To build a strong nighttime economy, our city planners need to learn to feel the music

You can tell these guys are good because the photo is in B&W and out-of-focus. Image: Drew De F Fawkes via Wikimedia Commons

Cities in the UK, from London to Belfast, are updating their local plans to outline how land will used from now through to 2035. These plans are blunt, top-down instruments to outline what land is earmarked for residential, employment, commercial and so on. 

Historically, master plans have skirted over how culture and the night time economy might fit within these expansive spacial plans, but this impacts how equipped each plan is to support and develop such uses for the next 15-20 years. While employment land can differentiate between light industrial or commercial, for example, a cultural use is often assigned long after the local plan is written, after extensive consultations and amendments.

Often they are placed into a more general commercial use, or in some cases, sandwiched into tourism objectives. If culture is specifically mentioned, the use is often based on specific plot of land; we want that theatre there, this arena here, and so on.  This can be encouraged through the creation of a cultural quarter – such as the redevelopment of London’s Olympic Park - but this is defined through tenants.  A museum arrives and a cultural quarter is born.  The issue of incorporating the nighttime economy in these long-term plans remains a challenge. 

There’s a problem here. These plans are not in line with other discussions, often held outside of planning circles, about the types of cities we want to live in.

You can already smell the armpit of the guy next to you, can't you. Image: Shawn Tron

Take music as one example.  Since 2015, over three-dozen cities around the world have harboured public aspirations to become ‘music cities’, from Gothenburg in Sweden to Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Hastings in the UK and Bogota in Colombia.

But the needs of music, be it for performers, consumers or investors, are conceived as just inserting music into pre-determined, already accepted plans.  This leads to assessing the value of music through the industry’s lens, such as how much the industry is worth in a particular place. While important, music is inserted into the discussion too late. What happens are issues that planning cannot fix, which leads to licensing, regulation and restriction. If music was incorporated more bluntly into local plan making, this could change. 

Using St Paul's at night to illustrate the nighttime economy? Groundbreaking. Image: Allan Engelhardt

The same goes for nighttime economy. Much of its literature is framed on restriction, rather than promotion. This is because our land use planning, zoning and use classification did not delve into how night-time uses (such as leisure) and day time uses (such as commercial or residential) can co-exist. While homes exist above venues in Belgium and Germany, it is unheard of in the UK.  As a result, cities were not planned to be 24-hour organisms, ultimately limiting opportunities and causing friction, instead of pragmatically approaching nighttime uses in the same way we see daytime. 

As a result, in local plans, the terms ‘music’, ‘culture’ and  ‘night time economy’ have been markedly absent and when they are included, their focus is on stopping people from doing something, rather than encouraging more varied activities and planning accordingly. Again, the egg came after the chicken and cities were stuck with managing their music and nighttime economies with existing local plans that neither mentioned the term, nor planned its land to accommodate such practices.

A Bel-fast approach to the nighttime economy is no good. Image: Thardas via Wikimedia Commons

With cities continuing to expand at record levels, we need to change how we plan them for the future. To do so, we must bring music and the nighttime economy into the fold of the planning process.  Music’s role at the earliest stage of district or development planning can be anchors in getting people to want to move to a new area. Nighttime activity, when managed carefully and considerately, can coexist with residential space and flourish with commercial life, with libraries, gyms, cafes and restaurants. 


For this to happen in the UK, we need to plan for the other 9-to-5 in our local plans. And in doing so, we must still prioritise housing and local services, but ensure local plans outline – in the broadest sense – why people move to a place and what makes it worth living in. And if successful, cities will be rewarded with more jobs, greater access to services and greater community inclusiveness. We must plan for the night as we do for the day.

To do so, we need global standards to include music and night time economy in the earliest stages of master and local plan making. We need planners and musicians to converse as much as councillors and residents. And we need to think long and hard about the cities we wish to live in by 2035. 

We do this for transport, health care, sewage and utilities; it’s time to do it for music and the nighttime economy. 

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This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.


As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.