1: Into the Night

Night-time has often been seen as the end of formal activities and the start of rest, respite or fun for many. Considered ‘after hours’, the dark period of our days has, in many contexts, been residual time for policy attention, public discussions and major initiatives beyond perhaps those emerging from the entertainment and hospitality sectors. Cities around the planet have been scantily planned for, imagined and debated at night. Yet, the night-time is all but inconsequential for our lives, especially on an increasingly urbanized Earth. All life on our planet experiences darkness to some extent. Most mammals are, after all, nocturnal. Around one in 15 employees in North America, and one in nine in Australia, work at night-time. Internationally, energy use tends to peak in the evening hours. Yet, precious little going on at night is still subject to scholarly and policy scrutiny. Here is where our primer for managing cities at night comes in. We take a cue from an emerging and, we would argue, exciting interdisciplinary crowd of ‘night studies’ (Gwiazdzinski et al, 2018), which has expanded over the last few years as a collaboration between night-time practitioners and scholars, and we step in with an intervention aimed at offering an accessible introduction as to why, and how, our cities’ night-time should be governed. We start in this chapter by stressing this growing call of night studies to put the ‘after hours’ in the spotlight, and we make a case for both the importance of governing the night-time and the necessity to do so in a way that recognizes the value of the many international experiences out there, setting night-time governance as a trend, rather than a passing fad.


Night-time has often been seen as the end of formal activities and the start of rest, respite or fun for many. Considered ‘after hours’, the dark period of our days has, in many contexts, been residual time for policy attention, public discussions and major initiatives beyond perhaps those emerging from the entertainment and hospitality sectors. Cities around the planet have been scantily planned for, imagined and debated at night. Yet, the night-time is all but inconsequential for our lives, especially on an increasingly urbanized Earth. All life on our planet experiences darkness to some extent. Most mammals are, after all, nocturnal. Around one in 15 employees in North America, and one in nine in Australia, work at night-time. Internationally, energy use tends to peak in the evening hours. Yet, precious little going on at night is still subject to scholarly and policy scrutiny. Here is where our primer for managing cities at night comes in. We take a cue from an emerging and, we would argue, exciting interdisciplinary crowd of ‘night studies’ (Gwiazdzinski et al, 2018), which has expanded over the last few years as a collaboration between night-time practitioners and scholars, and we step in with an intervention aimed at offering an accessible introduction as to why, and how, our cities’ night-time should be governed. We start in this chapter by stressing this growing call of night studies to put the ‘after hours’ in the spotlight, and we make a case for both the importance of governing the night-time and the necessity to do so in a way that recognizes the value of the many international experiences out there, setting night-time governance as a trend, rather than a passing fad. We introduce here some of the grounding stances of this primer, as well as some of the core ideas emerging from the book and this mounting practice. For instance, we first meet: ‘night mayors’, as representatives standing in as voices for the urban night of many cities; the ‘night-time economy’ (often abbreviated as NTE), as the agglomerate of the economic activities (and people) keeping cities ticking after hours; and ‘night councils’ and other ‘night-time governance’ bodies, which have been designed in cities around the planet to formalize the way we engage strategically with what happens at night-time on our streets.

We should caution the reader that this is a world in fast evolution, not least because of the deep impact that the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and its social distancing needs have had on night-time industries and activities. As such, Managing Cities at Night is but a snapshot in time when it comes to recounting the trends, directions and trajectories that night-time governance has been taking and will be taking throughout very diverse urban contexts that populate an increasingly urbanized planet. Our goal, then, is not to offer the definitive statement on this matter. Rather, our call is for scholars and practitioners to pay both closer and more systematic attention to what it means to be managing cities after dark, as well as one that is deeply steeped in both a social justice purpose that recognizes the many people underpinning these activities and an advocacy for a ‘global’ urban imagination (Parnell and Robinson, 2017) that can expand policymakers’ and academics’ world views. In doing so, we hope to encourage a new generation of urbanist thinking that does not ‘clock off’ at 6 pm but can rather thrive in the recognition that life, justice and opportunities continue, and oftentimes flourish, when the lights go down.

