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A Practitioner Guide to the Urban Governance of the Night-Time Economy

This accessible guide provides a stimulating analysis of the governance of the night-time economy in cities for practitioners and newcomers alike.

Drawing on a wide range of case studies of after dark activity in cities around the world, it reviews labour, environmental services, healthcare, the role of leaders including night mayors, managers and commissioners, and the influence of both public and private sectors.

Offering invaluable insights for the future of night-time governance during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, this book deepens our understanding of the benefits, challenges and impacts of a neglected aspect of the economy.

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Facts at hand, night-time governance seems to have been taking off in several cities around the planet, perhaps not as comprehensively as a truly ‘global’ movement, but certainly as a more and more visible international trend. Yet, where is the NTE governed? For us, the question of how night-time governance is ‘placed’ in respect to the organization of urban governance more generally is an essential one, especially for the many municipal practitioners and urban researchers focusing on this theme. Nuance, of course, would be required here so as not to simply pigeonhole styles of governance into easy categories. However, in this second empirical chapter, we suggest that it might be useful to start from a broad generalization: should the night-time be the purview of local government within the edifice of city policy, or should it be set outside of it? Of course, there is no easy answer to this query, but this simple differentiation helps us, we think, chart some commonplace realities within the multitude of examples we present here. Both realities emerge as equally productive and, at the same time, characterized by tensions, but in the meantime, they also help us clarify some initial challenges that night-time practitioners confront when trying to project a pragmatic stance on recognizing the value of night-time discussions in urban governance. In turn, as we illustrate, this also takes us to an additional type of night-time governance institution, that of the night ‘council’ (or ‘committee’ or ‘commission’), which is perhaps as important in our story as the more widely chronicled and media-prone appointment of night mayors.

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We move here to underline the importance of the urban policy context, its history and trajectory when considering night-time governance cases from around the planet. In order to think through the evolution of the governance of the night in cities with a deeper sense of context, our goal in this first of two in-depth comparative case-study chapters is to stress the value and the institutional positioning of the urban night and the underpinning economic imperatives that drive it in one or another direction. This chapter, then, is once again empirical in nature. It offers more information on the cases of London, Sydney and New York, building on our own work in several of these contexts. In Chapter 5, we move to think of questions of scale, non-governmental imperatives and continuity in the wake of changing political priorities. Overall, these are realities that deal with the issue of night-time governance in very diverse ways and present, in our view, valuable stories of institutionalization to be considered. This is not to privilege a specific set of cities, but rather to highlight the importance of stepping into the lived realities and long-lived pathways that might have cast different governance shapes in places as different as the UK, Australia and the US. Then, in Chapter 5, we speak of Tokyo, Berlin, Valparaiso and Bogota. This allows us to step beyond the summary and bird’s-eye-view approach of Chapter 3 to better account for complex private and community interests, how they intersect, and how a mix of public management institutions intersect with each other in the governance of the night-time.

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The global crisis ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 hit cities the world over hard. Even harder hit, through lockdowns and stretched essential services, has been the world of the NTE and management. Yet, at the same time, the movement to institutionalize and discuss and campaign for the night in cities (depicted in previous chapters) also laid some important ground for tackling this, and NTE movements are already afoot. Drawing from media reports, current research, events and direct experiences by the authors, this chapter analyses how these night-time governance structures have responded to COVID-19 and shares some insights into how this crisis might reshape the way night scenes are managed around the world. The goal of the chapter is to contextualize the ‘primer’ introduction of the previous sections in the wake of one of the deepest disruptions of our century: what will the NTE look like in the future? What can be learnt and leveraged from the way COVID-19 unfolded after dark? What will happen to the trends, themes and institutions that flourished up until 2019 in a world radically challenged by the health, and economic, crisis of COVID-19? Our goal in this chapter, then, is to underline how the crisis has been impacting the trajectories and realities discussed thus far, seeking to look ahead at how these might change or return to the fore, rather than simply drawing conclusions as to the outcomes of COVID-19 when the global crisis that emerged from the pandemic is still, almost certainly, under way.

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What does one need to know about managing cities at night? And, what is the ‘case’ for thinking of commonplace urban issues, debates and policies as happening at night-time and in dialogue with what takes place ‘after hours’? In our short primer-like book, we have sought to encourage deeper historical and political insights, an appreciation of varied agendas and geographical experiences, and a look at those who make the NTE, not just those who consume it. In the spirit of practical applicability, therefore, we turn here to provide a practical closing guideline (we hesitate to call it a ‘chapter’ at this stage), structured around eight key lessons that we learned as scholars and practitioners of the night-time. We offer these as recommendations for both policymakers and others involved in this emerging field to consider. This is structured explicitly as a propositional list, pointing at a set of key successes, shortcomings and continuing inequalities, as well as some of what we think are practical ways past the COVID-19 crisis into a more effective (and inclusive) management of the night-time in cities. Underpinning all of these is the first proposition calling for formal recognition in policy in cities around the world, as well as the underlining normative stance that we call on policymakers and scholars to ‘take a night stance’ against daytime biases in practice and research. In doing so, we aim to conclude our short book as an open-ended, and yet hopefully also easily applied, call for attention to what happens after hours, seeking to inspire not just further socially minded research, but also, if not principally, progressive policy action.

