“Who is Hackney for?” Mayor Philip Glanville on the borough’s controversial changes to nightlife licencing

Hackney Wick by night. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of Hackney on the east London borough’s decision to introduce ‘curfews’ for new nightlife venues.

Who is Hackney for? That’s the question I’ve grappled most with since I became mayor of Hackney just under two years ago – and one that’s come to the fore in the last few weeks after Hackney Council tightened its licensing rules.

This borough is a unique place. It has world-renowned nightlife, a booming tech economy on the fringes of the City of London, and the highest cluster of creative and artistic businesses in Europe at Hackney Wick. But it also has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country, absurd levels of housing unaffordability – especially for the private renters who make up a third of the borough – and is home to many of the low-paid workers who help build our borough, are intrinsic to its diversity and keep London’s economy ticking 24 hours a day.

Few places in our country have undergone such wholesale change in the last 15 years: this borough has switched from an undesirable place to live to a byword for cool. This journey of improved schools, cleaner and safer streets and better public services was for, and demanded by, existing residents – yet this better Hackney can also feel alienating to some. Investment, new businesses and new people have brought huge benefits, but my job is to make sure that those benefits are open to everyone.

The challenge of bridging that divide became most publicly visible last month, when our new policy to challenge new venues in Hackney to state how they will manage the impact of late-night opening on local communities was agreed. It’s been labelled a ‘curfew’ that means Hackney will shut down at 11pm. It’s not. It’s simply an attempt to encourage new pubs and clubs to consider hard-working neighbours trying to get a good night’s sleep without drunken revellers vomiting – or worse – on their doorstep.

But the vociferous reaction to our decision, which included Giles Coren calling me an “unutterable c*nt” on Twitter, demonstrated how our attempt to strike a balance provokes the tensions at the heart of managing urban spaces in a major city like London. The anger councillors hear on the doorstep from ordinary residents received less coverage than the well-organised ‘outrage’ of a campaign led by major businesses and investors.

Visitors vs residents. Weekend playground vs local community. These are the battles our everyday policymaking exposes. I’ve repeatedly heard the suggestion that those worried about a bustling nightlife shouldn’t have moved here, and they’re trying to ‘socially cleanse’ the area.

But it’s residents who have lived here for decades – long before Dalston and Shoreditch became trendy places to go out on a Friday night – who feel excluded by the changing face of our borough. As a leader, it is my job to reassure those who feel threatened by the prospect of change and make it clear what I believe in – preserving the economic, ethnic and social diversity of the borough many feel is at risk from gentrification.

Hackney will always be an independently minded and open, not a closed, place. It’s why we had the second-highest Remain vote in the country. It’s why I moved here in my early 20s, and why so many people want to move here today. This openness will continue to extend to our night-life, despite the misleading rhetoric of some of those opposing our limited licensing changes. I will always support a creative and independent local economy and diverse communities.

But Hackney’s popularity, coupled with the impact of austerity and national policy, means these things are at threat more than ever.

Is Hackney for the small businesses in our rail arches, already suffering from Government business rates hikes, who’ll be turfed out if Network Rail sells off the management of its arches in one job lot to the highest bidder? Or for the corporate chains that would replace them?


Is Hackney for the 13,000 families on our housing waiting list, 3,000 of whom are in temporary accommodation, because the government won’t let us build a new generation of council housing for them? Or primarily now for those that can afford the house prices that have risen here more than anywhere else in the UK over the last 20 years?

Is Hackney for the creative artists who contribute so much to London’s cultural economy, whose affordable workspace is drying up? Or the developers who will profit from turning these spaces into homes and bland retail units?

I’ll always stand up for the voiceless. That’s why we’re supporting businesses in their fight to remain in the arches they’ve made their home, It’s why we’re calling on ministers to let us build a new generation of council housing. It’s why we’re opening disused council buildings to give a temporary home to creatives being evicted by developers.

It’s also why we’ve used planning mechanisms to support community campaigns to save and take over pubs under threat of redevelopment, and granted late-night licenses to new venues in Hackney Central, which until a few years ago had a pretty limited nightlife.

I’m not complacent: I know that we need to need to support, engage and listen to businesses, entrepreneurs and those running our diverse nightlife to ensure that we are actually supporting, not hindering, the local economy. We’ll continue to do that.

But if London is to continue to be the world’s greatest city, we must make sure that growth does not come at the expense of the people and businesses who have made it what it is today. Local councils, faced with dwindling resources and fewer powers, face an increasingly difficult challenge to make that happen.

Philip Glanville is the elected Labour mayor of the London borough of Hackney.

 

 
 
 
 

How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.