Friday, September 1, 2017

Strengthening Your Downtown Night Time Economy

Nur is an associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

Lower East Side is a popular night-life hub in NYC

Night time economies are typically characterized by business done between the hours of 6pm and 6am. This includes a large range of economic activity taking place in food and drinking places, entertainment centers like cinemas, theaters, comedy clubs, sports and recreation facilities, and even retail stores. While these are typically labelled core night time economies, there are additional non-core night time economy sectors that you might less likely be aware of including transportation, health care and infrastructure. Around the world, many downtowns and cities are seeing an overall growth of businesses operating at night and are therefore taking proactive measures to strengthen those economic sectors that help promote the sustainability of the area.

The importance of sustaining your night-time economy

Opponents of the concept however, including residents and business owners alike, have negative perceptions of the crime and disorder that night time economies are supposed to bring. Many fear alcohol-fueled violence on the streets and heightened underage drinking offences, and as a result, higher spending on policing, emergency services and law enforcement. These potential problems of crime and violence, however, have increasingly been shown through research to be easily overcome by numerous other benefits brought by night time economies, including increased employment opportunities, increased footfall and sales for businesses from extended business hours, extended overnight visitor stays, and ironically, even improved crime and safety. In fact,a report found that a more diverse night time crowd in Belfast City not only impacted footfall but crime & anti-social behavior and perceptions statistics.
London, UK shows it has a strong Night Time Economy.

In the UK, night time economies has been estimated to value up to 27% of total town and city center turnover and between 5-10% of overall employment figures. In London, the nation's most populous city, that figure is even more impactful with 1 in 8 people employed in the night time economy. Night time footfall across a number of city centers in the UK has also been found to have outperformed figures captured during the day.

Meanwhile in Australia, a similar contribution was reported by night time economies to job creation and revenue. Between 2009 and 2013, night time economy sales increased by 20% from $90 billion to $108 billion, even higher than the broader Australian economy growth of 14% in the same period. In addition, the night time economy in Australia employs over 1 million people nationwide.

Other studies have also found that night time economies increase the vibrancy of cities through increased access to businesses, services and entertainment for residents and visitors, and promotes and markets local cultural venues that are typically only open in the day and inaccessible to most of the working population. For smaller downtowns and cities, night time economies can go so far as attracting and retaining the younger Millennial population seeking nightlife options in their place of residence, and this might even prevent a brain drain in the local workforce.

Strategies to boost the night time economy

London's Night Czar Amy Lame and Mayor Sadiq Khan
These measurable impacts of the night time economy in various parts of the world have since led more cities to take on a more comprehensive outlook on managing the night time economy, including establishing offices or commissions of the downtown night life. Many cities in Europe have taken this on including London, whose Mayor formed the Night Time Commission and appointed Amy Lamé as the city's "Night Czar". Last month,  New York City Council passed a bill allowing Mayor de Blasio to appoint a Director of Nightlife to oversee a newly-established Office of Nightlife. Regardless of title, the role of such an office and/or leader is to effectively bring together various stakeholders in the night time economy before planning and implementing a suite of strategies that will tie together all of a city's retail, cultural, entertainment attractions. In a way, these Night Mayors are really the downtown's "place managers". Their greatest task of course is to convene all of the unsung night time heroes who work to keep downtown alive and safe at night, from business owners, waiters and bartenders to security staff, police and sanitation workers. Every voice needs to be heard in the planning conversations in order to ensure the night time economy is sustainable.

Some strategies that Offices of Night Life across the world have implemented to boost the night time economy include: 

  1. Coordinating extended retail and cultural institution opening hours - whether annually, bimonthly, or weekly. 
  2. Implementing quality urban design features along nightlife corridors - lighting, CCTV cameras, ground floor transparency
  3. Maintaining a robust night-time program that converges with business hours - light festivals, outdoor music performance, cultural events
  4. Conducting a liquor law review to ensure appropriate businesses are able to serve drinks late at night
  5. Creating a new or building upon an existing cultural quarter to serve as a new hub of night life
These strategies, however, must be supported by a slew of other more complex actions that are critical to ensuring a safe, viable and sustainable night time economy. Sanitation procedures must be managed and well-coordinated in order to protect the amenity of local residents and businesses without disrupting the flow of night time festivities. Garbage pick-up times, for example, may need to be revised on nights where businesses are open late and a light festival is expected to take place with over a thousand participants roaming the streets.

Public transit authorities and local cab companies also need to be in close coordination with entertainment venues and bars to ensure that late night revelers are able to travel safely before and after spending time downtown. In addition, police authorities and public safety partners must be aware of business hours and night time programs and be prepared to delegate personnel to core areas of night time economies. 

Late night business operation licenses must also be carefully granted to businesses that can demonstrate appropriate safety measures, including the ability to disperse patrons quickly and quietly when the premises closes so as not to have an adverse impact on neighbors. If the downtown does not currently allow mobile food trucks to operate in the night, it may be a good idea to extend the licenses and permits to allow for such businesses to operate late into the night so as to ensure a diverse offering of food and drinking places for patrons. 

How to know if your night time economy is successful?
Sydney produces an area profile sheet annually
to track the progress and impacts of its late-night
management stategies

London and many other cities around the world that have adopted comprehensive strategies to boost their night time economies have also begun to measure the impacts of their actions. For them, the success of a night time economy not only depends on the ability to attract a diverse range of people to a variety of activities at night, but also the ability to increase sales and tourism receipts downtown.

The easiest ways to measure these are of course total sales figures, employment statistics, visitor rates, and pedestrian counts (comparing night time figures to daytime figures, or year-on-year changes). Town centers in the UK have also taken a step further to measure qualitative impacts of their night time management plans by surveying customers and making social observations of the types of street activity and behaviors that take place during the night.

After all, monitoring and managing the process of your downtown's night time plan and strategies is a critical step in the process to ensuring long-term success of your downtown night time economy.

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