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A few months ago I wrote an article for this blog about the importance of designing night-time public policies for cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cities can increase their productivity by adopting measures that regulate and diversify the array of social and economic activities that take place during the night.

The interest to regulate night-time behavior is not new. In the 1990s, some cities in the UK stopped seeing the night as a negative and problematic space, and begun to estimate the value of the so-called “night-time economy:” the contributions made to city coffers by restaurants, nightclubs, taxis and other night-time services and forms of entertainment.

Some cities have made good progress in promoting their night-time economies. For instance, in 2007 the City of London published a document titled Managing the Night Time Economy, a guide to nocturnal best practices that describes the regulatory framework and the main interventions that have made the British capital a night-time city model for both residents and visitors.

From London’s experience, as well as that of other cities around the world, we can identify at least 5 reasons why our cities should promote their night-time economies:

  • The night-time economy is a source of employment and additional revenue for local governments. According to TBR’s Night-Mix Index, the night-time economy in the UK employs 1.3 million people and is worth £66bn a year. This index analyzes the composition of the night-time economy in different areas of the city by measuring indicators such as the number, type and size of the businesses; the number of people that work during this time frame, the evolution of the area’s night-time economy, and its growth in comparison to other sectors of the local economy.
  • It allows local governments to diversify its leisure and commercial activities. The night-time economy is an opportunity to revitalize urban areas that become deserted at night. For instance, by organizing food festivals along with restaurants and bars in the city center, cities like London are able to retain more people in these commercial areas, reducing the number of commuters that return home right after work. This not only results in greater revenue for these businesses, but also, helps alleviate rush hour congestion.
  • It promotes greater citizen security. By prolonging stores’ and restaurants’ hours of operation, cities can keep their streets lively and safe. A few years ago, the night in Brixton (a district of South London) was seen as a synonym of crime and violence. The majority of the bars closed at the same time, leaving hundreds of drunken youngsters in the street. To solve this problem, the city licensed new bars, clubs and pop-up restaurants in the area, in order to diversify the area’s nigth-time actvivities.
  • It boosts local tourism. The most attractive tourist destinations are those that offer an array of entertainment options for different ages, cultures and lifestyles, including families. This requires private as well as public attractions, and night-time leisure activities not associated to the consumption of alcohol. Somerset House is a popular multi-use public space in London. Part government and part academic building, this neo-classical structure is also a concert hall, fashion venue and art gallery. During winter nights, its ice rink becomes a dance floor where some of Europe’s best DJs play their music for visitors of all ages.

Somerset HouseSomerset House, London. Foto: Flickr

  • Creates a greater sense of belonging. A city that offers a wide variety of activities, good lighting, security and public transportation, invites its citizens to explore it during the day as well as during the night. In this sense, a healthy night-time economy can help build a neighborhood’s  identity, as well as create a strong sense of belonging for those who live in it.

For all these reasons, it is important to boost our cities’ night-time economies. However, we must take into account that elements such as a qualified local police and improved street lighting are key to creating 24-hour cities.  In that sense, London has a competitive advantage.

In addition, local governments must work  side by side with all actors—neighborhood associations, bar owners, taxi companies, local police, sanitation and health services—to identify what are the best ways to regulate noise and improve garbage collection, among other issues, without hurting the businesses in the area.

In Latin America, cities like Asuncion (Paraguay) are working in this direction. This year, the municipality, the National Culture Office and the National Tourism Office, organized meetings to discuss night-time activities in the historical center to commemorate the city’s 447th anniversary.  These entities created a multi-sectoral team—government, neighbors and businesses—in charge of monitoring the festivities and ensuring their positive economic impact on the city.

AsuncionGreat Festival in the esplanade of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Asuncion. Photo: Gobierno de Paraguay

Many examples can be found in other emerging cities in the region. What’s your city doing to promote its night-time economy? Tell us about it!