Many of us have found ourselves in the centre of nightlife areas as pubs and nightclubs are closing, and contest to the disorder that often arises in these spaces. This may involve intoxicated people stumbling through the streets or more serious situations involving violent assaults.
While a vibrant nightlife area is vital to the development of modern cities, this disorder clearly highlights one of the drawbacks to the night-time economy as a strategy for economic growth. Other factors of concern, along with the importance this strategy for growth has garnered at city-level, will be discussed below.
An opportunity to double the city’s economy
The term night-time economy was first introduced by Comedia Consultancy, a creative cities organisation that was formed in 1978 by Charles Landry. The organisation presented the night-time economy as an opportunity to generate urban renewal, economic activity and employment in struggling cities through the establishment of a leisure industry. Following the ideas of the Comedia Consultancy group, the term night-time economy became dominant in urban planning circles in the UK as an opportunity to double the city’s economy. Since then, the strategy has been reproduced extensively across urban centres.
The establishment of night mayors
Today, the night-time economy is characterised by a high concentration of bars, nightclubs and fast food restaurants in spatially-dense urban centres. The continued commitment to the night-time economy as a strategy for urban growth can be seen in the establishment of night mayors in major cities such as Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and London. While no Irish city has yet to appoint a night mayor, the benefits of such have been discussed in the media and a representative from Dublin City Council attended the first Night Mayor Summit in Amsterdam in 2016.
Purple Flag: helping to increase footfall for areas with accreditation
The importance of the night-time economy as an opportunity for economic growth can also be seen in the introduction of the Purple Flag initiative, which aims to increase the profile and footfall for areas with accreditation. Similar to how a Blue Flag indicates a safe beach, Purple Flag accreditation indicates that the night-time economy is a safe cultural space, with great bars and clubs, and good transportation services. Since 2012, over 20 towns and cities in Ireland have been accredited Purple Flag status.
Dublin Bus to pilot 24-hour bus services
More recently, Dublin Bus have announced that they will pilot a 24-hour service for three of their main bus routes. While the plans are still at an early stage, it is expected that the services will be up and running by next year. This move follows the introduction of 24-hour weekend Tube services in London which began in August, 2016. The arguments for extending transportation services include the provision of transport for night workers as well as substantial economic benefits which are expected to arise from the expansion of the night-time economy.
The introduction of night mayors, Purple Flag accreditation and 24-hour transport services all point to the continued importance of the night-time economy for economic growth. However, the reliance on this strategy for economic growth, especially for smaller cities and towns, can be problematic. Factors deserving particular consideration include:
- The unsustainability of the night-time economy
The unsustainability of this strategy for growth became evident in the recent economic crisis. During this period, late bars and nightclubs competed with each other for limited clientele by reducing entrance fees and promoting cheap alcohol deals. Some were forced to close down, while others opened on weekend nights only, leaving large venues in the city centre empty for most of the week.
- The quality of employment
Continued investment in the night-time economy should also raise questions about the quality of the employment being created in this industry. For example, many of the employees working in this area tend to work part-time or are precarious with no contract and no set hours.
- Development of criminogenic spaces
Finally, the night-time economy is usually concentrated in compact areas of cities and towns. While policymakers recommend the development of mixed-use nightlife spaces, Irish night-time economies are dominated by the alcohol industry, with late bars and nightclubs taking centre stage. When these venues all close in the early hours of the morning, thousands of people sprawl out onto the streets, often intoxicated, and compete for services such as fast food and transportation. As a result, these designated nightlife areas tend to have high levels of public disorder and anti-social behaviour.
The introduction of night mayors, Purple Flag accreditation and 24-hour transport services highlight the continued importance of the night-time economy for urban economic growth. However, while the night-time economy may provide the opportunity to double the city’s economy, it also presents a number of problematic issues, highlighted above, which need to be addressed.
Kirsty Doyle is a Researcher at TASC, working in the area of health inequalities. She is also conducting a PhD in Sociology part-time at Waterford Institute of Technology, focusing on the regulation of alcohol-related behaviour in the night-time economy. Kirsty has an MA in Sociology and Geography from Maynooth University and has previously worked at the Health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway.