VANCOUVER WOULD BE COOLER IF #210: It Had Pee Deflectors Installed In Blood Alley

August 5, 2013.

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By about noon on pretty much every Sunday morning, a full nine hours after the visiting legions of “bros” have finished dousing the eastern flanks of Blood Alley in Gastown with their Red Bull-infused urine, a reeking miasma rises to choke every innocent nostril unfortunate enough to be carried past. The stench remains powerful well into the week. If it were visible, we would see a forbidding neon piss yellow cumulonimbus billowing out of the alley’s Carrall St. entrance. Property owners and shopkeepers in Dickensian London dealt with the same issue by installing urine deflectors on the lower sections of alleyway walls so that when men tried to relieve themselves upon them their pee would stream right back down onto their shoes.

“…in London a man may sometimes walk a mile before he can meet with a suitable corner; for so unaccomodating are the owners of doorways, passages and angles, that they seem to have exhausted invention in the ridiculous barricadoes and shelves, grooves, and one fixed above another, to conduct the stream into the shoes of the luckless wight who shall dare to profane the intrenchments.”

Several of these “barricadoes and shelves” survive to this day (the top three images above are from Clifford’s Inn Passage off London’s Fleet Street with the bottom photo – complete with pee stream-catching grooves – taken in an old alley in Nottingham). Would the prospect of urine-soaked Abercrombie & Fitch flip-flops dissuade Gastown’s many offenders? Quite possibly. In any event, the persistent stink – which has gotten worse in recent years as the neighbourhood’s night-time “destination” cred has increased – proves that the threat of a $100 fine remains decidedly ineffective.

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