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Whether we speak of night mayors, commissions or offices, and variations thereof, the current reforms towards night-time management have much to do with governance and urban policy. This is an area of direct relevance to a myriad of practitioners, as well as a political background to a vast variety of scholarly works, which we want to put an explicit emphasis on. Who governs the night in cities? This first research-based chapter of the book begins the investigation of how cities are managed at night through a comparative review of experiences from around the world, which stems from an explicitly political question regarding institutions and authority: how has the management of the ‘after hours’ of cities been formalized around the world? What we aim to do here is to kick off our ‘primer’ on night-time governance by looking at key lessons emerging from the recent movements to set up night ‘mayors’, ‘managers’, ‘offices’ and ‘commissions’ as tangible instantiations of night-time governance and comparing how these operate in diverse contexts. To do so, we offer some preliminary typologies of these night-time governance arrangements, framed mainly as both a graspable tool for practitioners to understand complex institutional set-ups in cities, and a guide for field researchers. When it comes to the age-old political science question of ‘Who governs?’ in the afterhours of most cities, and when it comes to the latest efforts by these cities as much as private sector and community groups to formalize an answer to this question, the evidence out there speaks of a thriving variety of possible responses and intriguing arrangements.

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Inequality is one of the most defining features of the ‘urban age’ (Gleeson, 2014): crucibles of opportunities and socialisation, cities are equally at the heart of today’s greatest social disparities (McGranahan & Satterthwaite, 2014). The urban night is far from immune to these challenges, and potentially a key space for engaging questions of equity, participation and inclusion. In this chapter, we explore issues of what we could call ‘invisibilization’ 1 (Vergès, 2019) in current approaches to night-time governance. Specifically, we argue that the ways in which NTEs are framed, discussed, defined, delimited and understood in policy conversations tend to obscure the intersecting racial, gender-based and socio-economic inequalities that shape and, indeed, maintain ‘thriving’ NTEs (and urban economies more broadly). Cleaners, carers and nurses, drivers, logistics and factory workers, security agents, and sex workers, to name only a few, have been a foundational part of formal and informal NTEs for a long time. In addition, the 24/7 running of (urban) capitalist economies is enabled by the gendered division of work (Katz, 2001), with women undertaking the main share of the social reproduction tasks of cleaning and caring at home and at work during the day, late in the evening, throughout the night and early in the morning. As already argued elsewhere, whether concerned with equality or not, the work of government policy always involves the discursive construction of subjects to be governed (Smeds et al, 2020). This, in turn, shapes whose voices are included, excluded, taken into account or discarded in decision-making.

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The trajectories of night-time governance presented in Chapter 4 speak to the need to understand the institutionalization of how we manage the NTE within the broader context of urban governance. Numerous factors that are often sidelined in much of the practice, and some of the literature, stand out already. Questions of scales of governance, political-economic continuity, embeddedness of the NTE into a progressively 24/7 society Crary, 2013) and contestation and inequalities at night all stand out as key learnings from the stories of Sydney and London, and their Melbourne and New York counterparts, sketched out in Chapter 4. We move here, then, to look in more depth into these themes, introducing four more case studies: those of Tokyo in Japan, Berlin in Germany, Valparaiso in Chile and Bogota in Colombia. In doing so, we stress the necessity of paying closer attention to the scalar depth of night-time governance and the ‘bottom-up’ attention for the NTE that might emerge, as the Tokyo story tells us, in the absence of strong government action. Yet, to counterbalance this view, we also spotlight the challenges that might emerge from the opposite, as in Valparaiso, where local government buy-in to the NTE might not have translated directly into action and continuity (24horas.cl, 2017). In between these two cases is Berlin, a case that stresses further how the non-governmental realm is still a critical one for night-time action, and how the action of committees or associations should not be underplayed due to their capacity to animate night-time governance.

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With urban politics come urban interests and agendas – even at night-time. To acknowledge this even more explicitly than in Chapters 4 and 5, this chapter discusses common themes and strategies described throughout the various cases in the book, with an emphasis on what commonplace issues have driven NTE action. It journeys across NTE strategies, sound and crowd-management methods, safety and crime schemes, and transport and logistics solutions to depict what key themes emerge in the night-time governance of cities, as well as what is left out. Importantly, it also offers a specific view on the issue of urban equality at night-time, and the emerging vulnerabilities that scholarship, and some practice, have been highlighting – from homelessness to night-shift workers, marginalized neighbourhoods and segmented mobility. Moving along with the narrative of Chapters 2 to 5, the key concern of this chapter is to broaden the reader’s imagination of what the NTE is. Here, we focus on what is being governed in cities after hours, from a relatively restrictive view of the NTE as a fulcrum for entertainment and hospitality, to including the likes of transport, logistics and healthcare, and going further to recognizing those voices and activities that are often silenced by night-time discussions. Critically, we underscore here the importance of strategic visions and strategic plans in consolidating what night-time agendas are at play in cities. The night-time has become an increasingly popular realm of policy and action in many cities around the planet.

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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.

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