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A vibrant nightlife can turn cities into creative hubs: Amsterdam night mayor

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AMSTERDAM: In 2003, Amsterdam became the first city in the world to appoint a ‘nachtburgemeester’ to reshape its nightlife. Since then, Paris, Zurich, London, and most recently New York have adopted the concept. Amsterdam’s night mayor
Mirik Milan was recently in India to attend the India Nightlife and Convention Awards in Mumbai. He spoke to
Sonam Joshi about how India can improve life after dark:

How would you describe your role as the night mayor? To what extent does it go beyond pubs, clubs and partying?

I am the direct adviser to the mayor of Amsterdam, and his eyes and ears at night. We work as a non-profit NGO, with 50% of our money from nightlife entrepreneurs, and the other half from the mayor. We want to improve the nightlife scene but take care of the downside as well. I also work to ensure that the nightlife is safe. Usually the night is seen as a problem. We need to change that by listening to all the stakeholders: the police, the city government, the residents, and politicians.

There are three projects we are working on: the introduction of 24-hour venues outside the main city, installing social workers in the nightlife district to deal with people who have had too much to drink, and a web app to let residents complain of nuisances to the nearest community officer.

Is it a myth that nightlife is only about drinking and partying?

In Amsterdam, we want to invest in the quality of nightlife and focus on a culturally diverse nightlife. When people are going to a food festival or to hear their favourite band, they are more likely to behave better because they are engaged. If you just use the city as the background for your party, then you’re more likely to behave badly.

You need to have a top-down structure, but also a bottom-up structure. The nightlife industry has to work together and give something back to the residents and have good solutions that work for both sides. It is about programming the city and asking what kind of nightlife do we want, not just saying we want more and more.

Mumbai is likely to get its first 24×7 zones by the year-end. How do cities benefit from having a vibrant nightlife?

It benefits cities from a social, cultural and economic perspective. It is good for tourism, and creates a diverse and socially inclusive city. There is also a lot of talent development going on for the creative industry. When you have a vibrant nightlife, like in Berlin and Los Angeles, a lot of young, creative people want to live in the city and the creative industry follows. As a result, there is a lot of economic growth and opportunities. This is important for India because it has a huge population of young people.

There are just 850,000 people living in the city of Amsterdam, but we attracted 17 million tourists in 2016, who spent 18.8 billion euros in the city. These people come to Amsterdam to spend their money and add to our local economy. Even in Berlin, 30% of tourists come for the underground and independent music culture. That’s why we are always looking at the night not just as the appendix of the day, but in a holistic way.

What are your suggestions for transforming our biggest cities into nightlife hubs?

The first step is to approach nightlife not just for drinking, but also cultural offerings. In Amsterdam, 25% of the people between 18 and 30 years are not drinking alcohol. You start with a dialogue and a white paper on the way forward for nightlife in the city. Then you can come up with safe and vibrant solutions. It is also about taking small steps, such as starting with one district or neighbourhood, where the city government and industry work together to improve nightlife and create jobs. In Amsterdam, we gave extended hours to nightlife joints, and in turn, they invested in the infrastructure and community. It is about finding the middle path and integrating night and day. People working during the night have the same rights as people working during the day.

Most Indian cities have early deadlines for bars because of safety concerns. How can these fears be allayed?

If you want to improve security you can work with the nightlife industry to make sure that the people feel safer. In Tel Aviv, there is 24-hour opening. In Latin American cities such as Cali and Sao Paulo, they extended the opening hours because a busy street with lighting is safer than an empty bus stop, and it also creates more work for taxi drivers.

What were your impressions of nightlife in India compared to Europe?

India is on the rise, but I think it isn’t profiting from this growth as much as it could be. For such a big country it doesn’t have the global presence it could have. Attracting tourists to the big cities could create a lot of jobs. People want to travel to places with cultural offerings, safety and entertainment. There is a golden time waiting ahead for India but it’s important to move forward in a way other major cities are doing. The night mayor’s office worked on a small scale in Amsterdam, but even London and New York have copied it. It’s all about making your city future-proof.

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