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?

7 PM liked by many college students in 20 countries

A recent multinational study finds that 7 PM may just be the most agreeable part of the day:

At 7 p.m., around the world, we all feel more or less the same about what we’re doing. That’s the finding from a massive study team, with 33 worldwide collaborators, led by psychologist Esther Guillaume of the University of California at Riverside. Sampling more than 5,400 individuals from 20 countries, the researchers found that people across countries (and within the same) made highly similar assessments of life at 7 p.m…

Across all 20 countries, participants gave very consistent RSQ ratings to life at 7 p.m. In general, people found whatever they were doing at that time to be “simple and clear-cut,” “social,” and “potentially enjoyable”; they also felt they were free to speak and feel a range of emotions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the lowest-rated descriptions made reference to abuse, physical or emotional threats, loss of freedom, or deception…

Obviously a study this vast will carry some caveats. The most glaring are that despite the high sample size, most study participants were college students, with a median age of 22 years old. The RSQ itself was developed by U.S. researchers, rather than a global research consortium, and this was its maiden cross-cultural voyage. Neuroskeptic has a smart take on the study’s limitations:

Overall this is a fascinating study and a rich dataset. But while the sample was drawn from five continents, the participants were not selected at random: all of them were students or ‘members of college communities’. What’s more, all of the participating nations were politically stable and at least middle-income. Is life so generally happy in Iraq, South Sudan, or Haiti?

It sounds like the study suffers from an sampling issue that many psychology face: they have WEIRD participants. That acronym stands for participants from “Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies.” Even if this finding may not be applicable worldwide, it is still interesting within this set of countries. What happens at this time of day?

1. It is around the end of the work day. Many of these societies separate home and work life so people are returning home and looking to relax after a full work day.

2. It is around dinner time (in some places more than others).

3. Depending on the time of year, it is not too long after getting dark or there is still some time for sunlight. Regardless, night is coming and this can be associated with entertainment or relaxation or sleep.

4. Television schedules and evening events start around this time.

In other words, people in these countries generally have more free time and can make choices for this themselves at this time of day.

The “sonic sociologist”

It can often to be interesting to see how people describe sociology in the non-academic realm. How about a “sonic sociologist“?

DJ Ms Thang is a relative “novelty’’ (her word) in the nightlife business: a sought-after female DJ who can get a room pumping whether she’s spinning for 20-something club kids or a ballroom full of gala-goers. Those skills, as well as her runway-model good looks (she’s sometimes been booked on those alone, she acknowledges), make it clear that “I can hold my own with the boys,’’ she added slyly.

To those who groove or merely toe-tap to the selected beats she puts out, the allure is in her perceptive crowd-reading, and her soulful style, a melange of genres…

“You’re like a sociologist,’’ she said, in her case, one in stilettos, jeans, and lace fingerless gloves. On a Tuesday night at Minibar, the sonic sociologist spins some mellow tracks for a reserved sampling of clubgoers. She starts with the Revenge Rework of Marvin Gaye’s “Heavy Love Affair.’’

It would be interesting to read a study as to how DJs develop these people-watching and perception skills. Similar to some other culture industry insiders, would DJs describe their abilities as “intuition” or “innate abilities”? If so, I suspect a sociologist might find that DJs acquire and develop these skills as they get more opportunities and hone their craft.