The modern world is blurring the boundaries between night and day

The Tyne by night. Image: Billdorichards/Flickr/creative commons.

Night has always been a difficult realm for humans: we’ve had to learn to cope with the cold and the dark to thrive in it. Since the industrial revolution we’ve found ways to adapt our homes and cities to operate during the night. But as our conquest of the dark continues, the border between night and day is becoming increasingly blurry.

In 1988, sociologist Murray Melbin described the night as a frontier not unlike the American West. As early American settlers expanded westwards across the continent, so too, he argued, was society beginning to expand into the night.

Melbin’s metaphor treated the night as a separate social entity and he argued that, just like geographical frontiers, it was inhabited by “pioneers”: individuals and groups seeking work or leisure opportunities outside mainstream society, whether through desire, or necessity.

Taking back the night

For example, the night time tends to have a higher percentage of black and minority ethnic workers than the day. Likewise, the LGBTQ community in the mid-20th century – and still today, in some contexts – found that, with society sleeping, they could gather in bars and clubs that acted as community centres as well as places of leisure.

Political action has often found a home at night, too: from evening meetings of activists in community centres or the back rooms of pubs, to more radical political activism. In her autobiography, Sylvia Pankhurst for example described the suffragette arson campaign: “Women, most of them very young, toiled through the night across unfamiliar country, carrying heavy cases of petrol and paraffine”.

Despite this, the night is not necessarily a welcoming space for all. The dark hours can be threatening for oppressed and marginalised groups and movements. Those sleeping rough struggle to fall asleep, fearing for their personal safety. And movements such as Take Back the Night have had to campaign hard for womens’ right to use the city at night time to be taken seriously.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

So proud to have walked with this lot last night  #reclaimthenight #reclaimthenightmcr @manchestereveningnews

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But things are changing. The night has become more open and our homes are now connected like never before. First 24-hour news, then mobile and internet communication, have made the domestic setting more porous – you might be reading this on a phone or tablet in bed at 2am. No longer is the night cut off from mainstream society; instead, people are able to communicate and engage with the outside world.

Two worlds collide

Even in the UK, which has long had earlier business closing hours than most other countries, many shops and services now stay open long into the evening. Some large cities have 24-hour transport networks: London’s night tube is perhaps the best known, but night buses can be found in most larger cities. Though 24-hour businesses are not widespread, they are much more common than they once were.

Indeed, the night itself has become more day-like. LED street lights produce a white light which is much closer to daylight than the orange glow of their sodium gas lamp predecessors. LEDs can reduce the “glare” of light pollution, but in 2017 the British chief medical officer’s annual report warned that they could also change people’s circadian rhythms, and affect their health.

After-hours festivals and cultural activities are now commonplace, and, though pubs and nightclubs still dominate our darkened city centres, more cafes now open into the evening. It has been argued that the traditional night time will soon be lost altogether – that an era of “24/7 society” is inevitable. I would argue that this goes too far.

Go to any suburban street in almost any world city, and you’ll find nights to be darker, quieter and less active than in the city centre. Even notorious drinking and party spaces have their downtime. At 4am, Newcastle’s Bigg Market – a known hotspot for revellers – contains little more than a few seagulls picking at abandoned kebabs.

Leftovers from a long night. Image: Community photography 'now & then'/Flickr/creative commons.

Night is undoubtedly still a challenge – lighting is expensive, and society pays for it in money and emissions of carbon dioxide. Night time mobility remains limited and the night bus and rail services run on much reduced networks.


Still in the dark

So, the night time is not disappearing entirely. Instead, its traditional form is fragmenting – splintering across time and space. Islands of “day-like” activity are starting to appear in city centres, while traditional night time activities are creeping into the day.

Political organisation has now found new spaces of online activity, reducing the reliance on evening and late night meetings. Companies such as Uber and Deliveroo are creating a new employment model – one that moves away from “day shifts” and “night shifts” towards shorter, more frequent periods of work. More broadly, research has found a trend towards people spreading their work out across 24 hours.

Rather than a “loss of night”, we might therefore instead be seeing a transformation of both night and day, with both taking on more varied and more flexible characteristics.

The day is definitely encroaching on the night, as our behaviours and economies are increasingly unrestrained by sunrise and sunset. But until our cities offer the same services and experiences at 4am as at 4pm, the night will retain some of its mystery.

The Conversation

Robert Shaw, Lecturer in Geography, Newcastle University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.