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Creating neighbourhoods that work 24/7

Creating neighbourhoods that work 24/7

South African CBDs are densifying, diversifying and moving towards round-the-clock centres where nighttime economies should be taken as seriously as daytime ones, says Cape Town Central City Improvement District COO Tasso Evangelinos.

These days, a 24-hour economy is considered to be the mark of a thriving CBD, yet even internationally municipalities have been slow to pay attention to the needs of businesses that run at night and the public life they generate on the streets.

A number of South Africa’s inner cities are now also on the march to becoming 24-hour centres, particularly as rapid urbanisation takes place along with the regeneration of a number of traditional city centres – among them the Maboneng, Braamfontein and Newtown precincts of Johannesburg and the Cape Town CBD. Post-17h00 trade is beginning to flourish in these centres as visitors return, residents set up house and increasing numbers of businesses look to catering for markets beyond the traditional late-night entertainment scene.

However, if not managed with the same services and amenities enjoyed by daytime economies, a busy nighttime economy can face immense challenges.

Look to Amsterdam, a city with a huge music and events industry. At 04h00 it would turn into what some residents called a “war zone”. Noise and violence spiked when scores of drunken patrons were forced out of clubs at the same time.

The City of Amsterdam responded by creating the position of night mayor, funding it 50/50 with the business sector. The incumbent, voted in by the public, then mediates between nighttime businesses, officials and residents to provide mutually beneficial solutions to problems that arise at night.

On a trip to the Netherlands in May, I met the inaugural night mayor, Mirik Milan. Upon taking office, he had to reconcile the different agendas of those he represented. But in keeping neutral, Milan has helped legitimise and reinvigorate Amsterdam’s after-hours scene while keeping residents happy too. And instead of enforcing stricter trading hours (as proved to be disastrous for the Kings Cross clubbing scene in Sydney, Australia), the City gave him the greenlight to test 24-hour zones. Patrons can now leave clubs when they please.

Milan has pioneered a new way forward for other cities. The concept of a night mayor has spread to Paris, Zurich and Cali in Colombia. London, which has a nighttime economy worth £66 billion, is considering creating its own.

How do we begin to do the same in South Africa’s reurbanised areas to manage private enterprise and public space around the clock and avoid the pitfalls of other CBDs, specifically when we face challenges such as limited municipal resources, law enforcement and a lack of public transport? And it’s not simply a case of taking practices that work in the day and expecting a carbon copy to work at night.

First and foremost, local government has to be the driver, beyond daytime hours. There must be a commitment straight from the top to provide a spectrum of services that will in turn inspire confidence in other stakeholders.

On the private sector side, there needs to be a willingness to work both with authorities as well as each other, forming associations of nighttime businesses prepared to establish protocols for working together and presenting a united front. Residents, in turn, could engage with both authorities and business owners via their body corporates. If they can find compromise on noise pollution, for example, then other issues will become more palatable. It’s all about finding common ground and dealing with challenges collectively, with the buy in of all stakeholders.

This has been Milan’s biggest success. He doesn’t get involved in operational issues. Rather, the business and residential associations come to him with problems and he advises. It’s then up to those parties to come up with a solution themselves. He told me it took him three years to gain the trust of the local authorities. Today he has a hotline into the mayor’s office.

As he’s proved in Amsterdam, formal buy-in from all relevant parties can lead to further prosperity and better neighbourhoods for all.