Making more of the night

The dream of the 24-hour city for groups of all ages has largely faded, heralding the arrival of an urban drinking environment for the young only, especially in Northern Europe. The continental European café, eating and entertainment culture, with the generations intermingling, has not happened. With cities increasingly spread out, travelling downtown is too much of an effort. The famed Mediterranean passegiata can only occur with vibrancy where living and shopping are close to each other. This means urban density with accommodation for single persons as well as families.

Being able to deal with the night is culturally learnt. A decade ago the symptom was dead town centres at night in places like Britain where the tradition of living together and socializing publicly in the evening had been lost. When the city began to be revalued and a shift towards an urban renaissance occurred, it led to an increased awareness of the value of public space and investment in it.88 This occurred throughout the country, with some high quality examples, such as Brindley Place and Broad Street in Birmingham. But generally, in the early evening, city centres empty, to be reclaimed at night by mostly young drinkers, bolstered by the drinks industry with bars competing loudly for attention. The result is monocultural. Hordes of young drinkers put off other age groups. The city centres in Britain are usually very lively, yet it is an exclusionary feeling: less intergenerational, less intercultural. Children and older people hardly dare venture in. Twenty-four-hour services are limited to bars, bars, bars, restaurants, clubs and bars. Facilities to broaden the appeal of night are rare. Libraries, museums and galleries close early, some even at 5.00pm. In effect, many such places are open on weekdays when most people have no time and closed when people have time. Urban management should have a strong role in assessing the palette of possibilities in each segment of the day, as it should in the management of public space to ensure diverse use and users.

The Italians have come up with an innovative solution and are addressing the democratic deficit of the 24-hour city. At least half a dozen Italian cities now have an Ufficio Tempi - an Office of Time. These try to reorganize time in more flexible ways to meet new needs, especially those of women, who often juggle two timetables, work and home. The Offices of Time try to bring together transport providers, shop-owners, employers, trade unions, the police and other services to see how their efforts might mesh better to produce more flexible ways of living and working. They use time as a resource by staggering opening hours of offices, shops, schools and services to maximize time and to avoid crushes and rushes. Shops might open and close later, and police might work more in the evening when people want to see them, rather than in the morning.

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