The announcement was buried by the deluge of coronavirus-related news, but on March 21st The Hague elected a “Night Mayor.” The Dutch city’s new Nachtburgemeester, Pat Smith, brought to his successful campaign a long record as an organizer of dance parties and a nightlife advocate.

He joined the ranks of some 35 other night mayors, night czars, night economy ambassadors and holders of equivalent titles around the world. All of these had been appointed or elected since 2012, when Mirik Milan emerged from Amsterdam’s nighttime cultural sector to become that city’s first mayor of the night. 



Ignoring nighttime economies

The rise of night mayors after 2012 followed the recognition by many cities that they largely ignored what many called their nighttime economies. Those who worked in the nighttime entertainment sector had long argued that their contributions to employment and city tax coffers went unrecognized.

In Europe, cities formed night councils, bringing together club owners, citizen organizations, police and transport services and others with a stake in the nighttime life of cities. The nightlife sector itself came together in club commissions or other groupings formed in part to get the ear of city administrators.

In the early days of these developments, the aim of nighttime entrepreneurs and activists was simply to be recognized for their contributions to the life of cities.

Rising rents

By 2018, newly appointed night mayors and city governments were being called upon to preserve and protect a sector in serious danger of collapsing. From Mexico City to Toronto, urban gentrification was threatening to kill off the city venues (the clubs and bars) on which the nighttime music sector depended.

Rising rents meant music venues gave way to condo developments or fancy restaurants. The new inhabitants of once-lively neighbourhoods now pushed for the enforcement or tightening of noise regulations, forcing music clubs to either close, invest in expensive soundproofing or pay an unending series of fines.

Nightlife sector is now organized

If the grounds for hope may seem scarce, we may nevertheless point to a couple of these.

One is simply that city governments have been compelled to recognize the contribution of nightlife to their economic well-being. Many, as noted, have created positions in municipal government to administer or protect the culture of the night.

In Toronto, London and Melbourne, for example, this has led to the passing of new “Agent of Change” principles to ensure that builders, buyers and renters of residential units adapt to the existing uses (like loud music performance) of buildings already in the vicinity.

The other hopeful sign is that the nightlife sector has learned to organize itself at the local, national and international levels. Since mid-March, organizations such as Nighttime.org and Global Cities After Dark have argued for public support to freelance DJs and bar staff, publicizing online tools for the distribution of music and tracking developments as the life of cities changes from hour to hour.

Having operated in crisis mode for longer than the current pandemic, the nightlife sector is now showing its strengths.