Cities After Dark - Into the Night

As humans with our limited daytime vision, the night has long been understood as a time of danger and mystery. But today in cities with artificial lighting lining the streets the nature of night has changed. For some, it's a time for celebration and entertainment. For others, it's their regular work hours.

In this first episode of our six-part series, we talk with Robert Shaw, Chrystel Oloukoi, Alessio Kolioulis and Will Straw to unpack the night-time economy concept and look at some of the key issues in night-time governance.

  • Transcript

    Shelby Bassett:

    I grew up in suburbia, so we did not go out at night. Even when I lived in Perth, it was always suburbia. So you would take a taxi to somewhere at night, and then you would come back in a taxi. And you'd never like walk around or just like be out at night, until I lived in Melbourne. 24/7 noise, horns all night. The first night I moved here, I don't think I slept a single minute. I've never seen so much activity at nighttime near where you sleep, like a house, ever. I feel like that's a very city thing, is to actually experience nighttime in that way.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Beyond the rural or urban divide, that it depends also in the size of the city or the type of city you're talking about. Like nights have very different feels and interpretations, depending on which city you are living in. My experience, growing up in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, in Caracas, Venezuela, was quite interesting and quite remarkable. In the sense that, as a young people, when you're growing up, the night is a space that you look forward to as a space, to meet others, to interact with others, to build part of your identity. For me, as well as for many other people whom I grew up with, we have a huge limitation. We face the limitation of not being able to go out because of how dangerous things were outside. And how our nightlife was restricted to malls, or people's houses, or friend's houses, or private spaces. And that, to some extent, led to me questioning what's the impact of this absence of nightlife in public spaces for people our age. And what's the impact of the lack of spaces for young people to socialize over social capital and over trust in society. Especially in places that are highly polarized and highly dangerous, such as my hometown. So I think it's interesting how, while there are very important differences between night and day, and between urban and suburban night styles, it's interesting how each city has its own nighttime history to tell.

    Shelby Bassett:

    Hello and welcome to the first episode of the podcast mini-series: Cities After Dark. Brought to you by the Connected Cities Lab at the University of Melbourne. Across this series, we're going to explore cities after dark. Their histories, theories, institutions, and perceptions, to understand a part of the day that most of us tend to forget. In this first episode, we'll be discussing the history of the night, and delve into the nighttime economy. Discussing how that concept doesn't really cut the mustard anymore and how we can start to broaden our understanding of the night.

    Hi, I'm Shelby, from the Connected Cities Lab, where I work as a researcher in urban policy. And I'm your host for this series, Cities After Dark. To put this series together, I interviewed over 16 researchers from around the world, gathering their insights to learn what they think are the key issues of the night. So each episode will contain these interviews, plus discussions between myself and my co-host Andreina Seijas, a recent PhD graduate of Harvard University and a founder of Night Tank. And Michele Acuto, the director of the Connected Cities Lab. Today I'm joined by Andreina, who's joining us from Washington DC.

    Andreina Seijas: Hello, everyone.

    Shelby Bassett: Andreina, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with the nighttime, and how you came to be interested in the field?

    Andreina Seijas:

    For me, I think it was exploring my own hometown, exploring the streets of Caracas back in 2008. Along with a good friend, and a sociologist, Gerardo González, who started observing how, in different intersections in different parts of town, particularly in public spaces, life at night changes dramatically. Or life changes hour by hour. We would sit down with notebooks and pencils and take notes of how many people, how many cars, how many buses, how many children we saw walking around the same intersection at a particular time. And we understood that the night cannot be seen as a homogenous or monolithic timeframe, but it's a sequence of differentiated stages and experiences that happen in cities. And that's why we learned how rich this timeframe is and the need to explore it with the dedication, that we put in the same passion we put into exploring the day.

    Shelby Bassett:

    I think for me, it's a little bit of a different journey. I mean, I grew up without nighttime really as a space that we inhabited ever. That just built on the fear that suburbia kind of builds around nighttime. And it wasn't until I moved to Melbourne and I lived in a really high density urban area, where you kind of just walk everywhere. You're out at night, not just in a bar, somewhere at a restaurant, because that's kind of standard. But actually traveling to and from, inhabiting those spaces in between. I think a lot of us that don't live in dense areas, don't actually experience that. So it wasn't until I moved to Melbourne that I started to reclaim this emotion that I had about night that made me feel so much more secure. I think being in it, experiencing public transport and sidewalks and parks and things at night, which I'd never really done before, kind of gave me this whole new experience.

