Paradoxically, my approach will be applied on a masculine perspective, once the object I intend to tack about the public urinal -- a masculine stuff. This equipment appeared on France on the 19th century, as it seems. As the time went by, its use was extended to the European cities and, subsequently, to the American continent. During a long time, it was a kind of urban symbol of civilization and of the masculine supremacy of sexist society -- a stinking symbol! After the Second World War, the evolution of the women social status and also the new hygiene exigencies has dictated the end of the public urinal. This is the history of its birth, life and death -- and, curiously, its recent rebirth.
The public urinal appeared on France as a result of French habit of pissing on the first wall that was near them every time they were willing to do it. They thought that there weren't any problems on doing it, even at well attended places. The original name, pissoir, derives precisely from French word which designates this kind of act: pisser.
Several kinds of public urinal in Paris, France
The municipal authorities decided to create places in the cities where the gentlemen could comfortably empty their bladder. No-one knows if the aim was the public hygiene or the shamefacedness of the society of that time, as many of them were nothing but a wall with a front panel. There were individual pissoirs iand from many places. On France, it was common this kind of urinal with a block at the level of the pubic parts, made on molten iron with artistic refinements; behind them, we could see the feet and the head of the men who were pissing, as much as the urine falling and splashing on the ground. It wasn't a very pleasant spectacle, we should say. Disgusting. These kinds of urinals are still on use at many part of Amsterdam.
Public urinals along the Amsterdam's central channel, Netherlands
Public urinal at Rudkøbing, Denmark
For this reason, other countries developed improvements by the time of importing this equipment. The English people, with their shamefacedness traditions, converted the usual French pissoir on a closed space, a cabin, better protecting their beloved privacy. They kept the artistic work at the molten iron and regularly painted it in green; in case of individual urinals, in red. Some of them are still in use in several English cities and were even restored. This model was also adopted on Germany.
Public urinal in Berlin, Germany
Public urinals in Bristol and Lincolnshire, respectively (England)
This cabin model, used throughout the world, was subsequently adapted to receive toilet seats which allowed people to have a seat, spreading its use to another kind of physiological needs and... to women. Then appeared the public W.C.s that currently serve our cities. Cleaner and more comfortable, however, they are less beautiful than the secular molten iron public urinals. But it's just about aesthetics...
There's an interesting and varied photo gallery on Flickr