The revival of cities has come with the unfortunate side effect of pushing music venues and cities’ nightlife out. The very same cultural institutions that attracted people back to urban cores are now finding they cannot keep up with the economic gentrification of the neighborhoods they played a part in building. It’s with this in mind that cities began embracing the idea of a “night mayor,” a public advocate who would balance out developer interests in city halls around the world.
I have been skeptical of the night mayor concept in the past, although not one to let perfection stand in the way of progress, I hoped the concept would help music venues if the night mayors were empowered to affect change.
But the idea is already starting to show cracks. In the London Borough of Hackney, its council recently voted to impose a midnight curfew on all new music venues in the borough, despite opposition from 73% of residents. New venues wanting to stay open later will now have to go through a vague process with authorities to prove their later hours will not provoke “antisocial behavior.”
Councilor Emma Plouviez told Resident Advisor, “The onus will be on new applicants to demonstrate they are responsible, understand the pressures on the area and that their business will not have a negative impact on the area if they want to open late.”
In the wake of this decision, blowback has fallen on Amy Lamé, London’s night czar (the local name for their night mayor), whose job, many feel, was to prevent exactly this from occurring. While the structure of the relationship between local councils and the city of London is complex and her actual direct authority to change this decision doesn’t really exist and isn’t possible to create, many feel even her office’s “power of the bully pulpit” wasn’t used to influence or publicize the issue ahead of the vote.
NME published a scathing indictment of Lamé’s performance after the vote, particularly focusing on her lack of a track record despite her position recently going full-time and her annual salary more than doubling. The only substantive thing they credit her with achieving is the Night Tube, and while that’s been met with positive feedback, even our informal questionnaire found its actual effects to be inconclusive at best.
Meanwhile, music venues and other nightlife hotspots continue to close or be pushed further into the periphery of cities. This is also not a phenomenon unique to London, as cities with and without night mayors have continued to suffer in the nightlife business.
The lesson to be taken from this is that it’s worth evaluating whether or not cities are really serious about protecting their nightlife. The economic reality has shown that having a music venue is not a bigger revenue draw than having a condo development (even if cities continue to give developers absurd tax incentives). Instead, cities are balancing something more intangible, the cultural identity of a neighborhood and a city. It may be hard to quantify, but it is real.
What remains to be seen is what cities will actually do about it, if anything. As I’ve argued before, cities can change their tax structures to flip the economic incentive. If they aren’t willing to go that far politically, for cities that are more centralized, they can actually empower their night mayors and nightlife offices to block or delay the types of legislation that the Hackney Council passed.
I’m skeptical that will happen though. So what’s left to do is to not let yourself be mollified by empty gestures like the creation of powerless night mayors. Instead, make your voice heard and advocate for nightlife. Create public pressure. We don’t have any direct power to force change, but we can vote and we can make sure that our existing representatives hear us. And it’s going to take a lot, because if the Hackney Council was willing to pass this curfew even with 73% of residents in opposition, then we’re going to need to change even the minds of those remaining 27%.