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.” 

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.