Liberty near State

Stopped. Watched. icon

2:25 p.m. Sept. 30 Man urinating in alley between David’s Books & old Borders store. Partly obscured by city trash bins, emphasis on “partly.” [Continued in comment section.]


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  1. By John Floyd
    October 1, 2011 at 11:49 am | permalink

    On the one hand, when there are no public restrooms in a commercial district, what do you expect? On the other hand, I know that on Washington Street, within one block of that alley, both the First Baptist and First United Methodist churches open their restrooms to the public during business hours. Don’t know know for a fact what the policies of the Congregational Church, and St. Mary’s (a block in the other direction), but I’d bet a beer than at least one of them has a similar policy. Isn’t there also a public port-a-potty at Liberty Square?

    My guess is that the pee-er is not simply someone who is out of work, but someone who has mental health issues. Beyond acts of simple Christian charity (like not hassling someone when they are peeing), I am flummoxed as to how to react. Even people with above-average issues have a right to exist, to “be”; I’m not sure that translates into the right to use a public place for a urinal 24 x 7. has had a couple recent articles on shops that feel that panhandlers hurt their business, a couple to the point where they have decided to leave Liberty/State. I get that panhandlers and pee-ers are not necessarily the same people, but my guess is that they have the similar effects on foot traffic. It’s not obvious that undergraduate “density” will boost retail traffic all that much, outside of Cuervo, condoms, and caffeine.

    Whether or not we believe that others ought to tolerate the awkwardly-behaved, lots of people will go to a controlled, sanitized mall rather than accept “P & P” as a normal part of their shopping trips. I understand that. Sometimes, you want to be where there are commonly understood rules about acceptable public behavior.

    I am, for many reasons, uncomfortable with the past practice of forced institutionalization of those whose public behavior did not conform to commonly understood rules, but there are times when I can see its appeal. The prevalence in central Ann Arbor of behavior that wouldn’t be allowed in Briarwood is as much a threat to the long-term viability of our commercial districts as are all the misguided policies emanating from city hall.

    Some claim that attempts to do the right thing by accommodating the mentally ill/substance abusing with services and facilities simply attracts even more of the behaviourally-challenged to town. This no-good-deed-goes-unpunished perspective is not unfounded. Anybody else have thoughts about what to do?

  2. October 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm | permalink

    I gather that public urination is not infrequent during or after football games. Are there actual laws against public elimination? Or do we usually simply rely on social conditioning?

  3. By cosmonıcan
    October 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm | permalink

    Vivienne:This anonymous blackguard has some information for you.

    When John saw this behavior the football game was still some 19 hours or more into the future.

    From the city’s web site: “Ann Arbor || City Code || Chapter 108 Disorderly Conduct || 9:62 Acts Prohibited || 7) Urinate or defecate on any public street or sidewalk or on the floor of that part of any building open to the public or any other place in view of the public not specifically designated for that purpose.”

    On a personal note: As a child my family lived in Japan for some time while my father was on a sabbatical in Kyoto. At that time (early 60′s) and maybe still, I don’t know, even the larger, wealthier cities still had open sewers running by the side of the streets. While by no means a third world country, I remember a very dirty, rough hewn Japan.

    It was not uncommon, in fact it was commonplace to see people from all ages and social groups matter-of-factly doing their business next to a crowded street, in an upscale neighborhood, any time of the day or night. No one bothered them or acted as if anything was out of the ordinary. For instance I remember an elegantly dressed woman, probably in her early 30′s, going off to the gutter, hiking up her kimono, squatting, performed number one and two, wiped herself with a tissue she had in her obi, tossed it in the sewer, got up and was on her way. Try doing THAT at Liberty and Main Streets!

    Who knows, the way the government is going these days, we may find ourselves elevated to that level someday soon.

  4. October 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm | permalink

    Thanks, A. B. (C.) – for the legal reference and the story. The Internet makes one truly lazy – why look something up when someone else will answer the question for you?

