New York has famously been called the “city that never sleeps.” Yet the description could equally apply to key European cities such as London or Amsterdam, which are likewise known for their rich and vibrant nightlife. Over the past decade, there has been greater focus on the significance of this nocturnal activity, not least by municipal authorities but also by the research community and private industry. A shift in society’s needs has seen the demand for evening and nighttime services increase. As a result, new business models have emerged – together with new partnerships and management approaches – in order to tap the full potential of this activity. More and more cities are coming to realize that a thriving nightlife can help boost the local economy, and the need to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will only accelerate this trend. But do cities always have what it takes to build a nighttime economy? To answer this question, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO has looked at a range of cities of different sizes, both in Germany and abroad. In the position paper “The outlook on nighttime economy”, researchers offer an overview of best practices. In addition, they identify obstacles, consider future growth drivers in this sector, and highlight the key factors involved in building a thriving nightlife, irrespective of a city’s size, location and cultural makeup.
Customized road maps based on in-depth understanding and stakeholder dialog
The nighttime economy covers activities between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 a.m. As a rule, it is seen as synonymous with the entertainment and culture industry. However, recent studies make clear that it comprises a variety of sectors, including health care, transportation, telecommunications, food production and related activities, delivery services, and a lot more besides. In addition to major metropolitan areas such as London and Washington D.C., which already benefit from a booming nightlife, researchers from Fraunhofer IAO also took a closer look at small and medium-sized cities such as Mannheim in Germany, which are looking to follow in their footsteps. On the basis of interviews with key stakeholders who are involved in building a nighttime economy, researchers were able to identify where obstacles lie, and to devise a benchmarking framework that supports individual cities on their way towards establishing a viable and sustainable nighttime economy. “Our goal was to identify routes to success that each city can follow without losing its individual character and identity,” explains Petr Suska from Fraunhofer IAO.
Successful strategies incorporate the following findings:
- Inclusion of suburban areas: Cities with a successful strategy extend the scope of nighttime activity to include non-downtown locations; this ensures they reap the benefits generated by a robust nighttime economy with a widespread impact.
- Intensive dialog with stakeholders: Dialog with stakeholders on the basis of a jointly agreed growth strategy is one of the keys to success. Mannheim, for example, has introduced a monthly consultation meeting between the municipality, local business, police, and community representatives. Transparency and open lines of communication help prepare urban stakeholders for change, make them part of that process, and avoid conflict.
- The size of the city is not significant: Smaller cities also have good opportunities to establish a thriving nightlife. In major cities, a nighttime economy tends to evolve naturally in response to the more dynamic lifestyle of its citizens. Smaller cities, by contrast, can leverage their nightlife in order to make themselves more attractive and to discourage local people from moving elsewhere.
The 24/7 economy: scope for new opportunities and a route out of the crisis
Our investigation of best practices shows that cities need to do two things in order to establish a thriving nightlife: follow a road map drawn up on the basis of an in-depth understanding of the nighttime economy and a close dialog with stakeholders; and, at the same time, make sure that suburban areas are included in the strategy. More and more cities are appointing “night mayors” – people who act as a go-between for the daytime and nighttime economies in a municipal area. Germany’s first night mayor was elected in Mannheim, by a democratic vote, in 2018. “Building a nighttime economy is a shared task,” Suska emphasizes. “It’s only by bringing all the stakeholders and people involved to one table that they then have a chance to take part in changing their city and creating a resilient nightlife. What we need now – particularly given the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic – are flexible business models that will make our cities more livable, sustainable and diverse.”
In June 2020, Fraunhofer IAO teamed up with the UK Science & Innovation Network and the UK Embassy in Berlin in order to invite people from Germany and abroad to take part in the virtual conference “Nighttime in Cities.” Based on input from this event, the research team was then able to put together a list of best practices from cities such as London, New York City, Washington D.C., and Mannheim, as well as from the private sector. These illustrate the importance of nighttime mobility and of modern data communications for the smart cities of the future.