Cities After Dark - Having Night Mayors

New 24hr lifestyles have expanded the role of the night in society, requiring new forms of governance and representation for those who live, work, and socialise at night. Enter - the night mayor!

In the second episode of our six-part series, co-hosts Shelby Bassett and Andreina Seijas talk with Robert Shaw, Mirik Milan, Diana Raiselis and Will Straw about how the cities after dark are being managed.

  • Transcript

    Andreina Seijas: If you happen to be walking around the streets of Amsterdam on any Friday or Saturday night, you might encounter very interesting type of hosts. And these are the so-called square hosts dressed in bright red jackets. And they have a sign that says, "Ask me." These hosts are volunteers that are located in squares, such as Rembrandtplein in the city of Amsterdam, which is a great agglomeration for restaurants, bars, and night venues.

    The goal of these hosts is to guide people who come in and out from venues, from bars, from restaurants at night, and could be facing one of many situations, either that they're lost their group, or they have no battery on their phones, or they feel sick, or maybe they're making too much noise. And in these cases, these hosts approach them and very politely, they asked them to please be quiet, because most of these areas are located in the vicinity, or very close to, residential areas.

    This is a program that has been existing in Amsterdam since 2015, and it's an example of nighttime governance, as the concept of governance involves the interaction of many kinds of actors, both state and non-state actors in managing life at night.

    Shelby Bassett:

    Cities After Dark, a global view of urban night, a podcast series from the Connected Cities Lab at the University of Melbourne.

    Hi, I'm Shelby Bassett.

    Andreina Seijas: And I'm Andreina Seijas.

    Shelby Bassett: I work at the Connected Cities Lab as a researcher in urban policy.

    Andreina Seijas:

    I'm a recent Doctor of Design graduate from Harvard University, and the founder of Night Tank, an international consulting firm that focuses on thinking proactively about the urban night.

    Shelby Bassett:

    In the last episode, we talked about how the night is not a uniform entity, but multifaceted and diverse. Tonight, we'll find out how it's multitude of experiences and challenges require new governance approaches. We'll also take a look at one governance solution in particular, the Night Mayor, not as in scary dreams, but M A Y O R, a mayor who manages urban nighttime.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Yeah, I don't think we'll be talking about any scary dreams in this episode. So if you hear us say Night Mayor, we're talking about leaders in nighttime governance.

    Shelby Bassett: But, why does not time need its own form of governance?

    Andreina Seijas:

    One of the main challenges is that the night is a blind spot from a governance perspective. Most planning is focused on what happens during the day, overlooking the many social and commercial activities that take place after dark. While this is easier to visualize in large global cities like London, where almost 2 million people work at night, smaller urban areas, and agglomerations also have significant numbers of people who commute, work, shop, meet, or socialize at night.

    However, the idea of designating someone, or creating a specialized city department to manage the urban night is relatively new, and has been popularized by the rise of the so-called Night Mayor.

    Shelby Bassett:

    Okay. So I'm picturing someone in a cape and a top hat in the shadows, clocks on as the sun goes down and the day mayor leaves, but that can't be right. Who are these Night Mayors?

    Andreina Seijas:

    To answer that in 2018, I partnered with former Night Mayor of Amsterdam, Mirik Milan, from whom we will hear later in this episode, and we conducted a qualitative study to understand how the role of the Night Mayor was expanding all over the world. For this, we put together an online survey, as well as did a series of interviews, and we're able to gather data on more than 40 cities around the world that have appointed a Night Mayor, a Night Czar, a nocturnal delegate, a nighttime ambassador, or a similar role. If you visit, you will find a great interactive map where you can find out updated information about these positions.

    Shelby Bassett:

    We'll put the link in the show notes for this episode. You mentioned those Night Mayors, Night Czars, nocturnal delegates. Are there differences between all of them, or are they the same thing?

    Andreina Seijas:

    What all these roles have in common is that they're advocates or representatives responsible for mediating between city government, residents and nightlife industries. However, they all operate very differently depending on their scope and the resources they have, as well as the governance context where they are created.

    Through our study, we identified two main types of Night Mayors. First, those who sit within local government as official representatives, and also those who sit outside of local government as independent advocates or chairs of nonprofit associations that represent local nightlife and creative industries. We summarize some of the advantages and disadvantages of each of these models in a paper that we published in Urban Studies.

