How to Build a Nightlife-Friendly City with Amsterdam's Night Mayor
Spoilers: it doesn't involve lockouts.
December 09, 2016
Mirik Milan knows what it takes to keep the pulse of a city racing long into the night. For the past few years he's held the office of the Night Mayor of Amsterdam, a title given to the head of an advisory NGO tasked with building bridges between various stakeholders, including business owners, residents and government officials, to ensure the hours between sundown and sunup can be enjoyed by one and all.
Sounds nice huh? Incidentally, if you're in Sydney right now, sobbing softly into your keyboard, please trust us when we tell you: we feel your pain — especially one day after the NSW Government has decided to 'relax' the lockout times by a mere 30 minutes.
For the record, Milan feels your pain too. The former club promoter turned after-dark crusader was in the Harbour City last week as a guest of the annual Electronic Music Conference — and yes, he had plenty to say about the lockouts.
"The lockouts are a symptom of an undereducated State Government," Milan tells Concrete Playground. "If you want to create behavioural change it needs to come from the grassroots up. If the idea is that you'll create behavioural change by imposing stricter laws on operators, you're blaming operators for a societal problem."
"In my opinion, the reason why governments find it easier to clamp down on nightlife and just blame the operators is because that's the cheapest way to deal with it," he continues. "Starting a bunch of initiatives to inform people how to behave and to encourage people to drink less is much more expensive, and the risk of failing is much higher."
Nevertheless, Milan believes the rewards of a bustling nightlife are well worth the effort. "Why is it important to have a vibrant nightlife?" asks Milan. "Because it will attract a lot of young, creative people. When you have a lot of young, creative people in a city, you have a lot of creative industries, and this is an engine for economic growth."
So what would it take for Sydney to turn its nocturnal fortunes around? Below, Milan shares his tips on how to create a safe, prosperous and energetic nightlife. Let's just hope Mike Baird subscribes to our newsletter.
TAKE CUES FROM INTERNATIONAL INITIATIVES THAT HAVE ACTUALLY WORKED
Both the NSW and Queensland lockouts were introduced to stamp down on alcohol-related violence. But wouldn't it be nice if there was some way to do this without punishing those of us who can have a drink without throwing a punch? In Amsterdam's bar-filled Rembrandtplein district, the answer came in the form of so-called 'square hosts', whose job it is stop confrontations before they start. "They walk the street every Friday and Saturday night in the nightlife area and they try to de-escalate situations when there's something going on," explains Milan. "Unfortunately, when people have something to drink and they see the police, they see [them] as an aggressor. These square hosts are non-aggressive."
Meanwhile, the City of Amsterdam has also developed an app that allows people to report antisocial behaviour to nearby community officers. "It means that complaints are dealt with really effectively," says Milan. "We understand that it can be super frustrating for residents that live around the nightlife square, and every weekend you have the same complaints and problems. With this system, you can [be in] direct contact with the community officer… and [it] really gives the residents the feeling that their problem is being listened to."
But according to Milan, the biggest accomplishment of the project has been the introduction of 24-hour licenses. "What was really radical about this process was that for the first time in Amsterdam, licenses were given out not on the basis of whether you had four walls, a roof and a bouncer in front of the door, but on the basis of content," he says. "And when you focus on content you get a different kind of audience. These venues are all multidisciplinary. They have a bar, restaurant, live music, gallery space, some venues even run kindergartens."
WORK WITH THE STAKEHOLDERS
When it comes to making positive changes, Milan understands that collaboration is key, having discussed countless stakeholder viewpoints in community meetings, one-on-one talks and even at a dedicated Night Mayor Summit, the first of its kind, held in Amsterdam in April 2016. "Bring all the stakeholders together and try to come up with a solution and find a middle ground where everyone can benefit," he says. "Bridge the gap between the municipality, policy makers, small business owners and city residents. We always say by having a dialogue you can change the rules of the game."
Milan also recommends fighting opposition with evidence instead of emotion. "We deal with [opposition] by making people aware that the baby steps that we make are reasonable," he tells us. "We like to run pilots, to see if [an initiative] works, to see if it doesn't have too much of an impact on residents, and then [we can make] an educated decision. Often these [initiatives] are tailor made for a certain area, because cities are becoming more and more complex… it's really about working together, and bringing operators and residents together, and seeing what works for your area."
Ultimately, it helps that the economic incentive is there. "The value of the nighttime economy has become much more important for cities around the world over the last 10 to 15 years," says Milan. "I've never heard of mayors or city councils who want to kill jobs."
GIVE PEOPLE THE RESPECT THEY DESERVE
While you're never going to be able to get rid of every dickhead, in Milan's experience most people who go out at night want to do the right thing — especially when you treat them like grown-ups. "Send out a positive message," he suggests. "[Tell people] you can go out later, but you have to take care of your community."
"For example, the Amsterdam Dance Event attracts 375,000 people to the city in five days," says Milan. "When people come into the airport, the first thing they see [are signs] saying, 'Welcome to ADE, be safe and have a great time.' And I get so many good responses from people saying, 'Wow, I feel so respected, I feel so welcome here, I will take care.''"
"Give people the responsibility to take care of themselves," asserts Milan. "Of course, you have to have good legislation in place as well, but give them the right to take care of their community. This is a community that is open minded and willing to listen to these kinds of messages."
Top image: Bodhi Liggett.