    Andreina Seijas:

    I identify a lot with that story in the sense that, for me, growing up in a place where the night was non-existent, basically, or the night was a private space where you couldn't interact with others, because of the fear of getting robbed or getting into trouble. It made me realize, made me value very much the possibility of exploring spaces at night. Of using public spaces. Even running at night, or playing sports at night. Or as a woman, the experience of being able to walk the streets at night safely. It's something that's very important, that you don't realize until you've lost it. And I think one interesting question when we think about these perceptions is, who owns the night or who claims these spaces? And that's one of the questions that has inspired me to work in this field. And I think it's important to not lose sight of the different people, the different groups, the different perceptions that exist and coexist in one space. In this case, in the night. And how each group has a very different and unique view of these spaces and deserves to have a voice and a say in the way that they're planned and the way that they're put together.

    Shelby Bassett:

    We actually have a whole episode coming up, talking about who has access to the night and who is excluded. What's clear is we all have our own really unique relationships with the night. But what about historically? How has that changed?

    Robert Shaw:

    It's interesting, I think, to often dive into the history of the night.

    Shelby Bassett:

    I spoke to Robert Shaw, an urban and social geographer from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, about the history of the night.

    Robert Shaw:

    I mean, if you go right back, the night is a space in which the state effectively withdrew. There may have been curfews, there may have been a limited night watch, you have responsibility for the city. But essentially, if you're going out, and I'm thinking here about kind of late Medieval, early modern Europe, there wouldn't have been any meaningful governance. The night was understood to be a scary space, a space where if you are out and about in public, there was a chance that you were either causing trouble or would encounter trouble. There might be very different in rural areas, where actually, there was laboring to be done, work to be done. But certainly in urban areas, there basically wasn't any nighttime governance.

    It's interesting if you ever read Shakespeare, it's much to do about nothing. The night guardsmen, the night watch are the kind of the comic relief, because they're understood at the time to be, basically, very incompetent. They were the kind of the joke police force, if you will, of urban life. So Shakespeare makes them the fools in that play. From that kind of absence of governance, the night remained, essentially, an unregulated space.

    And most urban settings, really through into the 20th century, is either a space in which activity is heavily regulated, or criminalized. So you have either very restrictive nighttime. For example, alcohol licensing, bar opening. Restrictions which very much limit what can happen at night, perhaps allowing activity within fairly constrained districts, where lighting and public services are available. Or it's heavily policed, so you have your kind of later equivalence at that night watchman at police forces, who would be understood as responsible for safety and security. And a discourse really remained, and probably still remains, about going out at night as, perhaps, inherently encountering danger, and less oversight. So in that formal sense, I think it's still today understood as a space in which there's sort of almost less governance; less presence at the state.

    Andreina Seijas:

    So Robert's historical account is very interesting, as it shows how the night began being highly regulated and highly restricted space. And it's interesting to see how, over the past, I would say couple of decades, the night has been as we were moving slowly from a police-centered approach to the incorporation of a broader cast of actors. And that's why we like to use a term to refer to this as nighttime governance, instead of nighttime government. As it involves a broad set of nocturnal actors that are both state and non-state institutions. So just as we've seen a transition from government governance, when it comes to managing the city at night, over the past several years, cities are recognizing increasingly that very important contributions that nighttime activities bring into the city. For instance, in terms of jobs and economic development, in terms of culture and in terms of sociability. Cities like New York and London are keeping track of the growth of these industries and the growth of the nighttime economy. And there's reports that state that 1.6 million people in London, or one third of the city, work at night. While in New York city, 300,000 jobs are part of the growing nighttime economy.

    Shelby Bassett:

    So you mentioned that the night economy has changed over the last decade. Is it a new thing or is it just something that we've recently given a label?

    Andreina Seijas:

    Yeah, so the term nighttime economy was actually coined in the 1960s in discussions of British rural towns, but the concept was only recently picked up by central and local governments as a strategy to encourage tourism, to create new jobs, and to promote local economic development. And while the concept has been very useful to depict some of the social and economic gains of expanding nighttime activity, it actually obscures the very important distinction between those whose work services at creative and nightlife industries, and those who work the night shift in other non-leisure nighttime activities. In recent years, the term nighttime economy has been used as a working definition for anything nocturnal. And while it's still useful, it could be problematic. So it's important to think about and to incorporate other facets and other aspects that have to do with non-leisure related industries.

