by Valentin Schipfer
Slowly but surely cities around the globe realize that there might be a slight relation between a vivid night club scene and a flourishing creative industry, including tech start-ups. The global competition for these promising economic branches is the reason why more and more cities take a cue from the pioneering work done by the first Night Mayor in Amsterdam. His task: Acting as a liaison between the needs of night owls and the ones of workers and sleepers.
Since 2012 Mirik Milan has carried the best job title: Night Mayor of Amsterdam. He watches two certainties: People can sleep well while others can party hard in the same city. Other cities start following this approach. Each day a new one pops up on the globe of the International Night Ambassador Federation – an association dedicated to map every new city with a so-called night ambassador. City councils slowly attend insight that the night time economy is of growing importance for cities to stay young and vibrant. Paris, Toulouse, and Zurich now all have night mayors, while London is considering creating its own after introducing their night tube. The Netherlands remain at the vanguard with some sort of night mayor position in 15 cities.
In this interview, Milan points to Berlin as an excellent example of how nightlife and creativity can save a city. Berlin was bankrupt and in a crisis when their world renowned nightlife turned it around – now an estimated 30% of visitors to Berlin travel there just for dancing. There was an explosion of creativity attributed to the nighttime economy and now Berlin has the second best start-up scene in Europe. “Late-night people are typically young, educated, creative, entrepreneurial – people you want in your city, and who work in the creative industries and startups you also want. If places like Berlin have flourished, it’s not just because of low rents. It’s because they’re nightlife capitals.” states Milan in this Guardian article by Jon Henley. (Read more on Berlin’s nightlife in this precious time observation by Will Coldwell or order this book.)
Berlin can look back on 16 years of successfully mediating between clubs and neighbors. In 2000 the Clubcommission was formed. It represents around 150 clubs and party organizers in Berlin. “We started because we had problems with raids on clubs almost every week. Founding the Clubcommission was kind of a reaction to politicians and administrations, because they didn’t really communicate with us.” notes its spokesman in this uncommonly profound VICE article.
Like the majority of Western European cities Berlin is growing and has to provide its citizens with sufficient housing. New constructions entail new residents, who often become a pain in the neck for club-owners. Soon after the new neighbors have moved in, the club has to deal with recurring noise complaints. Therefore the Clubcommission cooperates with the city authorities to foresee potential problems. By offering an online directory it informs you about upcoming construction projects before you look for your own nightclub venue in a specific area. Now the city also takes into consideration cultural and social factors when selling off its own buildings. “You can’t buy creativity, but you can provide spaces for creative people which are reasonably priced.” as the spokesman puts it here.
Recently London and Sydney have come under increased pressure. London lost 35% of its “grassroots” music venues, falling from 136 to 88 between 2007 and 2015. A fact which has jolted the capital into action. London has now its own live music task force and the Music Venue Trust. In a recent report it points out that London’s night time economy generates € 79 billion in the UK per year and that live gigs and festivals in London attracted 6.6 million people in 2014, about half of which were tourist. In short: It’s UK’s fifth biggest industry.
This article notes that the task force suggests lowering the taxes music venues pay on the value of their premises, which have skyrocketed in recent years; cutting expensive licensing requirements; and adopting principles, so that residents in new housing developments – often converted office space – cannot challenge pre-existing noise levels from clubs that were already in the area.
Australia draws an even more dramatic picture: Sydney’s night owls have to struggle with lockout laws requiring venues to refuse new guests entry from 1:30 am and stop selling alcoholic drinks from 3:00 am. The time-lapse video below shows Sydney’s once bustling venues, which are now closed. The citizens started to fight for their freedom and against that paternalism. After a petition signed by more than 12.000 residents, parliamentary speeches are held by them to keep Sydney safe and open. On top of that, Amsterdam’s Night Mayor Mirik Milan has been invited as a keynote speaker to the local electronic music conference later this year.
As explained here, the Night Mayor’s office is a small advisory NGO, equally funded by the city and night businesses and “elected” by a combination of online votes from the public, attendees of a music festival, and a jury of five experts. Even though it does not hold any executive power, it has definitely harnessed the power of nightlife. The Dutch dance industry alone, focused on Amsterdam, is worth € 600m a year and employs 13,000 people full- and part-time, writes Jon Henley. With a sheaf of measures Milan and his team have contributed to attract 5.3 million tourists to Amsterdam in 2014, up more than 50 % since 2000.
By entertaining good relationships between the city hall and the night businesses, Milan managed to introduce 24-hour permits for night clubs. The 24-hour permits actually make things less rowdy, like stated here. Research from UK has shown that 24-hour permits actually reduce binge drinking – plus the fact that when a thousand people are all at once pushed onto the street at 4:00 am, after spending hours drinking and dancing to loud music, they are not aware that they’re shouting.
