The “night mayor” looks to improve the urban overnight experience

The head of an advisory NGO in Amsterdam is looking to make the overnight experience better both for city residents and night owls:

“I think that to really build a 24/7 economic system in Amsterdam, we should focus on creating one 24-hour area in the city,” Milan tells CityLab. “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.”

The idea might sound ambitious, but then forward-thinking about Amsterdam after dark is actually Milan’s job: he’s the Dutch capital’s “night mayor.” This innovative office, unique to Amsterdam when created in 2014 (as the development of a project itself begun in 2003), has helped to clear up a blind spot that many cities face. Too often, public officials view their city’s nighttime existence with suspicion—as a sinister doppelgänger of its daytime form but with added sex and crime, sleep-spoiling noise, and sidewalks slicked with vomit. Even liberal politicians can have little experience with this twilight zone, given that they’re often tucked up in bed by 10 p.m.

It’s the role of the night mayor to bridge this gap. The incumbent’s job is to manage and improve relations between night businesses, residents, and City Hall. Milan and his team have proved so successful in Amsterdam that the concept has taken off internationally. Paris, Toulouse, and Zurich now all have night mayors, while London and Berlin are considering creating their own. Within the Netherlands two other cities, Groningen and Nijmegen, also have their own professional nocturnal managers, part of a total of 15 Dutch municipalities that have some form of night mayor role…

“In the nighttime economy, there’s a lot of talent,” he says. “Think of all the graphic designers, party promoters, DJs—all these people that use the night as a serious playground to develop their skills and in the end, have their daytime job. Definitely the creative industries are really important for Europe and especially for cities like Amsterdam or Berlin, but actually for everywhere in the world.”

The big city is supposed to be the place where you can find all sorts of activities at all times of day. One of the biggest surprises for visitors to the city is the amount of activity in some places all night long. Imagine Times Square or The Strip with all the lights and people. (I’ve been to both late and it is remarkable just how many people are wandering around.) But, those places are not necessarily where a lot of people live and they are filled with tourists. What is the average urban night owl supposed to do, particularly if they are a resident and not a tourist?

It would be interesting to see every major city develop a night district. Presumably, such a district would need good public transit, a variety of uses to serve different interests (from restaurants to arts spaces to music venues to gyms to coffee shops), temperate weather (I assume this would be very helpful), and probably should be composed of smaller buildings in more of a neighborhood feel rather than within a set of tall, modern structures. Would enough people flock to such a place if it was located far from primary residential areas?

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