A new trend is taking hold across world’s major cities. Led by Amsterdam, European cities are appointing night mayors to oversee their cities after dark. The idea is to foster 24/7 economic activity while also increasing safety. Prompted by Europe’s success, Cali, Colombia became the first Latin American city to jump on board, having appointed its first night mayor in July 2016, and Sydney, Australia is considering following suit.[i]
Mirik Milan, Amsterdam’s night mayor, has a bold vision for his city’s nighttime industries. Upon being appointed as the city’s first-ever night mayor in 2014, Milan has been pursuing an innovative agenda. Despite the title of night mayor, his job as the leader of a small NGO is focused on influencing rather than policymaking, but he’s making headway nonetheless. In short, his job is to manage and improve relations between city government, Amsterdam’s residents, especially those who prefer the city in its daytime form, and night businesses and those seeking a vibrant nightlife. Often, residents and public officials are skeptical, even afraid, of their city at night due to perceptions of high noise levels, crime, and rowdy bar-goers.[ii]
However, as Milan and his team have demonstrated, this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, though it may seem counterintuitive to some, noise levels and other incidences can actually be curbed by increasing rather than limiting business hours. For example, when night clubs were, until recently, forced to close at 5 am on weekends and 4 am on weekdays, noise increased as crowds of people spilled into the city streets. However, in a pilot project that allowed a handful of night clubs to operate 24-hours a day, people trickle out as they please during the early morning hours. As Milan suspected, noise levels and disturbances were significantly reduced.[iii]
Not only does this benefit residents who prefer peace and quiet, but extending the hours during which clubs can do business makes them more profitable, in turn boosting the city’s economy as a whole.
The night mayor’s focus is not limited to late-night partiers. As Milan told CityLab in a January 2016 article
, he envisions one area in Amsterdam that operates 24 hours a day is the logical first step in creating a city that is vibrant around the clock: “You could have working spaces there, and a library open 24 hours a day for students. It would also be a place for food. In Holland you can't have a proper meal after 9.30 p.m., and when friends arrive late from out of town, all you can really offer them is fries.”
While this may seem like a tall order, other cities have followed suit. Paris, Zurich, and Toulouse, as well as several smaller cities in the Netherlands, already have night mayors of their own in place, and others are considering making the concept the reality in their own cities, demonstrating the success of Milan and his team.
More than 9,000 km away in Cali, Colombia, Alejandro Vásquez Zawadzky, an economist, became the first night mayor to be appointed in Latin America. For the city of 2 million, countering the perception that the nighttime is filled crime and insecurity is a top priority. With nighttime crime a common occurrence in the not-too-distant past, this mindset is understandable. However, it has taken a toll on Cali’s tourism industry, as people are fearful of the night. But, with the rise of 24-hour cities, Cali is determined to encourage safety and security, while also boosting its economy after hours.[iv]
Already, the five most dangerous areas of the city have been identified and an increased police presence will be brought into the area. The intent, however, is not be hard handed. Instead, it is simply meant to ease concerns so nighttime cultural activities and business offerings can gain traction. Like Amsterdam, Cali has extended past the previous strict 1 am closing time for clubs and other nighttime hotspots. For Colombia’s so-called “salsa capital,” this a welcome change that is attracting tourism and other cultural activities to the region.
Other Latin American cities are experiencing similar reforms. Unfortunately, though, many are still recovering from former policies that had negative effects. In Asunción, Paraguay, for example, it was mandated that business selling alcohol close at midnight throughout the week and at 2 am on weekends. Moreover, people had to exit within 15 minutes of closing time or the police would be called.[v]
The law, which was enacted in 2003, was overturned after business owners came together to dispute it in 2014. However, it had a hollowing effect on the city’s downtown as residents relocated and businesses had to close their doors. Fortunately, the area is already being revitalized. Encouraging safe nighttime activities, it seems, is much better than prohibiting them all together.
If you’re still skeptical that this concept could work in your own city, consider the Night Mayors Summit
. The first annual event was held in Amsterdam in early 2016, attracting international interest. Cities with night mayors, as well as those working in the cultural industries, entrepreneurs, researchers, and cities considering appointing night professionals, attended to discuss the economic and cultural value of the night. The conference followed the regularly held conference of EU mayors, demonstrating how the position of night mayors is gaining steam worldwide.