Alan Miller 11/20/2015

Our cities make us great : the freer they are – and more dynamic – the better off we all are.

The past few days has demonstrated how we are living in a world where one has to take sides. Either one is for freedom, for social, economic and cultural interaction, for fun, for music, for life. Or one is against these things.

Paris, as so many have rightly argued, had our young butchered while enjoying and being part of the important exchange of what happens in beautiful cities. Now, more than ever, we need to champion our cities and the essential role that the Night Time Economy and Industries play within them.

The question what kind of city do we want to live in of course goes to the heart of what kind of world we wish to inhabit and at the same time what role we believe cities play within such a world. The Greeks, the ancient ones that is, created the concept of both the Agora and the Polis as public, philosophical and thus political spaces for citizens to engage, question, challenge – and even in the end be held to account as was to be the fate of Socrates.

Michaelangelo’s David in Florence, almost two thousand years later, was a defiant testament to the independence both of spirit and politics, of the Florentines’ belief in civil liberties holding out against the continual mortal threat of the Medicis. David with his eyes set on Rome and the biblical references to challenge the Goliath that threatened to extinguish the earlier Greek notions of importance of the city.

Cities are always at the forefront of innovation, new artistic, scientific, literary and cultural contributions to humanity. They are where the ‘best and the brightest’ flock to make something of themselves and of the world around them. The enormously ambitious Victorians built breathtaking bridges and dug incredible tunnels with feats of exceedingly imaginative engineering. Georges-Eugene Hausmann was one such man. As prefect of the Seine in the late 19th Century, he was responsible for transforming much of Paris from the poverty-ridden slums to the wide boulevard ambitious aesthetic that we still see today. While there are many issues with contemporary Paris in terms of the banlieues, this writer ventures that has more to us abandoning our Enlightenment approach to cities and people more broadly – rather than because of it.

Olmstead and Law took such inspiration and applied it to Central and Prospect Parks and city canals from Amsterdam to Vienna and major streets in London, plazas in St Petersburg and sidewalks in New York City all displayed a new, modern moment, brilliantly captured by Marshall Berman in his epic All That Is Solid Melts Into Air.

Continuing to act as a beacon, to shine, to lead the way as a global, ’24-hour city’, depends as much on our attitude and treatment of our Night Time Economy as it does our view of our parks, opera houses, museums, sports arenas and concert halls. Indeed, New York, the city that became famous and synonymous as being the one that “never sleeps”, has seen various measures employed both under the Giuliani and Bloomberg Mayoral Administrations that challenge some of those ideas. From the cabaret licensing laws, allowing patrons to dance only in very specific zoned areas to the banning of smoking in public parks, the ‘frisson’, the spontaneity of the city changed somewhat. Although, one is far less likely to be mugged today too, which is a relief.

In the past couple of years in Britain, the so-called “Night Time Economy” has come under enormous scrutiny from the police and local council authorities. Ten of the big nightclubs in London have closed in the past two years alone, eight of them exceeding 1000 in capacity which have not been replaced. Glasgow has witnessed the closure due to police pressure and narrowing of licensing hours, of much loved and world-renowned The Arches, which funded a theater that provided platforms for international talent to the City of Culture that had come out of 1980’s destitution. Measures such as breathalysers outside bars and clubs and even a McDonalds in Cambridge, to CCTV cameras, metal detectors, ID-biometric Scanners and ever increasing security numbers has seen citizens of UK cities vote weekly with their feet and wages and head to more relaxed cities such as Berlin and Barcelona.

In Sydney, Australia, the “lock out laws” that were imposed on night clubs and bars, resulting in having to be in a venue before 1.30am following the tragic death of a young man that had been punched by someone, meant that an entire industry was targeted. Subsequently, one of the most dynamic and exciting cities that attracted tourism and investment from around the world to see not just Gay Mardi Gras but an altogether vibrant and diverse city nightlife, has resulted in the closing of several venues. Ironically, not so far away in South Yarra, outside Melbourne, there was a terrific report published highlighting that once one gets beyond the hype of “nightlife = noise and nuisance” that the actual ‘cost-benefit’ ratio is 3 to 1 in favor of the night time.

While dance music has gone truly worldwide and ‘EDM’ having exploded in the US it is ironic to say the least that the incubators of such cultural production, the bars, clubs and popups – as well as the launch pads and stages for fashion, inspiration for advertising and the creation of musical artists in the entire post war period – have been placed under so much pressure, as though they were ‘crime creators’ rather than enormously vital cultural and economic assets and regenerators of our much loved cities.

Amsterdam has its very own ‘Night Time Mayor’, Mirik Milan, who has been in the position for five years, was voted in an election by his peers in the industry and navigates the tricky waters between city authorities and business. During this time, he has helped ensure that various stakeholders understand the value to Amsterdam that the industries play – and revenue and ‘brand value’ has increased. In Berlin, The Club Commission has been around for 15 years and Lutz Leichsenring has been at the forefront of liasing between Berlin authorities and the new landscape that emerged after the falling of the Berlin Wall. They are successful as consultants to areas that are deprived in various cities, demonstrating the value of night time bars, clubs, pop ups and restaurants, echoing perhaps Jane Jacobs’s suggestions of lighting up city areas with activity and they now are participants in the Detroit-Berlin Connection, an initiative to help improve and transform the much aligned city.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London has come out in support of having a similar Night Time Economy Champion in London. The person in this role will work alongside the police, transport, housing and indeed business communities to ensure that the Night Time Economy, the place where we fall in love (and sometimes out of it) and many of our most memorable memories are forged, where the next cultural phenomenon is currently being hatched and where 66 Billion UK Pounds is generated annually, as well as being a huge employer and beacon for tourism and ‘soft power’ internationally is placed at the heart of city planning as key to London retaining an edge as a global, future oriented 24-hour city. That is why we have invited Mirik and Lutz to come and talk with various stakeholders, policy makers and businesses to share their insights and experiences, to help inform making the position of London’s Night Time Economy Champion all the better.

In many ways, this is a matter of hearts and minds. Can we be trusted to allow ourselves, our citizens, our visitors and residents alike to enjoy, sensibly and responsibly the choices that exist in Paris to have a glass of wine and a baguette at 6am without losing our faculties – in London or indeed in New York? Can we ensure that smart planning decisions are made to ensure lots of benefits and minimum costs accrue, a bit like we do when we attend a sports stadium or the races or indeed go shopping, where crimes of all kind occur although quite rightly they are seen as the responsibility of those that behave that way and not the businesses that they impact?

As with the nihilistic death-cultists that wreaked havoc on our beloved Paris, those that behave criminally should be held accountable. However, the fabric of our night life, theaters, bars, nightclubs and pop up street festivals is fundamentally part of who we are – and should be celebrated.

The Mayor of London has taken a bold and important step to shape the future of the capitol city, that will impact the entire country. For that he is to be congratulated – and has contributed to making that most vital of places, our city, be even better.

“What Kind of Night Time Economy Champion do we want for London?” is at Mother Agency, London, 26 Nov

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