London’s new Night Time Industries Association wants to keep Hackney dancing

Out out. Image: Darrell Berry/darrell-berry.com/Flickr.

Despite recent revelations about the UK’s nightclubs, London is still one of the best places in the world to party: just ask any of the thousands of international clubbers who fill its venues every weekend.

From big clubs like Ministry of Sound or fabric, which host a couple of thousand people every weekend, to the likes of Dalston Superstore and nearby Dance Tunnel, which pack a couple of  hundred into their more intimate venues, London remains a worldwide centre for having a good time.

But its freedom to dance is under threat. An early draft of Hackney council’s new Licensing Policy review document, which details how any future applications will be handled, showed that late licenses for any new veues that want to open in the borough would be “not considered appropriate”:

 

Tellingly, that wording didn’t last very long. A later version of the document clarified that venues will have to close no later than midnight – or 1am, if they’re a restaurant. While Hackney is becoming a dining destination, its fame comes from dance venues that have barely got going at 1am.

Yesterday evening, though, things suddenly changed. The council released a statement, announcing a new proposal to maintain the current licensing arrangements for 2016, pending a re-consultation on an updated policy later in the year. The reason given for this sudden change was an unspecified “minor error” in the original document. It’s not entirely clear whether the earlier drafts of the policy really had contained significant mistakes, or whether Hackney Council is just making a u-turn and looking for a way to get out of Dodge.


Either way, the fact this discussion is necessary shows that Hackney council doesn’t understand the source of its own borough’s success – and how the night time culture actually works.

Steve Ball is the founder of the Columbo Group, which runs Shoreditch’s XOYO, plus The Nest in Dalston and an upcoming Brixton venue, Phonox. Without new licences, he told Dalstonist back in July, the local scene would stagnate:

“Hackney is built on its creativity and being seen as one of the most dynamic, diverse and creative boroughs in London,” he said. “A vital part of that is the constant regeneration of its nightlife. This policy is going to stop that regeneration... It will remove from young entrepreneurs the opportunity to do things differently.”  

It’s in response to things like this row that the NTIA – or the Night Time Industry Association – has arrived on the scene. Its mission is to combat the excessive regulatory impulses of councils that see nightlife as a problem, and not as one of London’s great cultural and social assets. According to the NTIA’s own “Forward Into The Night” report, the UK’s night time economy turns over £66bn a year, and contributes nearly 6 per cent of national GDP.

"It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been somewhere... You as a venue operator can still end up being seen as the problem"

The NTIA was launched back in May, with members from ranging from clubs like fabric and Bloc, to restaurants like Bodeans and seminal live venues like the 100 Club. But the recent revelation of Hackney Council’s attitude to nightlife – dismissed as mere “jargon” by councillor Emma Plouviez, the chair of Hackney’s  Licensing Committee – is just the latest skirmish in Hackney’s struggle with the industry that has fuelled the regeneration and gentrification of the borough.

First, it made Shoreditch a Special Policy Area in 2005, limiting local nightlife by stating that late licenses would only be given “in exceptional circumstances”. Dalston also become an SPA in 2014, despite an overwhelming number of those surveyed saying they didn’t want that to happen. 

A man who knows all about this struggle is the NTIA’s chairman, Alan D Miller. He’s co-founder of Brick Lane’s Vibe Bar and the Old Truman Brewery complex, and spent nearly 20 years as a venue operator. But he closed up shop in 2014, having had his fill of London’s over-regulation. 

“What I learned is that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been somewhere, how much experience you have or how much you’ve improved the area,” he explains. “You as a venue operator can still end up being seen as the problem…. What happens is that people are caught up in an old mentality and it’s an easy fix to blame the night time economy.”

The key to what the NTIA wants for its members is parity with other businesses. As Miller puts it, “If someone behaves badly in a bank or on a motorway, they don't all get penalised and neither should we. We need to be treated like any other industry.”

He adds that many of the “crime spikes” seen around venues are almost entirely about mobile phone theft. “Imagine if you told the British public that the biggest challenge today in [London] policing was mobile phone theft…”

"You can tell the story of Hackney through its nightclubs"

Dan Beaumont, one of the co-owners of Dalston Superstore and Dance Tunnel and one of the directors of the NTIA, puts its arguments into a local context. “We need to help the decision-makers to understand that, actually, nightclubs are really part of Hackney's cultural capital.” That’s been true ever since the borough was formed in 1965, the same year, coincidentally, when seminal London reggae club The Four Aces opened.

“You can tell the story of Hackney through its nightclubs,” Beaumont adds. “The Four Aces, The Blue Note, the Bricklayers Arms, 333 – these are places that are part of our shared history. If we regulate them out of existence then we are all the poorer for it.”

One of the first people to publicise the #NotConsideredAppropriate hashtag, Beaumont explains it as “a real illustration of the gulf in perspective that we need to try and overcome”.

“I think there are certain crimes that are associated with late night venues, and we can't pretend that that's not the case,” he says. “But if we accept that people should have the freedom to enjoy [themselves] and that activity brings cultural, social and economic benefits, then we should look at the negatives within that context – and not try and shut down a vibrant and important part of city life." 

Shain Shapiro, of Sound Diplomacy and the Music Cities Convention, is an expert on the part music can play in urban planning (and writes on those subjects for this publication). How does he think we should bridge this gulf in understanding?

“I think for things to change for music and the night time economy, you need to have music become a part of the bigger debate,” he explains. “What I’m aiming for is for music to be considered like anything else is – like transport, for example, music should be part and parcel of that, a spoke in a bigger wheel.” 

The Music Venue Trust, the charity behind the mayor’s Music Venues Taskforce, has called for a full Agent of Change law in the UK. That would mean that the person or business responsible for a change is responsible for managing the impact of that change – in other words, the responsibility for noise dampening in new flats would lie with developers, not with long-existing venues.

There is possibly legal precedent for this, judging from the deal Ministry Of Sound struck with Englewood developers back in January 2014.  At the time, the Evening Standard reported then that Englewood had agreed “to incorporate high levels of noise reduction features including acoustic glazing, sealed windows and internal ‘winter gardens’” to address concerns about noise complaints. Residents will effectively also “‘sign away’ their rights to complain about noise through a specific reference in their deeds”. Were such a policy to become universal, it’d do much to protect London’s nightlife.

This is about more than just going clubbing in Dalston – it’s about Londoners having the freedom to enjoy themselves and their city, away from restrictions that seem to prioritise the needs of a few vocal residents over those of the many.

There is still time to tell Hackney what you think here, before the consultation deadline of Friday 14 August. You can also support the NTIA and We Love Hackney, a group of local businesses and Hackney residents who want to make sure their borough remains a social and cultural hotspot we can all enjoy for years to come.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.