Can art and culture be the answer to populism? Some night mayors think so.
Speaking at CityLab Paris last week, Mirik Milan, the Nacht Burgemeester — or Night Mayor — of Amsterdam suggested that focusing on culture at night could bring more social cohesion to cities. “Art and culture can be the answer to populism,” Milan said, adding that he views creating a range of nighttime cultural activities as “an opportunity to build culturally diverse and socially inclusive cities.”
Milan, a former club promoter, has served as Amsterdam’s Night Mayor since the position was created in 2014. Officially, he works for a nonprofit, which is jointly funded by city hall and the private sector. But his role is of upmost importance in a city where the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) industry is valued at nearly €600 million. Milan now functions as a kind of interlocutor between the mayor, city council, business community, and residents.
He faces challenges that are similar to the ones mayors face during the day and has taken a holistic approach. “We want to make the city more vibrant and safe at night. To do this, we forge coalitions — public-private partnerships — to make public spaces safer for the LGBT community, women, and minorities.” By suggesting new approaches to old problems, he’s been helping the city adapt regulations to the changing economy without sacrificing public safety.
Take, for example, the 24-hour permit project, which he hopes will usher in entire 24-hour districts responding to the new rhythms of our hyper-connected world. Last year, 10 licenses were provided to private venues allowing them to set their own hours, freeing them from a pre-set closing time. The idea that more time for partying could help reduce nuisance from club-goers seems counter-intuitive. But there’s sound reasoning behind the move.
Instead of thousands of people pouring into the streets at the same time, that stream is more intermittent. Not only does this respond to customers’ demands for round-the-clock entertainment, it could also reduce the problems — noise and violence — that sometimes accompany closing time. The early evidence is promising, and has had the added benefit of bringing renewal to neighborhoods outside of the city core that have venues with the 24-hour permits.
Milan’s work has become influential beyond the Dutch capital. Already, there are night mayors in Paris, Toulouse, Zurich, Berlin, and New York City. “He blazed the trail for night mayors,” said Amy Lamé, who was appointed Night Czar of London in 2016 by Mayor Sadiq Khan. London created the position in response to gentrification, which had decimated the creative scene in London. More than 50 percent of nightclubs have closed over the past decade in London, convincing Khan it was time to act. “These are talent pipelines,” Lamé said. “And if we take the creative industries seriously, we need to make sure the spaces thrive.”
London’s Night Czar grew out of the city’s Night Time Commission, a mayoral-appointed committee investigating ways to “champion, coordinate and bring innovation” to the night economy. The nighttime economy is worth an estimated ₤28 billion and supports one in eight jobs in London. Indeed, one of the key themes in the dialogue between Lamé and Milan last week was the importance of the night economy and the similarity between the jobs of night and day mayors.
“We’re building trust from different angles. We focus on the economy, but also safety, social cohesion, and cultural diversity,” said Lamé. Combining both the economic and cultural arguments for nightlife was a key theme for both night mayors. And as people — and the cities they live in — increasingly operate on a 24-hour time table, where working, sleeping, eating, learning, and, partying is no longer bounded by traditional timekeeping, city governments need to consider how they are leveraging those opportunities.
Like Milan, Lamé sees great promise in the night: “Cities of the future ignore the night at their peril.”