For the last six years, I’ve had a job that most party animals would surely covet – at least from the outside looking in. As night mayor – or nachtburgemeester, as we call it in Amsterdam – I was the eyes and ears of the mayor’s office in town after dark. It means I’ve spent many of my evenings in the city’s most exciting bars and clubs. It may sound like fun – and it was in parts, of course – but I had serious work to do: as night mayor I had to act as a go-between between the night-time community and local government. I believe this is part of the reason why Amsterdam is now such a vibrant place once night falls, and has shed its image of old.
Last month, I retired; I think it’s time to pass the baton to someone new. But I’m encouraged to see that Amsterdam’s lead is being followed. New York, Zurich, Sydney and London have all recruited night mayors. Others, I’m sure, will follow. Why? Well, because everyone benefits if there’s trust and understanding. When I first started, my team and I positioned ourselves between government, small businesses and residents. We needed to make sure they could co-exist peacefully but not, you could say, in peace; a city has the right, and the need, to turn up the volume sometimes.
Nightlife is good for a city’s culture and its economy. Any politician who takes the view that it doesn’t matter, or that it’s something that will just figure itself out, is missing the point: late-night culture plays a huge part in a city’s prosperity. In Amsterdam, nightlife provides around 13,000 part- and full-time jobs citywide. Plus, late-night people are typically creative, educated, entrepreneurial – exactly the kind of qualities you want in your citizens. Consider Berlin: it hasn’t become one of Europe’s great start-up cities just because of low rents and good parks. It’s because it’s a nightlife capital, too. A city’s club culture is a motor for its creative industries: we have this club called De School in west Amsterdam, which hosts parties, sure, but it’s also a cafe, restaurant, gym and art gallery, and a place that offers opportunities to starting-out graphic designers, filmmakers, DJs. Nightclubs, it’s become apparent, can be like business schools for young, creative kids. And it’s working: the Dutch dance music industry is worth around $700m a year. That’s the power of nightlife.