    I didn’t mean to imply that John Floyd’s observation was linked to football games. I was merely commenting that this behavior is not limited to “undesirables” downtown but is sometimes practiced by presumably meritorious UM football fans. I’ve read a number of tweets reporting peeing through hedges (at other fans),peeing in shrubbery of Main Street homes, etc. Perhaps we simply suspend rules, both of law and of social convention, for athletic events.

  5. October 1, 2011 at 5:47 pm | permalink

    See also Public Act 300 of 2005 [link] and the state laws on “indecent exposure” [link]

  6. By Ruth Kraut
    October 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm | permalink

    Great story, Cosmonican!

  7. By Rod Johnson
    October 2, 2011 at 11:59 am | permalink

    That’s quite an alley, given that David’s has been on William St. since 2003…

    Am I uncivilized because I don’t really mind the occasional discreet pee-er? It’s not ideal, obviously, but sometimes people get desperate. I imagine many thousands of gallons of pee has sluiced down Maynard St., right around the corner, since Dooley’s opened back in the 1970′s, and somehow we have survived. On the other hand, the delightful smell of many of our parking deck stairways suggests that we can have too much of a bad thing.

  8. By abc
    October 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    Cosmonican, Maybe a few of these might help [link]

    Ms. Armentrout, I am glad I looked twice at your A.B.(C.) reference as it almost got by me. I would like to politely ask however that you refrain from using this new moniker for our long-time friend Cosmonican. There could be confusion. I certainly would not like to burden him or her with the negative fallout from my blind opinions, nor should I be receiving the compliments meant for Cosmonican from his or her insightful remarks.

  9. October 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm | permalink

    Ms. abc, I don’t intend to use that moniker again for the witty and humorous Cosmonican. I was making a sly (at least in intent) joke of her joke about being an “anonymous blackguard” and referring back (as she was) to the other thread of discussion about anonymous posters (which, of course, included you). This was not meant to have any long-lasting consequence.

    Peace. It is a beautiful day, with sunshine and blue skies.

  10. By cosmonıcan
    October 2, 2011 at 3:06 pm | permalink

    There’s nothing like some good old potty humor to make my day — I think it’s the old Pennsylvania Dutchman in me, get a few of us together and it’s nonstop farting and turd jokes until the Sun comes up.

    Some more proof that the Japanese are different: (Not to be making fun of our Oriental friends out of meanness of course, they think we are weird too: I hope some of them will provide us with examples)

    I would be a him, ABC, though, and pity any woman you might confuse for me.

    I digress. The Japanese word for Westerners is “Gaijin”, which means “White Devils”—sort of speaks for itself.

    A few years back a niece spent a year or two in Japan, like so many others, teaching English. She is quite qualified though, speaking seven languages, and I’m stumped by the back of a cereal box! She sent pictures though of vending machines on the street, cold beer is available to anyone with the coins, 24 hours a day, no ID necessary kids! And I understand in some neighborhoods the vending machines offer fresh, used, school girl panties for perverts—the girls drop off their undies on the way to school for Soba money!

    HEY! I’m just reporting it, no guilt here. Yuck.

  11. By abc
    October 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm | permalink

    Ms. Armentrout, I too was looking to be humorous, as I figured out your acronym before I wrote.

    I will now be headed into that sunshine you reference but first I will stop to relieve myself as I don’t quite feel up to any exhibitionism at this time (just to get this back on topic.)

  12. By John Floyd
    October 3, 2011 at 12:13 am | permalink

    In Paris, it was still the case, in the years after WWII, that in some streets there were “Pissoirs” – circular metal screens behind which men could relieve themselves in the street, out of direct public view. Urine ran to the gutter, and thence into the sewers of Paris, presumedly into the Seine. Now, Paris has public restrooms, somewhat like phone booths (for those who remember phone booths), and people no longer urinate in the street in broad daylight, as a matter of course (or, “of coarse”, for that matter). In France, this was seen as an improvement, even if the inebriated forget to use them after the bars/cafes close.

