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Eco-Friendly Public Toilets Will Feed Wildflowers in Riverside Park

By Emily Frost | October 5, 2012 7:16am

UPPER WEST SIDE — When the Riverside Clay Tennis Association wanted to replace its two porta potties, it decided to think big.

“We were plagued by this problem of not having any public toilets, except for our portable toilets which are completely insufficient to handle to the demand of thousands of people coming by everyday," said Mark McIntyre, executive director of the non-proft that manages ten courts at 96th Street by the Hudson river.

But rather than install regular permanent flushing toilets, RCTA launched the "Green Outlook" campaign to create "a toatally off-grid, self-contained maintenance and sewer project."

The new bathrooms would feature toilets where waste is composted and then pumped up to an elevated area where it will fertilize a wildflower garden in a space that is currently an abandoned parking lot. Solar panels in the meadow will be used to power the bathrooms and the RCTA offices. 

"This is a way of making a public restroom give you a garden," said McIntrye, who said one slogan RCTA is using is “compost: recycle yourself.”

The $6 million project doesn't have a final design yet, but it has received a $1.2 million pledge from City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. McIntrye said RCTA hopes to raise $1.5 million from private donors and the rest from municipal, state and federal government bodies.

"We see this as a model for all future public bathrooms in parks," said McIntyre.

McIntyre said that this part of the park used to be the destination mainly of tennis players, but that the greenway had in recent years become a destination, vastly increasing visitor traffic. The RCTA was motivated to create a grander project, including a new plaza for non-tennis visitors.

"So far, all of the [private] funding has come from tennis people," he said.

"We’re now beginning to reach out to greenway users. We’re trying to cast as wide a net as possible."

The fundraising climate is much better than when the organization first floated the idea, in the fall of 2008, just as the recession was beginning. 

McIntyre believes the unusual concept of the project and its benefit to all park users will compel people to give. 

"This is part of a general recycling movement," he said. 

"We are involved in talks with several schools to make this an educational destination point." 

McIntyre said the project would be finished in two to three years.