What Europe’s ‘Night Mayors’ Can Teach New York

The bill is intended to help the city’s struggling music venues, in particular its smaller ones, 20 percent of which have closed in the last 15 years because of rising real estate prices, zoning pressures, noise complaints and licensing problems, according to a recent report by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. CBGB, the East Village institution where The Ramones and Blondie had frequently played, closed in 2006; Bungalow 8 in Chelsea shut down in 2009; and the venue Shea Stadium, an epicenter of Brooklyn’s D.I.Y. music scene, shuttered this year after losing its lease.

The most established example that New York will look to is Amsterdam’s “nachtburgemeester,” a position established in 2003 when the Dutch capital’s night life was in decline. Mirik Milan, 36 and a former nightclub promoter, was elected in 2012 and tasked with sustaining Amsterdam’s night life while still appeasing local residents. Mr. Milan said one of his biggest hurdles has been convincing city officials that night life is about more than just partying. Even in the famously open-minded Netherlands, this has been a challenge.

“The night is always treated differently to the day,” he said. “When there is a problem at night, the first reaction of city officials or police commissioners is to stop it. Instead what you would do in the day is bring all the stakeholders together and try to at least make the situation a bit better.”

Mr. Milan’s flagship project has been the introduction of ten 24-hour venues on the western outskirts of the city. The idea was to alleviate the pressure on the city’s heaving center and create a purpose-built nighttime district. The area contains several multidisciplinary venues, including art galleries and co-working spaces, as well as bars and clubs.

Granting these establishments 24-hour licenses means the venues can set their own operating hours, offering more flexibility for locals and tourists as well as reducing loitering on the streets. “It’s something you see happening everywhere in the world — all venues close at the same time,” Mr. Milan said. “So people spill out onto the street at the same time, which of course causes a lot of problems and nuisance for people living in these areas.”


The cabaret performer Amy Lamé has been London’s “night czar” since November 2016.

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In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan appointed American-born British performer and comedian Amy Lamé as the city’s first “night czar” in November 2016. Much of Lamé’s work so far has been around night life entertainment, which is unsurprising given her 22 years of experience in the sector. She backed campaigns to protect a number of L.G.B.T. venues from closure, including the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London and Molly Moggs in Soho. Research from University College London found that in the last ten years, London lost 58 percent of what the report defines as L.G.B.T. venues.

However, like Amsterdam’s night mayor, Ms. Lamé emphasized that her role goes beyond pubs and clubs. “I realized from the beginning this is much bigger than just night life, this job is about life at night, which encompasses every aspect of life in London,” Ms. Lamé said.

She said that she spends much of her time working with London’s deputy mayors for policing and crime, transport, culture, planning and housing. “If you take a slice of everything they do and flip it into the dark, that is my brief,” she said.

The raw figures go someway to justify the need for a night czar: London’s nighttime economy is worth an estimated £26 billion ($34 billion). “We ignore this at our peril,” Ms. Lamé said. “We are facing an uncertain future with Brexit, and we have an opportunity to really craft and create a dynamic, balanced 24-hour London.”

Michele Acuto, a professor of urban theory at University College London, said that night mayors are more than a ceremonial role. “The concept of a nighttime economy is longer lived than the recent trend of night mayors,” he said. “That’s where the real value lies. It’s a sign by a city like New York or London that it is thinking strategically about the night.”

Acuto said that New York is now following in the footsteps of London and Amsterdam by creating a formal mechanism for operating as a 24-hour city. “There’s a whole infrastructure for the city that goes for 24 hours,” he said, pointing to fact that while London’s nighttime entertainment industry is estimated to employ just under 50,000 people, its health and social care industry provides over 100,000 jobs at night, as does the transport sector.

The hope with these initiatives is that they start with a night mayor focused on culture and then mature to tackle bigger issues like workers rights, transport, waste management and planning — all the necessary infrastructural elements that make working or living in a city after dark accessible.

“New York is the city that never sleeps, but not all of those people are going to parties,” Mr. Acuto said. “You can assume that the majority of them are going to a health care job.”

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