From dusk ‘til dawn
WHEN Amsterdam’s mayor heads home at the end of his working day, Mirik Milan, the city’s Nachtburgemeester, clocks in. As night mayor, Mr Milan serves as a liaison between “culturally creative nightlife” and City Hall; the results have been so transformative that other Dutch cities have created similar posts, as have Paris, Zurich and Cali. Stockholm and Sydney are looking to do the same. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is poised to hire a “Night Czar” to further boost the city’s night-time economy.
Nightlife is big business—too big to be regulated in an ad hoc way. In the Netherlands, electronic music generates €600m ($659m) a year and employs 13,000 citizens in marketing, production and front-of-house roles. Amsterdam alone has 350 outdoor festivals every year. In New York, nightlife is a $10bn industry, giving the so-called “city that never sleeps” a staggering 100,000 jobs. And London’s after-hours economy generates £26.3bn ($32.3bn) every year; Mr Khan’s newly launched “Night Tube” is projected to add as much as £77m ($94.3m) to that figure annually by 2029.
As well as financial benefits, a thriving nightlife scene can have a significant impact on cultural vibrancy by fomenting innovation. “The people I was on the dance floor with when I was 25 now run a creative agency, or they are with Adidas, or they are DJs with an international career,” says Mr Milan, a former party promoter. From techno beats to art happenings—as well as a tapas bar constructed only from recycled materials—Amsterdam is a hotbed of after-hours imagination.
The night mayor’s job is to breathe life into cities and to create a space for culture to flourish after offices close. It is partly practical and partly evangelical; night mayors are tasked with highlighting the worthwhile elements of nightlife, the world beyond binge drinking and disorderliness. “Nightlife is where creatives meet, where ideas get started, and is a big incubator for ideas that will spread in society in the coming years,” says Isabelle Von Walterskirchen, president of Zurich’s night council.
Part of the role inevitably involves appeasement, especially when nightlife spills over into residential areas. Zurich’s Langstrasse, a red light district, houses both people and parties. When residents complained about noise, litter and general unruliness, it fell to the night council to arbitrate varying interests. It resulted in an awareness campaign, more waste bins, outdoor toilets—and contented occupants.
One of the concrete things that Mr Milan has delivered is a licensing regime that allows certain venues to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Five consistently do so already. Amsterdam city hall has proven a willing partner, injecting €48m ($52.7m) into renovation projects near the city’s outer ring road highway, repurposing 1960s office buildings that had lost their commercial appeal. Among the 24-hour clubs is Radion, housed in an abandoned dentistry school deep in the city’s Nieuw-West neighbourhood. Along with a club, restaurant, cinema and bar, artists can rent cheap rooms. On Sunday mornings, the club space serves as a playground for children, while parents take brunch in the restaurant. Radion is thriving. “It is more about 24-hour use of buildings instead of 24-hour clubbing,” Mr Milan says.
The approaches to smarter nightlife policies vary. Mr Milan’s office is not an official city position, but rather the work of a separate NGO that draws one-third of its funds from the city, one-third from nightclub owners and the rest through its own projects. London will put its Night Czar on the city payroll; Zurich’s council is made up of seven volunteers. “It’s a Swiss thing, we like to be independent and informal,” says Ms Von Walterskirchen.
But the ethos everywhere is the same. “The biggest problem for politicians is that nobody cares,” Mr Milan says. “In nightlife there are people who do care and who want to be active and change the city. Cities are getting more and more complicated and we need to come up with solutions bringing all the stakeholders together.”
Mr Milan argues that every city larger than 200,000 people would benefit from a night mayor, and that it might help mid-sized cities hold on to young creative people. “People move to the big city because there are more jobs, but also because it’s more fun,” he says. “They are not coming to London for the weather.”