Amsterdam’s ambassador of after-dark activity (and safety) tells Azure what cities can gain from round-the-clock culture.
Too often, authorities see nightlife as something suspicious, rather than an economic driver that can spur cultural innovation. In 2002, Amsterdam named its first night mayor – an ambassador of sorts, charged with promoting culture, diversity and safety after dark. Since then, the idea has taken hold around the world, from Sydney to Zurich, and this year saw Amsterdam’s first summit on the topic. We spoke with Mirik Milan, the city’s current night mayor, about what cities can do to make nighttime better for everyone.
What are the best innovations in nightlife that you have seen recently?
Twenty-four-hour licences. They sparked a new way of looking at clubs. A modern club should always be multidisciplinary. The licence isn’t just for raving around the clock; it also makes these venues places anyone can go to at anytime. Bringing art and technology into nightlife is the way of the future.
Are clubs as important to cities as museums? Can they stimulate better understanding of new art, music and technology, maybe even politics?
Yes, with the clubs that are open to new stuff happening. The underground and mainstream should come together much more often than they have in the past. If museums dare to come out of their ivory towers, that could lead to some interesting encounters. I agree with your last point: club-goers are often people who are open-minded and forward-thinking, and they usually have some activism in them. They tend to create environments where informal learning is normal and where sharing ideas is crucial. In an environment where you can choose for yourself what’s right, it opens up all kinds of possibilities.
According to recent research, nearly half of all clubs in the U.K. have closed since 2005. How important are clubs to the mayor of London?
Most of these clubs closed because authorities only see nightlife as causing problems; they don’t see the opportunities they give a city, from a social, cultural and economic perspective. How can you maintain a culture if you aren’t aware of what’s going on around you? Together with industry groups from London, we explained what the role of the night mayor is in Amsterdam, and how we work to create legislation so that creative kids can develop their talents. Nightlife is an incubator for the development of an area or district, and for the creative industry as a whole. As a result of our visit, the new mayor, Sadiq Khan, is planning to appoint a night mayor to London.
What can designers, architects and urban planners do to create the right circumstances to generate a nightlife that’s inclusive and creative?
Public space is there to use, so use it as you see fit. Think about what is legal, but, just as importantly, think about what is right for you. What are the needs of the people who live there, so they can encounter each other in a pleasant way? We have been working on a project called Designing Out Crime. You can’t change nightlife if you don’t consider every aspect, and design plays an important role in this.
In what way?
For example, if you look at a city square and how it is used at night, good design will determine the smooth flow of people and traffic. Lighting, too, makes people feel safe and welcome. The biggest problems occur when groups of people meet each other on streets late at night. When they’re directed elsewhere, problems can be avoided before they happen.
How important are clubs to a city’s diversity, and its mix of cultural and social backgrounds?
They are super important. There is no culture without subcultures. Think about what the ’80s club scene had to offer to the LGBTQ community. They found a place where they could be themselves and express themselves. Some of them became superstars. These subcultures have gone on to shape the mainstream.
How can a city stimulate a diversity of subcultures?
Nightlife should always be bottom up. The role of the city is to create legislation that people can work with. Just hand them the right tools.
What impact have the horrific events in Paris and Orlando had on nightlife around the world?
I don’t have the answer for that, but I would like to be closer to our LGBTQ community to find solutions. The only thing I know is that we should keep on investing plenty of money, and give everyone the feeling they belong and are welcome.