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.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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