In a city where men are regularly seen urinating on the street with wanton abandon, some have welcomed the arrival of the ‘uritrottoirs’ (pavement urinals) as an innovation that might help rid the French capital of unpleasant sights and smells.
But some residents have complained that the bright red boxes are a blight on the picturesque streets of the city.
Others say there is something more than a little distasteful about encouraging men to urinate right on the street, even if it’s into a box.
“It’s a little weird... but if you need to go it’s better than going on the street,” admitted Jonathan, a tourist from New York.
“It’s a little bit in the open, some people might be uncomfortable,” he said as several boats packed with tourists floated past along the Seine.
Topped with plants, these dry, organic urinals do not use water but are filled with straw which can be easily composted, according to Faltazi, the small French company behind them.
Three of the urinals were quietly installed around Paris under a pilot scheme in the spring.
But the more recent arrival of one of the boxes on the exclusive Ile Saint-Louis, not far from Notre-Dame cathedral, has met with a more robust response.
Local resident Francoise said she was “outraged” by its presence, describing it as “really not very attractive”.
“I like it, but putting it here is a bad idea,” said Gregory, a 43-year-old photographer who has lived on the island for the past three years.
“They should put them right by the waterside,” he complained.
But the urinals must be reachable by vehicle so that they can be emptied and to change the straw once every three weeks.
Paris City Hall said it had installed them “at the request of residents”, adding the project was still in a trial phase.
“We are totally ready to discuss the location,” said Evelyne Zarka, a senior official at the local town hall in the fourth arrondissement, which is home to Ile Saint-Louis.
The once pretty plants which topped the uritrottoir outside the Gare de Lyon, a major rail train station, appear lifeless, their appearance not helped by the cigarette butts and plastic bottles on top.
Other critics charge that the uritrottoir near the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret is an unnecessary addition, just a few paces from one of the city’s free-to-use public toilets.
Along with these 400 automatic facilities and pop-up urinals in nightlife hotspots, Paris has experimented with other innovative means of stopping the scourge of public urination.
One wall near the Gare du Nord station has been lined with mirrors intended to inspire modesty in men tempted to relieve themselves against it.
Laurent Lebot, one of the two designers behind Faltazi, acknowledged that the prominent location of some of the uritrottoirs was grating for some residents.
As for the lack of privacy, he said that police didn’t want them to provide too much space to hide, “to avoid problems with drugs and sex that can happen with enclosed urinals”.
But the biggest criticism so far is that the uritrottoirs only cater to men.
“For reasons of privacy, women need to be in a cabin, so the aim is to free up existing toilets for them,” the company says.