    Shelby Bassett:

    We recently ran a studio at the university of Melbourne called studio in, with Masters of Urban Planning students. And you can see them really struggling with this term as well in their assignments, and really getting confused, and using this term to kind of attach it to almost anything and everything at the night. And I think there's a lot of confusion around what the nighttime economy actually means. So maybe, Andreina, if you could clarify for us all. So we can all be super clear, finally, on what is actually nighttime economy.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Yes. And I wish I could provide a very specific and worldwide definition of the nighttime economy, but that's at the heart of the problem, in the sense that, there's a lack of a common language used internationally by cities to refer to this timeframe. While in some contexts, we refer to the nighttime economy as, those activities that range from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. In other contexts, because of cultural differences, they refer to this as 5:00 PM to 5:00 AM, or the other 9:00 to 5:00. So there's many differences when it comes to the timeframes, and also when it comes to the industries that are involved in these timeframes. So most definitions include restaurants and bars, night clubs, casinos, sports arenas, theaters, concert halls. But there's also other broader definitions that include call centers or sports events, that have nothing to do with night life. And it's important, then, to consider how there's a need for this field to move forward, to have consensus around the definition. So we can then make way for a comparative analysis that allow us to learn from each other, in different contexts.

    Night. It's a collection of many experiences. Of many views and different perspectives, and cannot be understood just as a nighttime economy. That's why I believe that the term nighttime economy is a huge simplification of a broader field that requires more attention, more careful consideration, to really understand, what are the different perspectives and the different nuances that exist when we think about different cultures in different contexts.

    Chrystel Oloukoi:

    So I think cities from the global south forces us to recon with the way of the extent to which the binary between night and day is an enforced one. And how this binary is being constantly contested, challenged, and reinforced, in spectacular ways.

    Shelby Bassett:

    I asked Chrystel Oloukoi, a PhD candidate in African Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University, about this.

    Chrystel Oloukoi:

    I'm Chrystel. I'm a first year PhD student at Harvard University. And I'm working on imaginations of the night in Lagos, Nigeria and Johannesburg, South Africa. And I'm interested in how colonial imagination of the night translates in contemporary nightlife. I think in cities of the globe now, such binary appear, to some extent, more naturalized. I think one example of that is a debate on the nighttime economy, and how it takes place in cities in the globe right now. For it, many emerged from. Which was, how to transform cities, declining in [inaudible 00:14:24] cities, into 24 hour cities.

    And the premise was that the light was somehow dead or dead in temporality. And that it needed [inaudible 00:14:36]. Awakening or that it was starting to awaken [inaudible 00:14:42] we sense economic transformations towards service economy, tourism, and the consumption of city experiences, as some kind of commodity. So in cities of the global south, they show more clearly the limits of naturalized ideas on the night at a time of "sleep". And the city like Lagos, for instance, is constantly being animated by nocturnal floods of goods, services ,and people which are essential to the functioning of the city. And you wouldn't be as easily able to cordon off a nocturnal economy from the general economy. The way you could in a city like Paris, for instance, same with work, you wouldn't be as easily able to say, "this is like a night". Work or day work. Because [inaudible 00:15:28] are not as easily fixed.

    Andreina Seijas:

    In the same line with what Chrystel was just saying, and I totally agree that in cities, in the global South, it's very difficult to establish a strict differentiation between night and day. And a great example comes from a recent study from Bogotá, Colombia, which categorizes the city's nighttime activities into four stages or realms. Instead of looking at it as a homogenous or a monolithic timeframe, as a block, it divides it to differentiated stages. And for instance, in Bogotá, they talk about the night as a compliment of the day; as the first part. Which is from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, which involves retail and services, such as supermarkets and pharmacies that cater to those who can not access them during the work day. But then there comes from 9:00 PM to 12:00 AM, you have this specialized night. And the specialized night involves leisure activities, such as restaurants and bars and cultural entertainment. And then that's followed by the deep night, from midnight until 3:00 AM, which refers to the continuation of leisure activities in specialized nightlife districts. And finally, you have the night as a preparation of the day, which is from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM, where you find support services and catering logistics, as well as other manufacturing activities, that begin at this timeframe.

