Can night mayors make cities' dreams come true?

Soho: an area of London felt to be under threat from developers. Image: Getty.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, recently announced the identity of the city’s first ever “night czar”. Amy Lamé, a British television and radio personality, was the successful candidate of a competition that garnered hundreds of applicants.

She will earn a £35,000 salary, working two-and-a-half days a week, to promote London’s nightlife and champion the city’s £26.3bn night-time economy. This move will fulfil one of Khan’s key election pledges, to support nocturnal venues and cultural industries.

Lamé’s appointment also plays into the mayor’s #LondonIsOpen campaign, designed to show the world that London remains entrepreneurial, international, and welcoming to the creative industries. Khan has based the role on a model pioneered in Amsterdam: the office of “nachtburgemeester” – literally, a night mayor.

Amsterdam elected its first night mayor in 2003, at a time when the city’s famed nightlife was widely perceived to be in decline. The position was created by a coalition of night-time industry representatives and local government officials, to mediate between different interest groups and advocate for the night-time economy.

The current night mayor of Amsterdam, Mirik Milan, was elected in 2012. A club promoter and outspoken supporter of urban nightlife, Milan contributes to the policies which affect the city’s night-time economy. So far, he has successfully campaigned for 24-hour licenses (introduced in 2013) and positioned himself as the face of urban nightlife in the media; he is often called on to represent the producers and consumers of nocturnal culture.

Mirik Milan: night mayor by day. Image: Adam Nowek/Flickr/creative commons.

Milan has effectively advocated for his position, encouraging other cities around the world to create similar roles – he even hosted a global conference about night mayors earlier this year. And it seems to be working; over the past few years, the concept has gone global. Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and now London, all have night mayors, as do Zurich and Shibuya, part of Tokyo.


The success of the night mayor – in any given city, and as a global phenomenon – rests on the capacity for a bustling urban nightlife to boost the local economy, by keeping people spending for longer. Vibrant nightscapes have also become a mark of cultural status for global cities. As Milan argued, they can be used to attract tourists, workers and international students.

Building bridges

The role is also about building coalitions and consensus around divisive issues. Nightclubs are often blamed for social problems, ranging from noise pollution, to anti-social behaviour and illegal drug use. The recent closure of Fabric – an iconic London nightclub with a global following – is a case in point: despite opposition from the public, its license was revoked by the local council, following a review into two drug-related deaths at the venue over the summer. (It is now reopening.)

Fabric is simply the most recent victim in a series of high-profile closures. In the last decade, the number of nightclubs has nearly halved. But punitive regulation is not the only factor: gentrification presents another increasingly serious threat to the economic viability of nightclubs, with rising property values driving up rents.

Rents they are a-rising. Image: FlickrDelusions/Flickr/creative commons.

Yet managing a growing global city at night also has much to do with service provision, infrastructure flexibility, cultural sensibility and urban safety. As the Greater London Authority (GLA) itself admits, demand for night-time travel is on the rise, with late night tube usage is increasing at double the rate of daytime trips (over 170 per cent since 2000).

While the mayor’s office and the GLA may have come out in support of London’s nightlife and nocturnal culture, they will need to work alongside Lamé toward building a far broader consensus. For instance, licensing falls within the jurisdiction of London’s boroughs, so local councillors will need to be brought on board. Protecting nightlife venues requires bringing diverse, and sometimes hostile, parties to the table. Appointing a night czar is a start – but it may take more than that to nurture London’s nightlife.The Conversation

Katherine Alexandra Newman is a PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria. Michele Acuto is professor of diplomacy & urban theory at UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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