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A Night-time Vision

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Have you been to a bustling city like New York, DC, Philly, Detroit or New Orleans? Did you enjoy a hot cup of joe in the morning? Was your late night experience different, you had dinner and drinks and then caught a show seeing a completely different street-scene? You know the difference between the day-time environment and that of the night-time in those specific places. You can probably imagine the differences in the city you call home. Of course, because they're wildly different and they should be peeled apart. The day and night use of urban cores are so different, municipalities across the nation and abroad (London and Amsterdam) are peeling the two apart to think separately through their governance, funding, and management as an economic development strategy. Each part is being taken as its own ecosystem with unique challenges and opportunities. Day-timers, traditional 9-5ers doing business in typical government centers have different food, transportation, development, safety/cleanliness, and policy needs. The same goes for the night-time users. Ever wonder what it takes to officially establish an “office of night life” in an American city? What legislation needs to be passed first or what your first policy project could be? What’s the make-up of the administration of the office who leads the evening-life?

From a recent trip to teach and study in Downtown Vancouver, B.C.

Here is a small look at Ft. Lauderdale's (FLL) Nighttime Economy division (NITE) managed by Sarah Hannah-Spurlock with responsibilities like film permitting, street performers, artist programming and overall management of the beach improvement district. The office came as a result of a deep-dive into the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) 2016 study that resulted in the recommendation to establish the office and make the first position to initiate the new area of economic development. And the city decided to invest. The first position was followed by almost a dozen more hires including police, code enforcement, fire, and sanitation. FLL provided case-studies on almost a dozen US cities, all of which focus and function differently with the main goal being a vibrant nightlife and/or a supportive business environment to be successful in. The majority of cities split the responsibilities of the department into two parts; one being advocacy (vibrancy) and the other is more compliance, enforcement and public policy (business environment). While both parts contribute to important aspects of a unique night time environment, both require administrators to have a keen sense of policy. Digging deeper, two of only a few cities that focus on programming instead of policy are Iowa City and Detroit. On “the advocacy for life side” city employees focus on being a liaison to the city between the clubs, bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues. They advocate for the unique dynamics of night-time related layers such as employees, the building owners, businesses, patrons and bar owners. Even the residents, now that urban cores are looking to long term sustainability plans to include dense residency, are an important part of evening governance.

Alley Activation to Transform Public Space in Downtown Flint

Far too often the residents and day-timers clash with that of those taking to the streets at night. The number one dividing factor? Noise. In FLL, a government commission has adopted a noise committee to change the ordinance to balance the value of night time life with quality of life for urban core residents. Additional policy projects include after-hours permits to extend the late-night alcohol buying options, impacts on the movement and location of construction on clog-zones, stream-lining special event permits, and addressing the need for open-container social districts. What cities are tackling this work? San Francisco Pittsburgh Philadelphia Atlanta Washington DC New York City Iowa City Detroit New Orleans Orlando Ft. Lauderdale A small handful of the cities listed above fund and house this position through a traditional Downtown Development Agency (DDA) or Business Improvement District (BID). Majority of them are directly supported from the Mayor's Office and general fund with no expectation to fundraise. Both models should be explored. Some are even appointing a 'night-time mayor.' Overall, the number one prerequisite was a strong political champion, ideally a strong mayor. While the vast majority of municipalities want to be policy-led they do not deny the importance of programming-led approaches.This month, representatives from each municipality will come together for the first time to meet as a group they formed that goes by NIGHT CAP, The Nighttime Cultural Alliance on Policy. In conclusion, there is a new side to economic development that requires a new way of thinking and a need to be deliberate in planning the night-life of an urban setting. To compete as a destination place in terms of tourism and employment, cities are being challenged to meet the demands of the workforce and entertainment sectors now.

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