    Shelby Bassett:

    That's actually a fascinating point about access to goods and services. I think a really interesting thing that I noticed in the global north when I lived in Perth, Australia, is that there was no access to basic goods and services like a grocery store after 5:00 PM. And that was only a governance change that happened while I lived there. So for the first year, while I worked full-time, I couldn't access a grocery store unless I went at lunch. I think that's a really interesting way of how governance in cities of the north have approached nighttime traditionally. And there's a clear difference when you listen to how Bogotá have dealt with it. The governance is completely different. But in thinking about it that way, it's actually completely about how Perth viewed nighttime as space that is at home. You go home and you're at home. You're not at the grocery store. You're not buying anything. You're not going out. You're at home after 5:00 PM.

    Andreina Seijas:

    I would even say that that institutionalization of the view of the night connects to, or explains the huge limitation, the restrictions that exist to access to services at night. Imagine if you're someone who works at night and you have to access urban services. Something so basic, such as transportation, and you can't even have that provided to you. So I think that example calls into consideration the way that cities think about the night and how that perception affects service provision and the flow of goods in these places.

    Shelby Bassett:

    A lot of the institutionalization of restrictions and things is also from a protection of workers rights, which has a really strong history in the global north of protecting workers from overwork, from doing too many hours. That a lot of that restriction also trading hours comes from that. But that restriction also inhibits these workers from experiencing different spaces in different aspects of the day. The 24 hours. It not only protects them, but restricts them from these experiences that they don't know; that they don't get to have. I think that's fascinating as well. Something that is meant to protect you from being exploited. Restricting how you conceive of your entire day.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Yeah. So that's definitely such a big issue, and it's going to be a great opportunity to discuss this further in the episode dedicated to night workers. But also I think it's a combination of factors. On the one hand, it's what you're saying about worker protection and worker rights. But on the other, it's also a combination with this negative perception of the night. It's incredible how it exists in so many parts of the world, regardless of cultural backgrounds, of differences in context. Many places have a very negative perception and the night is stigmatized in many places, because of its association and link to alcohol, in many cases. And that has a lot to do with the way that it's regulated. And when we think about trading hours or hours of operation for activities at night, they all end up being connected directly to alcohol or the distribution of alcohol uses. So it's very interesting to see how, as we think about our broader perspective of the nights, we then also have to diversify and expand the way that we regulate and the mechanisms and instruments that we have to regulate the night.

    So based on these discussions, we can see that there's a need to broaden our views as researchers of nighttime, both culturally, geographically, but also conceptually. And this resonates to something that we discussed with Alessio Kolioulis, teaching fellow at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at UCL.

    Alessio Kolioulis:

    Since at least the 1990s, research into nighttime economies has primarily focused on post-industrial cities of the global north. We can think about lots of cities in Europe, like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin, or Manchester in the UK, or cities in the US such as Detroit and Chicago, or cities in Canada and Australia, where there is a lot of literature about nighttime in cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne, for instance. And all this literature and all these studies were very important in highlighting key policy aspects in the field of town planning, or gentrification, or issues related to tourism, or transport equity, or safety, gender, and identity. And more in general, I think all these studies were important to highlight the role of the creative industries for local economic development. You know, why the focus on the global north was essential for the emergence of a nighttime economy and nighttime governance framework. I think that it is now very important to expand research into nighttime economies in the sphere of development studies and urban planning in cities of the global South.

    On the one hand, we have to probably start thinking more and more the night as one part of the broader business supply chain of the creative industries. We have to start looking at the night more broadly, as part of this bigger picture, as about the creative industries. And on the other hand, the local governments, municipal governments, really have to start recognizing the importance of the nighttime economy for the creative industries and for social innovation more in general. And luckily, many city governments have started to do that. So we see, for instance, in our nighttime mayors and nighttime commissions, from Amsterdam, in Berlin, in London, proactively trying to support a sector of the creative production industries and to protect jobs.