Putting the spotlight on night-time governance

The night has been taking a particular place in the way we think about cities in the 21st century. Many authorities governing cities, as well as community and private sector movements, seem to have been waking up to it throughout the last few decades. It has, in some places, become a focus of action and discussion as night-time themes emerge in policy and planning. Growing international attention to the NTE amid practitioners, as well as the potential of night studies (Straw, 2018) amid scholars, is now afoot. This is still the case as we write in the early months of 2021, even in spite of the lockdowns forced upon cities by the worldwide responses to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Evidence in support of this is now available across most continents and from many of the world’s economic centres, but also from a widening cast of ‘secondary’ cities and towns. The media too has often been alert to, at the very least, some of these night-time issues – more now than perhaps at the end of the last century. Of course, this is still a form of attention that tends towards the opportunistic news story and the occasional but rarely systematic look into how cities are being managed after dark. London’s launch of a ‘24-hour’ subway (‘night tube’) service in the summer of 2016, for instance, raised interest across commentators in major international news outlets. In the same city, the tragic death of a woman kidnapped by a police officer while walking home at night in the winter of 2021 drove the resurgence of a wide debate on urban safety and gender issues after hours. The clash between local and state governments over the so-called ‘lockout laws’ for bar curfews in Sydney animated Australian media and policy debates repeatedly from 2014 to 2019. Paris’s 2001 ‘Nuit Blanche’ all-night affair has for quite some time – COVID-19 aside – been a common occurrence repeated in many countries around the world as a strategy to prompt after-hours tourism and cultural exchanges. The examples of night-time activity, in short, abound.

Across very different jurisdictions and urban development contexts, from the Antipodes to Latin America, East Asia and peri-urban France, steps towards formalizing the ways in which cities govern all of this have become increasingly common. Amsterdam’s election of a ‘night mayor’ in 2003 as the official voice for the night-time has created, for instance, a mounting interest in the idea of cities having a representative for the NTE. Night ‘managers’ (like in Sydney), ‘czars’ (as in London) and other variations on this form of representative for the after hours have followed suit in cities as different as New York, Tbilisi, Madrid and Asunción. At the same time, numerous cities have been experimenting with alternative forms of night management or convening night-time conversations, as with Berlin’s now much-chronicled ‘Club Commission’ and the many ‘night councils’ convening NTE interests and debates in cities like Nantes and Manchester. Therefore, we could argue with quite solid evidence that these are not just anecdotal vignettes to be relegated to minor news reports. Cities the world over are turning a closer eye to the night-time, and this has the potential to shape substantially the management of our neighbourhoods, streets and squares. This is a book about that potential, the ways it is being managed (or not) across the globe and the value of night-time thinking for urban governance. We would like to, so to speak, take urban policymakers into the night.

Managing Cities at Night aims to provide an accessible primer to the ‘case for the night’ in urban governance: why does the ‘after hours’ matter in cities? What, and who, is the NTE made of? Why has it been neglected, and why would it be an important domain for urban policy, planning and design going forward? What can we learn from the many examples of cities tackling this in both the Global North and South? How is night-time activity and its governance being called into question by the contemporary challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic? Offering preliminary answers to these questions, the book’s audience is twofold. First, it is aimed as both an introductory review for those that have not yet engaged with this theme and would like to know more. However, second, we hope it also stands to equip those working in the NTE and policymaking, whether they are within local government or elsewhere, with more evidence-based and scholarly propositions as to why their area of specialization is central to the future of cities. We seek to offer: a brief context of the emerging field of night-time governance and its mounting recognition; a short history of the NTE and some tangible classifications of the ways in which it is managed; and a review of what core challenges the night purports to pose for urban policymakers, private actors and scholars.

To step into the night, scholars and practitioners need, first and foremost, to understand that the night has become increasingly visible as an exclusive time-space and point of interest for policy and governance agendas in some cities around the world. This emergence of the night as an area of focus for city management and the provision of services has been encouraged by the aspirations of many cities to become a ‘24-hour city’ and the discussions surrounding this economic, policy and discursive shift (Crary, 2013). This has led to the production of evidence and the creation of dedicated urban policy agendas relating to the promotion and marketing of cultural and creative urban spaces and regions (Landry, 2000), as well as consumption-led initiatives (Chatterton and Hollands, 2002; Hobbs et al, 2005; Roberts, 2006).

