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.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.