Could London really be a 24-hour city?

Fabric shuttered in September 2016. Image: Getty.

In 2016, concerned about drug-related deaths at clubs in London, councillors for the borough of Islington and the local police force revoked London super club and cultural institution Fabric’s license.

The debate attracted attention, partly because it was a microcosm of simmering tensions within cities between governments and the people whose lives they regulated, and partly because of the widespread public outcry from clubbers and DJs. At the time, in leaked emails obtained by Mixmag, Justine Simons, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for culture, said that the row showed that London needed “a new positive vision around nightlife”.

In July of this year, Khan responded by launching a plan to make London a 24 hour city. The plan – created with the Night Time Commission, a body designed to examine the growth of the night time economy – promised to help London “compete with the likes of Berlin, Tokyo, and New York”. It laid out 10 principles such as promoting night time activities other than clubs, and attracting investment and tourism to an industry already worth £26.3bn.

An all-night London is not as farfetched as it sounds – the 2003 Licensing Act has already given local councils the ability to approve 24 hour licenses for venue.

But barely any councils in London have approved those requests. A 2013 review of the licencing act then found that 7,672 such licenses had been granted to venues around the UK. Only 12 per cent of those licenses were to pubs and clubs: 45 per cent of them had been granted to hotel bars, most of which were only open to guests.

And as recently as 2015, Hackney council designated the vibrant area of Dalston as a “Special Policy Area” (despite opposition from 84 per cent of residents) where no new bars or clubs will have late licenses approved, and already existing venues may have to starting closing at midnight on weekends. While Fabric eventually reopened its doors (with far stricter door protocol), local cuts, increasing disapproval from local councils and rising rents might stifle Khan’s vision of a 24 hour city. 

The introduction of the Night Tube at weekends was definitely a step in the right direction: it meant fewer nights out in central London finished at 11.30pm, as people rushed to get the last tube home. But as is increasingly obvious, there might not be much point in having a 24 hour tube if there’s nowhere open after 2am.

Khan and the Night Time Commission are obviously hoping that London will soon be able to stay up all night – but what would it look like in practice? In a feature with Resident Advisor in 2016, Alan Miller, who set up the groundbreaking Night Time Industries Association, pointed out that much of the conversation in Britain treats the night time economy as negative. He contrasted this with the way it’s discussed in other cultural capitals around the world, as “a benefit with revenue, employment and culture”.

In Amsterdam, night life venues are given  24-hour licenses to enable them to be restaurants, installation spaces and cafes by day. Such spaces are treated like a valuable commodity, as opposed to a strain on the city’s resources. In Berlin, clubs stay open for the whole weekend and licensing laws let you have a meal whenever you want, leading people to bring backpacks of clothes, a toothbrush and phone chargers on their nights out: many start with a beer at 6 pm and stay out all night, often for days at a time.

In London, venues like the Bussey Building / CLF Art Cafe could play a similar role – but these aren’t treated with the same value as their counterparts in other European cities, instead seen as a place for young people to indulge in hedonism and then leave.

But there are a whole host of practical reasons why 24 hour licensing might be a blessing. It might even make life easier for local police if there are staggered closing times for your local: part of the reason why the 2003 Licensing Act was introduced was in order to minimise public disruption, as drunk patrons all left pubs around the ripe old hour of 11pm.

More late licences might also mean an end to those days of wandering from a nice quiet pub down the high street until you find a bar that’s open later (generally one with a light up dance floor, a DJ spinning Katy Perry so loud you can’t hear, and a half an hour wait to get a pint).


Restaurants around London could benefit too; late night refreshment comes under the late license policy. Alan Miller pointed out in an article with Eater London that other cities around the world enable kitchens to stay open as late as 4 am.

Given the current state of London’s night time food, it’s almost painful to picture the possibilities if restaurants could stay open later – like good greasy pizza slices after you’ve had your last pint, or even vegan and vegetarian options that don’t amount to paying £4 for a pile of greasy chips because that’s all most places seem to have after a night out.

It could also mean that cultural events such as museum lates run by the Tate, which have seen a great uptick in interest, could run more frequently and for longer, making it possible to leave work or university, head to a Late with a friend, grab some food and then head out to go clubbing or grab a drink, without worrying about pubs closing or missing last entry.

Currently, Late events of that sort tend to run for a couple of hours after the normal working day, to stay within their local council’s late license regulations. July’s Art Night, run across different art spaces throughout one day and night this past July, was a successful example, and could be replicated across the city in the future.  

As shown by the furore over Fabric’s license, local police and regulators are often quick to pin the blame of individual instances onto the nightlife scene as a whole – the local police even had an undercover operation, known as Lenor, a reference to the fabric softener, which they used evidence from to argue that the club should be shut down. When the Act was enacted in 2005, many thought it would lead to increases in binge drinking, crime and disorderly behaviour – Miller pointed out that many of those feared outcomes actually didn’t happen.

This kind of overhaul is going to take more than just police forces, local councils and businesses learning to work together. There’s going to have to be a cultural shift too. “We have to break this late-night taboo that we have in London,” Dalston club owner Dan Beaumont told Resident Advisor. “We have to learn how to be permissive, because I think we've forgotten how to do it. And these cultural reserves are going to dry up if we don't invest in them.” 

 
 
 
 

What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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