Earlier city-based policy and strategic initiatives regarding these nocturnal agendas have fallen thus far explicitly under the aegis of the NTE, with varying approaches and categorizations affiliated with the concept. This is especially true in Europe and North America, the voices of which have dominated night-time research for quite some time. Broadly speaking, as noted earlier, the NTE has mainly encompassed activities related to the entertainment and hospitality sectors. This means policy issues such as venue licensing (mainly for nightclubs and bars), hospitality regulation and matters pertaining to the support, management or externalities of leisure activities, as well as planning for cultural venues and night-time events in some cases. In some, generally less common, contexts, this is also taken to aspects of transport planning, street safety and compliance with public order issues, as well as, of course, the policing of the after hours. To date, early definitions and practices associated with the NTE, mainly emerging from North America and Europe, have contributed to many of the temporal frameworks attributed to the night in cities. This brings up an important definitional matter that, far from being just about semantics, is an essential backgrounder to what policymakers and scholars might mean when they speak of the (urban) ‘night’. Definitions vary across many examples in this book, utilizing the end of the working day (5 pm/6 pm) as a key indicator in shifts towards evening and night-time activity in cities. Yet, this is by all means nowhere an established reality worldwide. Although darkness is often implicit in the imagination when considering the night, it is these temporal boundaries of, for example, 6 pm to 6 am in the case of London (GLA, 2018a) and Toronto (Toronto, 2018), and between 9 pm and 5 am in Sydney (Sydney, 2011), that are used to delineate the start and end of the NTE for many cities. Yet, cultural contexts also contribute to delineate this, with numerous realities in, for instance, the Middle East and South Asia ascribing different connotations to what happens ‘after dark’ in particular periods of the year (for example, Ramadan or regular night market traditions). Therefore, to date, while some of the most visible cities in terms of the NTE have adopted the ‘6 pm to 6 am’ definition to refer to their NTE, the lack of a shared approach both complicates comparative analyses and opens up issues with the transferability of models from one city to another. From this point of view, we would both caution the reader against simply taking our primer as a shopping list of easily implementable policy solutions, and foreground our comparative effort as one representing a variation on a common theme (that of night-time management), rather than an illustration of a single dominant approach. As a 2015 study by British engineering firm Arup noted in respect to questions of design and lighting (Lam et al, 2015), we encourage the reader here to ‘rethink the shades of night’ in the direction of an approach that puts the emphasis on more context-sensitive considerations that focus on how people inhabit the night-time and its ‘grey’ spaces, rather than starting from the economic activities per se.

From that perspective, and still keeping a particular focus for our inquiry on matters of governance, we can point at a set of specific policy issues commonly emerging internationally. In particular, within the efforts to regulate, manage and govern the NTE, a number of related themes have arisen in recent years – which we tackle more in depth in a dedicated chapter of this book – going from licensing and operations, to night-time safety and liveability or the protection of vulnerable groups. Importantly, most cities across the world have begun to assess these issues through approaches in policymaking that involve partnership with non-governmental actors and strategic consultation with third parties. Across cities in Europe and North America, for instance, partnerships between representative groups from the alcohol and entertainment industries have seen the role of licensing, zoning and the protection of venues from closure become prominent issues for city officials when developing management strategies for the NTE (Roberts 2009). Some consulting and advisory services organizations have begun to focus on sharing best-practice examples concerning a wider remit of NTE management. Some have begun advocating for more holistic approaches to NTE businesses, safety and transport as key municipal agendas (Sound Diplomacy and Seijas, 2018). Of course, this is not just a story of advocacy and positive recognition. Rather, because of its specific focus on policy and politics, our international account is also rife with confrontations. For instance, in several cases, it has been the threat, or actuality, of music venue closures that has acted as a catalyst for discussion among stakeholders, residents and municipal officials (see Barrie, 2015; Harris, 2015). More broadly, these NTE clashes have been leading to campaigns and calls for consultation around best practice in managing the interests of the entertainment and leisure industries in relation to development, planning and residential needs. This is a central issue for our account of night-time governance, not only in an agenda-setting way, but also because in many of these highly political cases, cities have begun to formalize and institutionalize more tangible structures for governing the NTE. Such issues were prominent, for instance, in the formation of night-time commissions in Berlin and Zurich in 2001 and 2003, respectively, or in the appointment of London’s ‘night czar’ in 2016. More generally, then, we would recognize that these discussions, agendas and confrontations have led the way in opening up further appraisals as to what constitutes the urban night, and which areas of governance must be addressed when planning and making provisions for this vast multitude of nocturnal activity.