Now they’ll be steadily and manageably streaming out over the course of hours rather than all at once. “If people can just leave whenever they want, you have really a lot less pressure on the neighborhood”, Milan said. Soon, ten clubs in Amsterdam, for instance De School, Cruquiusgilde Warehouse, Radion, are allowed to open their doors through night and day. That’s better for the neighborhood noise-wise, and it’s also better for the programming of the club because then they can feature more DJs and sell more tickets. “The [urbanistic] idea” Milan says, “was to take some of the night-time pressure off the inner city, and to bring something new to the near suburbs.” That part has worked: De School has sold out every weekend since it opened, while its weekday and night activities are also filling fast. De School now houses an airy daytime cafe, a gourmet restaurant, a gym, a concert space, an art gallery – and, in the basement, a cavernous and (at 2.30 in the morning) heaving nightclub.
In this Citylab Article, Milan utters his idea which takes things even a step further: “I think that to really build a 24/7 economic system in Amsterdam, we should focus on creating one 24-hour area in the city. You could have working spaces, gyms, pharmacies, supermarkets, a library for students open day and night and a lot of restaurants and bars of all kinds.” Fostering his vision with: “Think of all the photographers, filmmakers, graphic designers, party promoters, fashion designers and of course DJs and live musicians who need the night as a serious playground to spur their creativity.” So finally it becomes vogue across cities to see it this way. London-based Shain Shapiro, founder of Sound Diplomacy, sees music venues as incubators and as creative cluster development tools. His goal is that each city pledges itself to a music strategy. Watch his TEDx talk below.
Amsterdam’s Night Mayor successfully tackled another challenge. In one of the busiest areas for nightlife, where things used to get a little bit rowdy, he hired together with the Mayor of the City 20 “square hosts” to help monitor behavior on weekends – an approach usually applied at big festivals. They patrol this square on weekends from 11 pm to 5 am, reminding people of the rules: “No biking after 11 pm”, “Stay classy” and if nature calls, “use a loo”. Further, the City of Amsterdam co-operated with all local stakeholder to create a new policy framework for dance events. It is prevention oriented and integrates harm reduction interventions. The Celebrate Safe!-campaign turned out to be the right approach at the right time.
This april, all the forces came together at the world’s first ever Night Mayor’s Summit in Amsterdam. Unfortunately I did not have the chance to attend it but I was lucky to get in touch with Ella Overkleeft, a project manager of Amsterdam’s Night Mayor, who afterwards provided me with some international examples. Since Tokyo has successfully championed for clubs to be opened until 5 am, its nightlife is enjoying a resurgence. For instance, a “Playcool” campaign was invented. They are working with artists and DJs to clean up the streets until dawn.
In Sao Paulo in Brazil “Champions of the night” look at the city as one big venue with friendly take overs of public space. For the last 10 years a very strong movement of independent groups has developed who are trying to appropriate public spaces during the night. There have been huge parties that have happened under viaducts, under bridges and in the middle of the street. Brazil’s biggest city has even gone so far as to publish its own “Manifesto da Noite” (“Manifest for the Night”) – a 250 pages companion on the quest for a 24-hours city. The underground scene of Vienna is already answering with their own “grassroot” development: The participatory city-app “Bloom” mapping spontaneous open-air parties, flea markets, pop-up bars and the like. Still, Amsterdam gains a lead with its own educational institution for dance culture and its industry, the so-called “School of House”.
Besides that, project manager Ella Overkleeft pointed in email to the EU-funded project “Enter the Void – Appropriating Urban Spaces To Underground Youth Culture” which will have its next stop in Amsterdam at the beginning of November this year. Together with the Night Mayor’s team the project aims to set up a dialogue between young people and decision makers, flanked by multi-disciplinary experts, to facilitate the access of young people and their (sub-)cultural practices to urban space by exchanging examples of good practice from Berlin, Amsterdam, Budapest and Riga. This shows quite well that the Night Mayor’s vision also encompasses striking a balance between the city’s public spaces and the people eager to use them temporarily. I hope projects like these and the pioneering work by the first Night Mayors become trailblazers for the rest of the European cities.
In order to professionally extend their scope into nightlife and night time economy, they could make use of the already gathered expertise and perspectives of the Night Mayors. Mirik Milan recommends therefore: “The first step would be getting somebody [in politics] on your side and getting some hard figures on the loss of income and the loss of jobs. […] What people really often forget, is when there’s a lot of people dancing, there’s a lot of people working.” It’s definitely time to wake up and stay awake, especially for my home town Vienna whose image lags behind the present, stuck somewhere between the breasts of Sleeping Beauty and Empress Sisi. Countries and cities now compete for talent on an international scale, and Vienna has to realise now that future prosperity depends more on people than on natural resources or tax breaks, like stated here. As author and investor Ziad Abdelnour puts it: “talent attracts capital more effectively than capital attracts talent”. Why not sending a Viennese city hall delegation to the next conference on night time economy taking place in Berlin later this year?