    But however, there's still a lot to be learned about which ones are more experimental solutions, and which ones are here to stay. It is important to note however, that Night Mayors are only one type of actor within a broad nocturnal ecosystem. And the latest addition to a long history of nighttime governance.

    Robert Shaw:

    A lot of the informal governance of the night took place through the organization of bars and clubs spaces.

    Shelby Bassett:

    You might recognize Robert Shaw's voice from the last episode, we talked to him about the history of the night.

    Robert Shaw:

    A book I can really recommend is Phil Hatfield's Bar Wars, which was written about the UK context of the liberalisation of alcohol licensing. And he writes really interestingly, drawing from his experience as a DJ before becoming an academic, of actually how really little things were often done, very subtly by people who were running clubs and bars and pubs to try and modulate behaviour.

    One of the things I did when doing my PhD was I went and sat in... There's a chain of pubs in the UK called Wetherspoons, and these are spaces which, they kind of pioneered a model of opening early in the morning, seven, eight o'clock to serve breakfast, then going into doing lunch and food and family dining before having, by midnight effectively, they're clubs with music playing and dance floors.

    And actually, one of the things I did, which is really quite instructive, was showed up at about three or four o'clock, still in that dining mode where people are having meals, there's menus on the table, there was, I think, pop music playing with music videos in the background. And you can sit there for six or seven hours, and just watch it slowly being changed as a space into a nightclub, basically. The lighting on the bar changed, the music changed from the music videos to a DJ, the tables are cleared, the staff working there change.

    And actually, that's a form of governance, because all of these little things are governing people's behavior. So I think a lot of what goes on actually is that sort of informal governance of behaviour.

    Shelby Bassett:

    So we've talked about the city governance ecosystem, so let's zoom right in on the Night Mayor.

    Andreina Seijas:

    As it was mentioned before, Mirik Milan was the Night Mayor of Amsterdam from 2012 until 2018, he then went on to co-found VibeLab, an international advocacy network that supports nightlife and creative culture.

    Shelby Bassett: When I spoke to Mirik, I wanted to know, what does a Night Mayor actually do?

    Mirik Milan:

    The position of the Night Mayor should be a translator. We are a translator between a lot of worlds, the city council, so city government, it's the nightlife operators and people in nightlife. And of course all the businesses, because we're not only speaking about nightlife, but more about nighttime. All the businesses that operate at night or the public transport and et cetera, but it's also the residents. And that's why I think that the urban night is such an interesting field because so often by governments, or city governments, it's something... They do it on the side, although it's of course half of the day, and therefore it's so interesting that now finally more cities are thinking, "Okay, but how do we plan for the urban night? How do we make sure that all things go well?" Because the time where the dark was only for the night revelers, or where the bad things happened, that time is way gone. Definitely with the globalization, and people working across time zones and 24 hour economy, of course, the urban night is really changing.

    Whether the role of the Night Mayor is inside or outside city government, it's always an advocacy role. That means that the Night Mayor, whether it's in London, the Night Czar, or whether it's the Office of Nightlife in New York with the Director of the Office of Nightlife, none of the Night Mayors have regulatory power, and that means that it's always an advocacy role. Now we are in an interesting period, because there's now enough studies to compare them, and you can also see the difference.

    So for example, in Berlin or in Amsterdam or seven or eight cities in the Netherlands, and many other cities, it's more bottom up movement. And in, let's say London, New York, but also Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, many cities in the US, it's more top down. So the role of the Night Mayor, or the Office of Nightlife is integrated in the city system. And the issue is that if you're a part of the system, if you're part of the city government, it's really difficult to be critical on the city itself. That's what I'm saying.

    Coming back to the big challenges, it's an advocacy role, we have to treat it like that, but we really have to set the boundaries of this advocacy role very clearly. And I'm hoping that in the future, an advocate, although working for city government has the power to at least make a statement, even though if it's going slightly against what the government is doing. That's why our advice always is, if a city has installed a nighttime governance role, always make sure that there is also an advocacy group in the city that pushes from bottom-up.

    So I think the most efficient way to set up this role, or to create an item governance, is to have the top down and the bottom up approach. And when these work very closely hand in hand, then you really can pick up speed. And then that's really important. So never think that the city government will arrange everything. You always have to keep pushing from bottom up as well.