Governing the night-time

The night is now being incorporated into urban governance in many, varied instances. Since the turn of the century, numerous cities – predominantly across Europe and North America but with growing purchase elsewhere – have appointed individuals and established offices with the task of managing their NTEs. Importantly, this movement towards night-time governance has predominantly taken place within urban and regional governance, with still virtually no national NTE policy available on the theme, in turn, stressing the importance of seeing this story from a ‘city’ perspective, as we suggest in this book. Yet, what is there to be governed, and how do we ‘know’ the NTE? Much of the early initiatives regarding this area of policymaking were generated from a strategic standpoint that promoted creative and cultural nocturnal exploits within cities as a means to foster economic growth through entertainment, leisure and consumption. The entertainment and leisure industries, centred on food, alcohol and, in some cases, tourism, were the primary focus of the NTE debate (Bianchini, 1995). In many cases, this went hand in hand with their perceived unwanted externalities, from crime to noise, light pollution and gentrification (Lovatt and O’Connor, 1995). The NTE was at the heart of scholarly discussion on questions of criminality and public order (Hobbs et al, 2003; Roberts, 2006), or economic development and downturn (Shaw 2010), throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, it has certainly gained purchase in several facets of both the humanities and social sciences, as well as the natural sciences, with concerns about animal behaviour and light pollution mounting in many different disciplines (for example, Hopkins et al, 2018). However, in recent years, dialogue on the NTE within academia and, in some cases, in policy has also begun to integrate the night-time requirements of urban dwellers and the challenges of how urban infrastructure attends to night industries’ and residents’ demands for inclusivity, equity, temporal availability and the management of after-hours services. Prolific strands of research have emerged on questions of night-time atmospheres and perceptions (Shaw, 2014; Brands et al, 2015; Edensor, 2015). Equally, particular vulnerabilities and questions of gender and race (Talbot, 2007; Nicholls, 2018), or space and society more generally (Mateo and Eldridge, 2018), are now well established in the study of how cities work at night. Engagement with night-time issues emanating from the progressive expansion of activities after dark, and, indeed, recognition of night-time life and livelihoods, has been thriving (Seijas and Gelders, 2021). Geographers (Shaw, 2018), political scientists (Acuto, 2019) and interdisciplinary groups of scholars (Kyba et al, 2020), among others, have even begun advocating for more institutionalized places for ‘night studies’ in the academy.

Yet, what does this mean for the governance of cities worldwide? How can this inform the ways in which all of this is practically managed by municipal, metropolitan and other forms of local government? How is the night, or 24-hour thinking, shaping the direction of urban governance? Who manages what happens after hours in cities in both the Global North and South? Until quite recently, when a sprawling and relatively diverse conversation on night-time issues started booming across continents, little was available to the municipal officer, private consultant or civil society activist when it came to discussing night-time governance more specifically (Straw, 2018). The ‘policy mobility’ sprawl of ideas and best practices to governing the night paved the way to this turn. Likewise, the emergence of a more exploratory and interdisciplinary night studies scholarship, usefully propelled by early-career scholars and research-practitioners (and, indeed, night mayors of various sorts), has laid a prolific ground upon which we can attempt to answer some of the questions outlined earlier in this book. Now more than ever, this is an important agenda, not just to economic growth, but also to recovery from the deep socio-economic impacts of the 2020 crisis ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we aim at picking this task up with an explicit goal to make this discourse and the variety of policy experiments in place around the world accessible to, and easily consulted by, a practitioner audience. This short volume offers an analysis of various governance approaches throughout numerous cities, seeking to provide a more explicit evidence base for discussions of the governance of night-time activities but without taking a particular sectoral stance or delving into more extensive scholarly debates (as we have done elsewhere).

The research underpinning this volume is a mix of a few separate strands of work converging into the main purpose of animating more informed, inclusive and internationalized night-time governance. The cases and evidence gathered here stem from original work conducted at University College London (UCL), the University of Melbourne, and Harvard University. They also emerge from debates taking place both in the aforementioned expanding academic debate around ‘night studies’, and through cross-border engagement between researchers, consultants and policymakers working in this field. Development of the empirical material presented here has involved, over the course of 2018 to 2020, through auditing and reviewing night-time governance structures, strategies and initiatives internationally. It has also included workshopping and diving deeper into some of these case studies, designed, in our view, as easily consultable snapshots aimed at night-time managers, as well as urban governance experts, practitioners and scholars more generally. Research for the book has also meant that we have drawn from our own experience of engaging in debates and discussions with students at UCL at the City Leadership Lab (now Urban Policy Lab) in the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP), as well as in the Melbourne School of Design’s ‘Studio N’ course and research at the Connected Cities Lab (now the Melbourne Centre for Cities) at the University of Melbourne. Additionally, we have drawn from a study commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2018 to characterize the night-time activity in the World Heritage Site of Valparaiso, Chile. Given its history as a major merchant port and nightlife hub in South America, Valparaiso is undergoing a multi-agency technical cooperation to develop a new governance model to revitalize and enhance its Historic Quarter, with some nocturnal considerations in mind.

