Issue 537

Urban Field Notes: The Other Construction Boom

As the crane is to the skyscraper, the port-a-potty is to the single family home.

Urbanist Article

In the last few years, San Francisco residents have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing the building boom unfold before their very eyes, as cranes have moved from dotting to crowding, the rapidly changing skyline. Fewer may have noticed that a similar transformation has been taking place at ground level.

During our trips from home to school, my family and I began noticing a proliferation of port-a-potties on the sidewalks. I’m not talking one or two: in the spring, en route from Glen Park to the Mission, we counted 22 portable toilets in less than a mile. Last month, we spotted almost twice that number in half the distance. Call our weird fixation the street-level equivalent of crane-spotting.

A port-a-potty in front of a single-family home indicates, at the very least, that a bathroom renovation is happening, or more likely than not, that a gut renovation is underway. It’s a little bit mind-boggling to consider the amount of construction – and change in home ownership – that’s going on. Every crane tells a story and so, too, weirdly, a little awkwardly, does every portable toilet.

Words and images by Allison Arieff, the Editorial Director of SPUR.