Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the New Mexico News Port on April 5. It has been lightly edited for content and style.
When most people wake up for the day, their first stop is the bathroom where the usual necessities are at arm's reach: toilet paper, towels and a toothbrush.
For people experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque, waking up and using a bathroom is a luxury most do not have.
The homeless community that gathers in Coronado Park has limited access to any kind of restroom facilities. There is only a single, poorly managed, porta-potty that sits at the edge of the park.
Now city officials are turning to the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning, for solutions. The college responded and tasked 21 graduate students with brainstorming and developing ways to add toilets to the park.
This year, the school’s Design and Planning Assistance Center (DPAC) turned 50. The graduate level studio focuses on teaching students how to work with low-income communities in the state, with the hope of changing the community.
“This idea is not just to provide toilets, or just a porta-potty,” Associate Dean, Mark Childs said. “But to try to do this in a way that provides dignity. Maybe they will be beautiful, and maybe they say that we value these people, and the neighborhood also thinks it’s a beautiful addition.”
For this particular project, the students worked in teams to brainstorm dozens of ideas that they narrowed down to one after getting feedback from groups like Albuquerque Fire and Rescue, Albuquerque Police Department and the Parks and Recreation Department.
A few planning considerations included public safety, toilet maintenance and strategic placement. According to Childs, one popular idea with police and fire fighters was to go with smooth and rounded structures, reducing the possibility for needles and other dangerous objects to be left in dark corners.
One student involved in the design collaboration was Jasmine Casados, a graduate student earning her master of architecture
Casados said the first challenge was the topic itself. As an architecture student, she said she has experience in designing bathrooms inside buildings, but designing a stand-alone bathroom was new.
“It was kind of a shift in architecture we really haven’t ever focused on,” Casados said.
Some of the challenges Casados said she encountered was how to get hot water to the bathroom and the added safety concerns.
“It was more of a challenge than we thought it would be,” Casados said.
Casados said there were seven groups with 21 designs each. The designs ranged from portable bathrooms to a whole redesign of Coronado Park. She said she enjoyed the team setting and the opportunity to collaborate with different entities.
“It was nice to have a part in a possible change in our community,” she said. “I would love to see it go further, I would love to have city council take it seriously.
The parks department is a key player in the design decision — no deadline has been established for the project’s completion as of publishing. Superintendent of ABQ parks, Mark F. Chavez, expressed how powerful a partnership like the one between parks and UNM can be for a community project, especially when the project aims to benefit the people of Albuquerque.
“This project is unique because the UNM students are a part of this community,” Chavez said.
Alanie Rael is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers volleyball, hockey and track and field, but also contributes content for football. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AllyRael.
Madison Spratto is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port, she can be contacted on Twitter @Madi_Spratto.