    With Mr. Johnson, I’m not necessarily going to get bent out of shape by “the occasional discreet pee-er”. My point was that this was not discreet, and I have grounds to suspect that it was not “occasional”. I’m sure that people (and horses) have pissed in the streets of Ann Arbor for 185 years – but in the case of people, at night, mostly out of public view, and not as a daytime matter of course. People defecate in the bushes around my church (1st Baptist, across Washington from Liberty Square parking). This occurs at night, not in the day, but this phenomenon leads me to the same conclusion that I reached after reflecting on the man in the alley between the old David’s Books SIGN and the old Borders store on Liberty: we need to have 24 x 7 public restrooms available for whoever needs them. Unless we are willing to lock up everyone guilty of “vagrancy”, we have to come to some kind of accommodation with the people who are here.

    I understand that if we make it easier for people to vagrants here, instead of somewhere else, we will tend to attract vagrants. I suspect, however, that as long as the hunter/gatherer pickin’s are good here, we will attract vagrants whether or not we have public restrooms. We may as well mediate the more antisocial aspects of their behavior.

    Among the reasons people fled central cities for suburbs was that fleeing gave back to the flee-ers some element of control over their surroundings. Much of the vitality of central Ann Arbor comes from non-city residents who come here for a non-threatening, pleasant, small-time city experience. If they decide to go to downtown Brighton or Howell instead, there may not be enough money to keep all our store fronts filled.

    Fart jokes and pseudonyms notwithstanding, I think this is a real issue – as real an issue as gutting our fire department.

  13. By Linda Diane Feldt
    October 4, 2011 at 9:20 pm | permalink

    I’m afraid I have a more mundane contribution to this impressive thread on public urination. My only experience worth reporting was this summer, coming across a deeply inebriated teenager peeing against the building at the NE corner of Liberty and First St. A number of us passing by exchanged surprised glances, and I ended up conferring with another passerby about what to do. Because he also had a very young unleashed puppy with him. We called the police, and the dispatcher said we did the right thing, and thanked me for calling. I’m afraid that blatantly public urination is often a sign of more serious problems going on. And the consequences can include being listed on the sexual offender data base for indecent exposure. So in this day and age it is just a really bad idea to be caught doing it. And no, I don’t think that is a reasonable consequence.

  14. By john floyd
    October 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm | permalink

    Linda, I’m curious, was this day, or night?

    What was it you wanted the police to do? Arrest the teen? Save the puppy from urine? Something else?

    Public urination is certainly vulgar, and unsanitary, and suggestive of unsavory/unsafe environment. Does anyone here think that public urination is also a sexual matter?

  15. By Linda Diane Feldt
    October 5, 2011 at 3:33 am | permalink

    John it was about 4 or 5 pm as I recall. In broad daylight as they say. It seemed to us – I and another woman who watched this take place – that both the puppy and the teenager were in some danger. After completing that task he headed north on First, toward Huron. The kid was staggering drunk, or very high on something else. To me he clearly needed help. He was also certainly not able to protect the puppy from traffic or other dangers.
    I hoped that the police could protect the kid who might be in some physical danger from both intoxication and physical harm, and remove the puppy from his “care”. A loose dog downtown is in danger, and a young puppy (I was guessing this dog was 6-8 weeks old only) even more so. Public urination was a symptom, certainly not a problem by itself. But this was exceedingly public, right on a busy street corner. He was peeing on the wall of a business in front of a number of women, and passing cars. Clearly this was someone who was not able to judge actions and consequences. He needed help, more than I could personally or safely provide. The police dispatch agreed, and said they would take care of it.
    It was in no way sexual, but he was also very obviously exposed, for some time, and made no move to be in any way discreet. Under current law, that can be a sex offense. You’re not allowed to be showing it on street corners, whatever the reason.
    I’m not opposed to public nudity, actually, public intoxication is far more offensive and dangerous. And no one who is that intoxicated can keep an animal safe.