polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Departures, Supermarkets and Public Toilets

One of the pleasures of traveling lies in observing how urban cultures other than your own tackle common problems of the daily minutiae. With just a dash of inclination for thoughtful design, commonplace objects in city life can be tweaked to solve for local circumstances.

At the TGV station connected to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, the announcement boards are arched and displayed at an angle for ease of reading - anxious travelers standing before the long list of departures don't have to strain their necks quite as much, and departure information in a high-traffic port-of-call can be more densely communicated in vertical format whilst preserving floorspace:

Those of us who live in the supermarket bi-culture of carried baskets vs. unwieldy pushcarts can celebrate the delightful ingenuity that marries the compact benefits of the basket with the convenience and degrees of freedom of the pushcart. At the small local supermarkets in Copenhagen, this hybrid model may seem like a no-brainer; it is nonetheless not a ubiquitously adopted concept in many other cities around the world:

On the streets of Paris, public restroom terminals that cycle through automated states make for a cleaner and more comfortable experience. A visitor would approach the terminal, glance at the the state-panel by the side of the restroom to find out if a restroom is available, press a button to open the sliding door, enter to use the facilities, choose a flush strength to conserve water, and exit the restroom. The restroom will then go into a cleaning state before indicating on the state-panel that it is ready and available for use.

This end-to-end experience minimized unnecessary hand contact with surfaces (hence more sanitary), and allowed for such structures to be built across Paris without the city municipality worrying about mobilizing an army of support staff to clean the restrooms regularly.

And of course, one can never underestimate the value of clear, universally comprehensible infographics in public spaces, especially in anticipating situations of crisis. The following, as seen in an elevator in Marseille, is a nice example:

Credits: Photos by Min Li Chan.