    Shelby Bassett:

    So what Mirik's telling us is either side of the coin has both negatives and positives. If you sit inside government, then it's more difficult to be critical of policy. But if you sit outside government, then it's more difficult to have any legislative power.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Yes, but of course, it also depends on what's the governance system that is in place in the city where these models are created. So it's important to also identify how the overall impact, and the scope of these roles is really determined by the place where they're created.

    Mirik Milan:

    So Berlin is I think a really good example where it goes really well, but there always a local context that we have to take into account when looking at these situations. The advocacy group in Berlin, which is partly run by my partner, Lutz, they started almost 20 years ago, and definitely in last 10 years, they have to become very strong. They have become strong they have influence, they're talking to a lot of [inaudible 00:12:14] so they have contacts in all layers of government, national government, but also local government. And the big head starts of Berlin is, is that Berlin sees their nighttime economy, nighttime culture, they see it as a very valuable asset to their local economy. If everyone in government understands that club culture, where Berlin is so famous for, is its work, and they accepted as being work and they accepted as something which is valuable to their economy, then you have this perfect combo of pushing up and not kicking down, but pulling on both sides of the fence basically.

    So I think Berlin is a good example. But the local context is also that, when it comes to gentrification and rising prices, Berlin is one of those top growers where gentrification is really happening, and people are being pushed out and you see that 15 years ago, it was maybe more in the center, but now already the other districts like Kreuzberg, like now Neuk├Âlln is something which is really hot and happening, so the rising rents and all that stuff. So it's not that if you have that combo, that the energy of the market is then transferred or shaped, but definitely they get a lot done. And definitely they are very resilient, definitely in these times. You see that in Berlin, they have that combo, but you always have to take local situation into account. And it changes from city to city, but what people want in the end is always the same. And that's why it's also possible to compare cities with each other and learn from each other. That's also where we are at the moment.

    Diana Raiselis:

    I think that so often nighttime and nightlife and partying is seen as the liability. People see the noise, or people see crime, or people see drunkenness on the streets or fights, and I think it's really important to figure out how to recast that narrative and see the assets and see nightlife and creators as really powerful innovators who can be part of this move towards sustainable cities, daytime and nighttime.

    Shelby Bassett:

    This is Diana Raiselis, She's an Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation Fellow. Diana is originally from the US, but currently based in Berlin, where she also collaborates with VibeLab on nightlife policy research.

    Diana Raiselis:

    And so I think that utopian of, we have these spaces where we can try different things and create a different social contract, there's huge opportunity there. So I see people doing that, and this is already happening in awareness policies, those spaces developed saying, "If you feel unsafe here is who you speak to. Here is our zero tolerance policy for isms." I see clubs already switching over to green energy, or adapting to residencies where they're considering the climate impact of artist travel, clubliebe is doing really beautiful stuff in Berlin, doing carbon audits of clubs and helping clubs switch over and understand their footprint.

    I see places releasing guides and putting practices in place in terms of alternatives to calling the police, or also creating resources and rides home for people who may be traveling late at night on public transit is not a safe option for a variety of reasons. So there's really incredible, innovative, small stuff that's happening all over the place. And I think the next steps is figuring out, how do we keep track of that work to hopefully document it and document its impact? How do we share it? Not just so other places can put the same things in place, but also, how can it become part of a bigger initiative?

    Andreina Seijas:

    As we discussed during episode one of Cities After Dark, an essential question to this emerging field is, how do meanings and interpretations of the night change around the world? Unfortunately, most studies have focused on the cultural and leisure perspective of the night, but considering that the night is the other half of the day, why isn't it part of a major global agenda like sustainability and health?

    Diana Raiselis:

    So when I started to look into this last year, I discovered that of the 15,000 words that make up the Sustainable Development Goal resolution, nighttime is not mentioned once. I think there's a micro and a macro answer to how cities can be more sustainable. On the macro, we need to gather data. We should be able to answer how much of the city's carbon footprint, or how many of its taxi miles, or its landfill contributions, or maybe its road traffic deaths are coming from nighttime activity, because then I think there're opportunities to figure out how do we decrease those things. So that may mean looking at different kinds of studies, maybe looking at breaking down the data we gather or how open data sources can be combined to gather some insights.

