Authorities in the district, which has many bars, restaurants and theaters but also around 3,000 residents, have set about repainting the walls in a dozen strategic locations with the famous color. It forms a water-repellent transparent layer on the walls that recirculates urine to punish offenders immediately.
“It’s very effective, the evidence is there,” local councilor Aicha Less told AFP, showing the spray’s effect by spraying a wall with a bottle of water.
Westminster City Council, which has jurisdiction over Soho, launched the project after receiving numerous complaints from residents, workers and businesses in the area.
“Obviously urine is not very pleasant and our residents are upset,” Ms Less admits.
“They walk out their front door in the morning and you have this pee smell,” she adds, emphasizing her constituents’ right “to live in a clean and safe environment.”
Local authorities, who decided to use the color after learning of similar experiences elsewhere, notably in Germany, plan to repaint ten walls in strategic locations in Soho. “This wall is not a urinal” is written on the painted facades.
Westminster City Council spends nearly a million pounds (€1.15m) cleaning the streets every year, splashing water on urine-stained streets. He hopes the color will allow him to reduce those costs. “We’ll see how much of a difference it’ll make in six months and if there’s less of that smell in the air,” says Ms Less.
While men urinating in public are a recurring problem in busy nightlife neighborhoods, Soho residents say the issue is particularly critical on their streets.
The tiny neighborhood in the heart of the British capital has more than 400 signs authorizing the sale of alcohol, including around a quarter late at night, says Tim Lord, a local resident who heads an association defending residents. “So thousands of people can drink overnight, and this summer when the toilets were closed, Soho was stinky,” he says.
“When the anti-urine paint works, it reduces the problem of smelly streets, especially in summer, and that is to be welcomed. We hope it works,” he added. Local authorities are also considering increasing penalties for offenders: urinating in public is an offense that now carries a fine of £50-80 (€57-91).
Also, makeshift urinals have been installed at various neighborhood locations Thursday through Sunday, when Soho is particularly busy.
But at the same time the number of permanent toilets has decreased, says Mr. Lord. The last two underground toilets in the neighborhood were closed during the pandemic and have not reopened.