so I'll make the inference that this is a general US thing. It's not such a big deal if you're not a parent or a child, but for children and their caretakers the opportunities to take in water and to let it out loom large. You can make a point of bringing water with you, but public displays of excretion are generally frowned upon in public, even if you do use your own containers, so the absence of lavatory facilities puts an effective time limit on playground visits. (Although, I've seen surprisingly large boys peeing on the grass at playgrounds in Oxford.) The only playgrounds in the UK that I've found to have toilets (I'm judgeing, admittedly, from a tiny sample, having been living there for less than two years) are the two in Regents' Park in London, and these are exclusively for children, to the extent that each playground has a fulltime attendant who seems to have no duties other than to keep unauthorised age-groups out of the loos. Drinking fountains seem to be entirely unknown on the Sceptered Isle. Interestingly, there was recently a BBC report, on the suggestion of some children's health advocates that providing water at the playgrounds would reduce the temptation to bring bottles of sugary drinks instead, a net plus for children's health. A representative of the Local Government

Now, it may be that the park officials were lying, and drinking fountains just seem like too much bother. But if they are to be believed, there is

I've been in the UK long enough to be, at the first moment, shocked to observe in Berkeley signs, scattered around houses and apartment blocks, saying "No Solicitors". For that matter, the trash bins stenciled "REFUSE ONLY" struck me for a moment asa polite variant of Nancy Reagan's antidrug "Just say no" slogan.

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