    But then on the micro, I was thinking a little bit recently about one of the most powerful exercises I did in a public policy fellowship in Los Angeles, and walking around a city as if this personal lived experience. Because I move through a city a certain way, but doing a walk of maybe a familiar place with a different prompt in mind. Walking through a city route as if you're a cyclist, or as if you are a person with a small kid, or a person who doesn't read the local language, or a person who is looking for someplace to stay the night, different things come to mind.

    And I think that metaphor really holds to experiencing the city between day and night. I think there are so many policymakers that maybe aren't experiencing a city at 2:00 AM, coming home from a restaurant shift, or moving around the city at four or five. So I think the more that we can unite the people who are making decisions about cities and people who are having the lived experience of cities at night, that's really key.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Diana made very important points about the need to bridge the gap between the green, or the sustainability agenda, and the dark, or the nighttime studies we have been discussing here. This has been articulated by several articles and publications that call for a science of the night, or for interdisciplinary research into the night to become a recognized field. If you want to learn more about this, I have put some links to these studies in the show notes.

    One of the challenges involves encouraging cities to generate new and accessible data on the impacts of nighttime activity, overpopulation, health, safety, wellbeing, and environmental sustainability. Cities are learning from each other, what is the best way to manage this largely overlooked part of the day? However, rolling out solutions from one context to another requires a great degree of re-interpretation and adjustment to local governance structures and to cultural identities.

    It is very important that each city determines what is the best nighttime governance model, which not only involves designating Night Mayors, but also promoting other types of actors. As we mentioned in the beginning of this episode, great examples can be found and Amsterdam's red jacketed hosts in Paris, Les Pierrots de la Nuit, and many other forms of mediation to manage violence, noise, congestion, and other challenges that come with greater life at night.

    While the growing role of Night Mayors has helped put nightlife and creative industries in the spotlight, some nocturnal workers have not received as much aid and attention. For example, non-leisure workers such as nurses, taxi drivers [inaudible 00:19:49] workers, Shelby, I believe you're talking about night shift workers in the next episode, right?

    Shelby Bassett:

    Yeah, next time I'll be co-hosting with Michele Acuto, the Director of the Connected Cities Lab. We'll be talking about the night shift, exploring the challenges faced by those who live and work in the night. But we're really going to miss you, Andreina. I'll be seeing you again later in this series though when we talk about COVID and locked down nights. Thank you for joining me.

    Andreina Seijas: Thanks, Shelby. It's been a pleasure and I look forward to speaking to you again.

    Shelby Bassett:

    Thank you to Robert Shaw, Mirik Milan and Diana Raise lis, plus my wonderful co-host, Andreina Seijas. This episode was produced by Kate Murray, sound production by Bec Fary, and brought to you by the Connected Cities Lab. You can find more information about the work of our lab and the researchers in this podcast in our show notes. And you can join the conversation on Twitter using #CitiesAfterDark.

    Connected cities acknowledges the indigenous peoples of the lens upon which we work and meet to create this podcast. For us at University of Melbourne, we pay our respects to the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. Wherever in the world you're listening to this, we invite you to pause and consider the traditional owners of the land upon which you stand.

Links and references

Join the conversation on Twitter using #CitiesAfterDark Map

Dr Robert Shaw, Geography Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University

Hadfield, P. (2006). Bar Wars: Contesting the Night in Contemporary British Cities. Oxford University Press.

Mirik Milan, former Night Mayor of Amsterdam, Co-Founder of VibeLab

Diana Raiselis, research fellow in residence with the Berlin Clubcommission and VibeLab, as a German Chancellor Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Acuto, M. (2019). We need a science of the nightNature, 576(7787), 339.

Kyba et al (2020). Night Matters—Why the Interdisciplinary Field of ‘Night Studies’ Is Needed. J. 3(1), 1-6.

Seijas, A. & Milan, M. (2020). Governing the night-time city: The rise of night mayors as a new form of governance after dark. Urban Studies 58(2).


Co-hosted by Andreina Seijas and Shelby Bassett

Written by Shelby Bassett and Kate Murray

Sound Design by Bec Fary

Produced by Kate Murray

Special thanks to Michele Acuto and Jennifer Dam

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