Saturday 21 October 2017

The stuff of night mayors - why Dublin needs one

Many European cities are appointing 'night-time mayors' to boost the economy after dark. Shouldn't Dublin be following suit, asks Emma Kennedy in Paris

Night at the museum: The Louvre opened its doors late last Saturday as part of European Museum Night
Night at the museum: The Louvre opened its doors late last Saturday as part of European Museum Night
Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's night mayor

The crowd pushes forward, intent on getting a good look at the masterpiece before them. For the security guard charged with keeping an eye on the Mona Lisa, there's nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from the time.

It was just after 10.30pm last Saturday in Paris when a steady stream of visitors - tourists and locals alike - made their way into the Louvre museum as part of European Museum Night, an event that sees museums and cultural spaces across the continent throw open their doors after dark.

The annual Culture Night in Ireland follows a similar model. But Paris has picked up to a greater degree on the growing European trend to create cities that live and breathe at night all year round.

Paris, Zurich, London and Amsterdam - alongside a long list of other Dutch cities - have all appointed so-called night mayors to spearhead the development of the night-time economy.

Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's night mayor
Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's night mayor

It's about more than booze and bars, with cities keen to develop a unique nightlife offering that engages locals, attracts tourists and boosts the economy.

Dublin hasn't bitten the bullet yet. But there's a growing feeling that the night-time economy is important.

Evening shopping

"Five years ago the night-time economy was this awkward yoke. I think we've come a good distance since then. But there's still a way to go in terms of recognising its value," says Richard Guiney, chief executive of DublinTown, which works on behalf of 2,500 businesses in the city.

"The growth we're seeing in terms of footfall is in the evening time," he says. "The international trend in retail, for example, is for more evening time shopping. And where people shop, they also like to go to a café, to a restaurant, too."

A number of areas in the capital have already been awarded a so-called 'Purple Flag', an international accreditation that recognises excellence in the management of urban areas at night.

Dublin City Council, and other organisations such as Fáilte Ireland, have been supportive, Guiney says.

"The night-time economy is on the radar now, but there's a way to go. Somebody who's responsible for 5pm to 5am would be a useful role. But not just a nominal role. It needs to be someone who can make decisions."

Dublin City Council sent a representative to an international summit of night mayors held in Amsterdam last year, but a spokesman for DCC says there were no plans to establish a night-time mayor yet.

A rebel in a suit

Should Dublin have a change of heart, the first step is dialogue, according to Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's night mayor since 2012.

"Don't start by installing a night mayor. Start with a conversation. Get the clubs, the cultural spaces, and get them thinking about how the city's nightlife should look".

Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for Berlin's Clubcommission, the voice of the German city's clubs and cultural organisations since 2000, agrees.

"First of all, the creative scene needs to come together, create an agenda, look at the issues, think about how to change things, make a five-year plan," he says.

"At the same time, you need - on the political side - a person who gives you access. Someone to bridge the gap. That's the gap that a night mayor can possibly fill. It's a nice idea to have a night mayor, but it is not a solution to all the problems."

Mirik Milan describes himself as a "rebel in a suit", bridging that gap between officialdom and the creative scene. "You need to speak the language to get something done," he says. Nightlife has a pretty negative narrative, according to Milan, but it is far broader than just "drinking and dancing".

"Nightlife is really often, in the old way of thinking, seen as a problem rather than an opportunity. I saw an opportunity for the city to work together with operators and also residents to create this dialogue. We set out on this quest for more respect for nightlife."

An urban culture

Leichsenring believes that a city's nightlife "defines its young urban culture". "People identify with venues more than with a Starbucks or the other stores that dominate cities," he says. "A third of tourists come to Berlin for its nightlife.

"The night is not just dinner, a club, and home. The night is the day. We have venues that open on a Friday and close on a Monday. We have festivals where people go with their kids. It's not just music," Leichsenring says.

Milan's organisation, Nachtburgemeester Amsterdam, is an NGO, funded by city hall with contributions from the nightlife industry and from some consultancy work. Other cities have taken a different approach, with night mayors sitting within local government.

London mayor Sadiq Khan last year appointed writer, broadcaster, DJ, performer and campaigner Amy Lamé as the city's first night czar.

Khan says the night-time economy contributes £26.3bn (€30.4bn) to London's annual GDP, with this figure expected to rise to £28.3bn by 2029. However, there are challenges to deal with, too: recent figures from the London mayor's office reveal that 1,220 pubs have closed in the city in the last 15 years, and Lamé has launched a consultation to examine how the city can prevent further pub closures.

Paris also has a night-time champion appointed by the mayor. Since 2014, Paris city councillor Frédéric Hocquard has been responsible for what happens in the City of Lights after dark.

Figures provided by Paris city hall indicate that 600,000 people work at night in Paris. There are nearly 150 nightclubs, about 9,000 bars and 130 theatres; nine large parks are open 24 hours a day during the summer; and 46 museums offer at least one evening of later opening hours per week.

"Paris is characterised by the great diversity of its night-time offering, whether it is festival evenings outdoors or discovering new artists in clubs or concert halls," Hocquard says.

The idea hasn't taken hold as much in the United States. New York city councillor Rafael Espinal has called for a night mayor to be appointed to look after the city's multibillion dollar night-time economy. And, according to Mirik Milan, four other US cities are currently recruiting for a night manager.

Jocelyn Kane, executive director of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, says any city looking at its night-time offering needs to consider both regulation and economic development.

"It has to be a combination of the two," she says. "It needs to be looked at as an industry, just like tech or bioscience."

Appointing a night mayor would be a good first step towards recognising the importance of the night-time economy, Kane says.

"It's great to see recognition and some government support," Kane says. "But it needs to be sustainable. There needs to be a structure. You need to put the right mechanisms in place. It is important that it is not a PR job. That has no value."

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