    Andreina Seijas:

    As Alessio was saying, there's a growing interest and a growing recognition by local governments of the need to place the night in urban agendas. And a clear sign of that is that, today, there's more than 50 cities around the world that have appointed or designated night mayors or advocates, or created specialized offices, to deal with managing the city at night. We will talk about this in more detail in an upcoming episode on night mayors. This is a clear sign of the growth of this emerging field we like to call nighttime governance, which is a subset of a broader field of night's studies.

    Shelby Bassett:

    And that reminds me of something that Will Straw, professor of Urban Media Studies at McGill University, spoke about when I spoke to him.

    Will Straw:

    I'll just preface this by saying, I'm not a young man, and I've never been more excited about what I'm working on, and the people around me, as now. And this is because of this thing called night studies, that started in British sociobiologies of drinking, in French studies of time and geography, has blossomed into this very, kind of incoherent, un-bordered but very interesting field. I think for a long time, nights studies, the questions that drove it were about what we can call the festive night. Going out drinking, what does that mean? Should bars stay open? Subcultures at night and so on.

    Where I think it's moving, and it's in line with lots of other things in our society now, is towards taking up the question, not just of the festive night, but of the night of those who work, the night of those who have to sleep in shopping centers or in buses, and so on. These are populations of the night, and so on. So where I think it's going is towards a broader kind of consideration of all of the forms of justice that the night is involved. Also all the very different forms of sociability, the forms of pleasure, too, because the night remains pleasurable. And I think that's where the new energies for night studies aren't going to come. We're still going to be studying clubbing and so on. But I think we're going to start studying night. I'm fascinated by what goes on in hospitals at night. I'm fascinated by what some call politics of sleep. Where do people sleep? What are our obligations as a society in terms of what we give people as the basic resources with which to sleep.

    And so that's, to me, exciting. A rich nightlife is one in which the night is stretched out in time. Maybe it goes to mid-afternoon, maybe it goes to 6:00 AM, but also dispersed in space. So that, instead of everybody flocking to a city center for a festival or some square where everything's happened, you wander you meander, and there are little bits of things to be enjoyed. And that's what I think a reinvented night might be.

    Shelby Bassett:

    When I was speaking to all these nighttime experts and asking them, what advice would they give to an early career academic or anybody, really, anybody who's interested in the night. And there was a really recurring theme. And that is to go outside at night and be in that atmosphere; that space. And experience it, and really think about your relationship with the night and your experience of the night, and think about how there are so many different dimensions and so many different types of experiences of the night. There is not just one way of viewing the night. In different regions, different genders, different cultural experiences. Think about how all of those different aspects of the night come together to form such a diverse field. So I think if there's any advice that all of the nighttime experts have to all of us interested in this part of our lives, it's to go out there and really examine the diversity that it brings. And I think that's what we'll start to do in the rest of this series, is really understand those different relationships and those different aspects of the night that we don't usually think about, but are incredibly important, and bring a whole different perspective to what the night really is.

    Andreina Seijas:

    So based on these conversations, we can see how the night has been embedded in the tradition of crime and fear. And we can see how there's a growing need for more research and more data-driven approaches to understand the night as a field of research and practice that goes beyond these perceptions and these stigmas. And this calls for schools of planning, schools of design, as well as other professions and other experts, to get involved in this nascent field.

    Shelby Bassett:

    Well, this has been a fascinating conversation and I can't wait to keep talking about it in episode two, where we'll be discussing nightmares. So thank you so much, Andreina, for joining us.

    Andreina Seijas:

    Thank you so much, Shelby, and thanks to our listeners, and have a good night.

    Shelby Bassett:

    Thank you to Robert Shaw, Chrystel Oloukoi, Alessio Kolioulis, and Will Straw. Plus, my wonderful co-host, Andreina Seijas. This episode was produced by Kate Murray, sound production by Beck Fari, 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.

    The Connected Cities, Podcast acknowledges the indigenous peoples of the lands 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 who are 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

Dr Robert Shaw, Geography Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University

London at Night - an evidence-based study for a 24-hour city

Studio N: Managing cities at night

Chrystel Oloukoi, PhD Candidate at Harvard University

A/Prof Alessio Kolioulis, Lecturer (Teaching) in Urban Economic Development at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London

Prof Will Straw, Professor of Urban Media Studies at Department of Art History and Communications Studies, McGill University

Credits

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

Sounds of Venuzuela by almaclararadharani on Freesound

More Information

Kate Murray

kmurray@unimelb.edu.au

8344 5335