Here's how “night czars” can help London's nightlife survive

Those were the days: 2007, before the smoking ban. Image: Getty.

On Friday, Sadiq Khan named Amy Lamé as London's first “night czar”, responsible for representing the city's night-time economy. So what will she actually do?

Following the path of several other European cities, London is have its own “night czar” – not an authoritarian figure telling us all to go home early, but someone who will champion the hours of darkness as a legitimate time to be out and about.

The concept of a “night mayor” has already been taken up in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Toulouse, with some success. But London has a population almost three times that of Berlin and four times that of Paris: the West End alone, London’s premiere entertainment district, has 38 theatres, 60 cinema screens, 20 casinos, two opera houses and four concert halls, not to mention 1,650 licensed restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs. Some 250,000 people pass through Leicester Square in the course of a weekend night and our own research carried out in the early 2000s found as many people on the streets of Soho at 3am as at 3pm. London is a global competitor for leisure and entertainment, so Amy Lamé will have a big job on their hands managing nighttime activities for 8.6m people.

In 2009, the UK night-time economy was worth £1.6bn and employed 1.3m people. It’s true that nightclubs face threats from rising land prices and licensing restrictions – as seen by the recent closure of London’s Fabric nightclub, after 17 years – but big city nightlife on the whole has been resilient. The financial crisis of 2007-08 had only an immediate and short-lived impact, but people soon returned to town centres, leading to a growth in dining out and the opening of new venues. The reasons may be guessed at, but in contrast to high street shopping which has been affected by the ease of buying online, night-time activities rely on face-to-face contact which can’t be replaced by the internet.

We can speculate that the uncertainties caused by Brexit may cast a shadow over other sectors, but it seems likely that Lamé can look forward to a stable if not expanding night time economy under her watch.

One of the aspects that should provide a boost is Transport for London’s night tube service running throughout the night at weekends on five of its tube lines. While the primary aim is to disperse visitors and workers from central London more quickly and allow a more staggered departure from the West End, the improved connectivity opens up new possibilities to regenerate London’s suburban centres.

London at night: quite a big job. Image: Chris Hadfield/NASA.

This is hardly a fanciful idea – there are now thriving night time activities in inner urban centres such as Peckham and Dalston in south and east London where there was only limited nightlife 10 to 15 years ago. Until the expansion of the London Overground metro rail services, neither even had a tube station.

So it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for the newly-appointed night czar to bring together development officers and planners from London borough authorities, property industry representatives and creative entrepreneurs to help identify unloved and underused sites far beyond the West End that could be developed into new centres for nightlife activities of all kinds.

London can boast of a wealth of creativity, and the city has pioneered many new cultural movements and styles. These have come from ordinary places – for example the music genre dubstep originated in outer suburb Croydon, while the Ministry of Sound, which started decades ago as a nightclub and is now a worldwide label and brand, is in Elephant and Castle, often treated like a no man’s land. It’s vital that, as night czar, Lamé looks beyond conventional definitions of nightlife to encourage new types of activity, different styles of venue, and draws upon London’s extraordinary diversity.

In recent years there have been successful experiments with all manner of temporary or pop-up events and venues. For example, Frank’s, a timber bar perched atop a multi-level carpark in Peckham, pubs with board games or videogame arcades. Night markets have appeared, such as in Brixton and Islington, and avant-garde performances in unusual spaces, from small events to major installations such as Secret Cinema and Punchdrunk’s takeovers of huge empty spaces. There is a limitless appetite for new cultural experiences, and the night czar can play an important role to support that growth.

For everyone happy that there are new things to do after dark there will be those for whom it is a problem. The arguments against expanding city nightlife are issues of noise, litter, anti-social behaviour and other types of criminal offences. But London’s city authorities and agencies have had many years of dealing with these problems, and with sufficient investment, management and planning, experience has shown they can be reduced.

Indeed, one of the tasks facing Lamé is to put the issues associated with nightlife into perspective: to lobby and persuade colleagues and government departments to ensure night time services provide equivalent levels of safety and comfort to those during the day. Bigger threats to nightlife come in the form of gentrification and rising land prices, which see well-loved and supported venues converted into more profitable uses such as flats. The night czar will need to wade in to policy details, support local campaigns and where necessary to push for legislative change.

London’s size and the dominance of its city centre means that lifestyles differ from elsewhere. In the UK capital it’s more common for everyday activities such as shopping for everyday essentials, going to the gym or visiting the dentist to stretch into the evening. The night czar should not only be there for the extraordinary and the transgressive. Hopefully, she will take care of the mundane too.The Conversation

Marion Roberts is a professor of urban design at the University of Westminster.

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


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.