With such a wealth of opportunities to pursue culture, life and business, it should come as no surprise that London has been rated as the number one place to live in the world by PWC. And one of the things that’s so special about the capital is the incredibly rich tapestry of nightlife available. With the night tube launching next month, the value of the nocturnal city is set to be more important than ever.
The incredible array of options may seem obvious to seasoned Londoners, yet it is crucial to be clear about what constitutes value in a city, what makes it exceptional, inspiring, unique and transformative. The Night Time Economy, or NTE, is vital to the city’s heartbeat, both economically and culturally. We’re talking about bars, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, theatres and all the ancillary businesses that provide world class entertainment and services, enticing both visitors from around the world and across the UK.
The inter-relationship between the night and the daytime is enormous. Night time businesses act as magnets to areas and encourage broader activity during the day. To understand the value NTE provides however, one must see the relationship in terms also of cultural capital, both the value provided to the city’s ‘brand’ and also the broader cultural influence that leads in turn to extended economic value.
One area where this is clearest is the link between nightclubs, bars, music and fashion. Try to imagine, if you can, any of the post war fashion or youth trends without nightclubs and bars. From Rock ‘n’ Roll to Punk, the New Romantics to Acid House, none of these would be possible without our urban nightlife. Here fashion, retail and music intersect: Vivienne Westwood and Carnaby Street with trends continuing through the King’s Road, Camden, Notting Hill and, more recently, various parts of east London.
It’s not just fashion, London is Europe’s fastest growing tech city according to a report from London & Partners with much of the spurt happening in newly developed areas around Shoreditch, up through Dalston and London Fields, out to Hackney Wick and beyond. Here again, the nightlife is crucial. Up and coming bright-minded entrepreneurs and innovative creatives love to work hard and play hard. They get inspired by being around other dynamic people in trend-setting environments. Wherever there is the frisson of activity, of possibility and endeavour, that’s where ideas spark.
We are increasingly changing the way we organise our days; we might eat breakfast or dinner at street food festivals or pop-ups and kiosks near stations. Many of us work through the night as we link up with businesses or colleagues working internationally, and it seems likely we will continue to do so in the future. That’s why we need our night time provision to reflect these changes – just like New York, Barcelona and many cities in Asia, where food, drink and dancing can happen at any time of the day.
Some areas already feel like this with Soho a prime example. Here 46,000 creatives live in close proximity, and the interaction between day and night is vital in stimulating the creativity and attraction of the area.
In short: where bars and clubs go, creatives will follow. This was true at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, as well as many similar destinations across London like Old Paradise Yard or the Bussey Building and Frank’s Cafe in Peckham.
Of course there’s much more: from museums to gyms to hair salons, engineering to biomedicine — all of which go on day and night. Retail and the high street are centrally intertwined with nightlife – and many high streets might otherwise be eerily empty. A recent report by the Department for Communities and Local Government called Forward In To The Night shows how NTE provides town centres and cities with between 10-16% of employment. In 2013 NTE grew by over 3.5% which generated 7% of new jobs. And of that figure around 80% were jobs for young people (and let’s not forget that in London a disastrous one in four are unemployed). And while we’re talking stats let’s also remember thatoverseas visitors spent £11.26 billion in London in 2013, equating to 54% of the UK total expenditure with NTE having enormous importance.
Beyond the financial value however, we also need to consider the question of what kind of city we want to live in. In spite of so much exciting and world beating activity, the past couple of years has seen authorities clamping down on nightlife across the capital. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that 50% of bars and clubs should close to reduce crime, holding them accountable for incidents both inside and outside venues.
We need to have an open and honest discussion about how our cities should be policed – who is responsible, how, when and why. We need to talk about what crime statistics actually tell us about the reality on the streets: for example, are mobile phone losses really the big issue behind ‘crime spikes’ in areas where NTE is prevalent? Should Councils be promoting more night time activities or curbing them further?
These question of course mean we need to ask ourselves who we are and what we think being a Londoner actually means. Do we want to live in a city where we are nudged and restricted from enjoying the smorgasbord of activity on offer both day and night? Should dancing stop at midnight or not be restricted at all? Can we be trusted to eat food with friends and have a drink at 5am? And as the 24 hour tube comes closer — will London be a worthy destination for it?
My vote is for a fluid and tiered offering of day and night-time activities across the whole city. They must be smartly-curated with the city planning for a future that values the immense importance of the Night Time Economy. Let’s create a place where we can fall in and out of love, make friends, get inspired and where new cultural phenomena can form.
Alan D Miller is Chairman of The Night Time Industries Association — follow him on Twitter @alanvibe and @wearethentia.