Desk-based and fieldwork research informing this book was originally undertaken from 2018 for the creation of a set of case studies as the basis of this volume, with a review of available strategic documentation and manifestos from city offices. This went along with secondary press releases and news reports, as well as (where available) academic literature. Key research aims were to chart the chronology of appointments of night-time offices, commissions, managers and mayors across the world, to analyse the structures of each governance model in respective cities; to map topics of discussion, pledges and initiatives, and to highlight any cross-cutting themes and policy implementations. As of December 2020, more than 50 cities were identified as having nocturnal-specific initiatives, strategic documentation and/or discussions concerning the management of their NTEs. A further 38 towns and cities in the Netherlands and Belgium (excluding Amsterdam) were identified through membership of the International Night Ambassadors Federation. These locations have not been included in the majority of analyses due to many of them holding night-time-related offices in a symbolic capacity, with night mayors and representatives largely elected in an informal role with little to no interaction with their respective city officials and departments.

In the interest of making the analysis of all these strands of work user-friendly for the city practitioner and the uninitiated researcher, the book uses various quick-reference writing styles, as with the provision of typologies or vignette case studies, seeking to illustrate of the modes of night-time governance available (at the time of writing) around the planet. In doing so, we hope our primer will serve not as an exhaustive breakdown of each city’s approach to governance, but rather as a broad view of the genesis and progression of some of the possibilities for night-time governance that we have been witnessing across diverse cities. In that, we also present two chapters of more extended case studies that are not seeking to be complete guides to the likes of Tokyo or Sydney, but rather close glimpses into specific elements of what it means to manage the NTE. In our view, these are useful international examples that are often reported in simply anecdotal ways, and that can otherwise be read more systematically through the lens of urban governance that characterizes our narrative. The book highlights numerous shared themes and topics evident in night-time policymaking and discussion for the purpose of drawing some commonalities, without, however, seeking to argue that the NTE has been taking place equally across the planet. It also highlights the geographical concentration of cities in particular continents that appear to be at the forefront of these discussions, but in doing so, it makes an explicit (and we would argue normative) effort towards underscoring the need to decentre the Euro-American dominance that biases NTE discussions. From a policymaker perspective, we stress the relative infancy of night-specific policy, as testified to by the dominance of strategic vision documents, manifesto pledges and press-related materials over and above the availability of benchmarked outputs, as well as evaluations of existing policy implementations and extensive comparative reports. Our goal, then, is to open up even more explicit conversation on the governance of the night-time in cities, and to do so on the basis of an international and comparative look into the world of urban governance after hours. In doing so, we call on practitioners and scholars alike to think about these night-time issues in their broader global context, not just in their local specificities.

Overall, this book seeks to offer an exploration of the variety of night-time governance arrangements that exist in cities the world over, showing how and why different actors across the public and private sectors, and civil society, have taken an interest in the NTE. We then take a deep dive into the focus of night-time governance to discuss the type of night-time issues that have been particularly salient for night-time managers. We then discuss what has been obscured in current night-time policies, particularly issues of inequalities and the forms of precarity associated with night-time work. In exploring these issues of what has been called ‘invisibilization’, we argue that night-time strategies should be more inclusive and make more efforts to address the needs of night-time workers – this is likely to require multi-level partnerships with both governments and civil society groups within and beyond cities. Looking ahead and addressing the deep transformations that are likely to emerge in a post-COVID-19 context, we explore the impacts of the pandemic on NTEs and its implications for current and future night-time strategies. Our conclusion offers a series of recommendations for urban night-time governance moving forward. We hope that other urban researchers will take up this primer as a point of departure and redress these biases in favour of an even more proactive generation of researcher-practitioners striving towards explicit recognition of, and social justice advocacy for, the urban night.

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