Could a vigorous night-time economy be the way to help Britain regain its competitive edge in a post-Brexit world?
We used to envy New York, the city that never slept, while most things in the UK shut at 11pm and everything was shut by 2am – and you had to walk home.
But now the tubes in London run 24 hours a day every Friday and Saturday, there are extended opening hours everywhere – and even my vet’s surgery is open 24/7, which is good news for my flea-bitten mog.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, appointed the redoubtable Amy Lamé as his Night Czar back in 2016, and she has been doing a great job ever since then supporting the cause and campaigning to keep things open. What a great choice he made – and what a great job she has!
A night economy is important for a number of reasons. First, it makes absolutely no sense that when most of us work during the day, the shops and support facilities are open, and we don’t work in the evening when most of them are closed. That’s just one more reason for the crisis on the high street. People need to shop – and enjoy shopping – when it suits them. It’s a recreation and an experience. Otherwise they will buy from Amazon while at their desks.
Buildings will have to be more multi-use: it’s crazy to design buildings to be used for less than half the day. In a sharing economy, maybe pop-up businesses could use our offices at night
Then there is the matter of needing to “sweat our assets”. The UK population grew by an incredible 5 million people between 2005 and 2015, according to the Office for National Statistics.
That’s nine extra Birminghams’ worth of people in the space of just 10 years. London increased by about 1 million people within that time. It’s difficult to densify our cities quickly enough to accommodate all these new people – and we don’t want urban sprawl. So we need to use our built assets more intensively around the clock.
Then again – and this is a key driver – it’s a cultural thing. Britain just isn’t that boring, class-ridden place it used to be, where people knew their place, did nine-to-five jobs in the “old industries” and then went home to their families with 2.4 kids.
No, Britain has a young, diverse, multicultural society and the old industries are being replaced by more creative ones, in design, technology, media, technology, education and sport. These are our new powerhouses, from their start-ups to the global giants of FAAGM – that stands for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft, for anyone that didn’t already know.
For every night-time shopper or reveller, there is a night-time worker who deserves a decent journey to and from work. Those workers could include construction workers
These firms need the sort of people who want to live in exciting cities where they can work and play 24/7 – and increasingly the boundaries between work and play are blurred. So, in order to attract these businesses, we have to have 24/7 cities.
What does this mean for the built environment, our professions and the construction industry? In the future, buildings will have to be more multi-use: it’s crazy to design buildings to be used for less than half the day. In a sharing economy, maybe pop-up businesses could use our offices at night. Buildings should also embrace the city more at ground level and become part of the city’s facilities.
Placemaking is going to become even more important – and placemaking for night time use in particular. We talk a lot about placemaking, but are generally hopeless at it compared with our European colleagues. I work in the City of London, one of the world’s richest square miles, and the placemaking is desultory.
Placemaking for the night-time economy raises issues to a whole new level in terms of suitable spaces for people. Safety, adequate lighting, wayfinding and spaces in which to congregate and socialise all have added dimensions at night. Some dark dank car parks and underpasses I know must be terrifying for anyone alone after dark.
And that raises the issue of safe transport: not just the tubes on two nights of the week, but the whole journey cycle, including tubes, buses, taxis, cars and walking that last bit home alone. Technology must be able to help here. A night-app for every town? A digital partner to see you safely home?
Placemaking for the night-time economy raises issues to a whole new level in terms of suitable spaces for people. Safety, adequate lighting, wayfinding and spaces in which to congregate and socialise all have added dimensions at night
Noise is going to be an issue for 24-hour cities as we all have to sleep sometime. Maybe we will need quiet zones in residential areas just like we have quiet compartments in trains.
And of course for every night-time shopper or reveller, there is a night-time worker who deserves a decent journey to and from work as well as decent conditions at work.
Those workers could include construction workers. As an industry we have tough times ahead, when we will need to be ever more competitive in a post-Brexit world, and our projects are currently notoriously slow and expensive to build.
I am always impressed when I go to my Dubai office by the speed and efficiency of the sites there – which are often run by UK firms. Three shifts a day are quite normal: two day-time shifts and one overnight shift to clean the site and load it out with new materials ready for the next day. What’s not to like?
Jack Pringle is principal and EMEA regional director at Perkins+Will