Re-thinking the city at night

Madison Winnel, Urban Planner, MacroPlan He doesnt wear a super suit or swing from buildings but he does look out for the city after dark and represents a new approach to city governance, in the form of a hero.

The instinct of city authorities around the world when residents complain about things ‘night time’ is to bring in a curfew, tighten regulations, shut places down and ban stuff. It is an all too familiar story, with the general sentiment being that the NSW planning process is a means to interfere with individual commercial affairs. However, what if a different story unfolded and instead the state fostered positive behaviour, re-defined healthy social norms and facilitated real cohesion?

One man is doing it, he’s 35, an ex-club promoter, DJ, cool as ice and he’s making waves for the city world famous for its night time culture. Amsterdam is pioneering a new way to run cities ‘after dark’ with the introduction of a Night Time Mayor. Meet Mirik Milan, the Naachtburgemeester or ‘Night Mayor’ of Amsterdam. Elected in 2014 his job is simple, to nurture the Dutch cities growing Night Time Economy, whilst satisfying the local residents and public officials that would probably rather it didn’t exist. “Stay classy, think neighbours, drink inside and use a loo” is his mantra to do so.[i]

Mirik’s goal is to distribute the activity from the city centre and create precincts, to let nights out die naturally and to build a 24-hour city where it is just as normal to go to the library at 2am as it is at 2pm. This active leadership in creating behaviour change and ‘contemporising’ social norms is something that Sydney could definitely learn from.

The benefits of this approach to city governance are well documented, but Milan encapsulates its primacy by saying:

“Late-night people are typically young, educated, creative, entrepreneurial – people you want in your city, and who work in the creative industries and start-ups you also want. If places like Berlin have flourished, it’s not just because of low rents. It’s because they’re night life capitals.”

This statement could not hit closer to home as Sydney battles with the soaring rental prices that affect more than just the young, creative, inner-city demographic. The prioritisation of generating positive night time engagement plays a major role in ensuring the young, educated and creative people remain satisfied and aren’t gentrified out of the city, taking with them the creative sector which we cherish.[ii]

It is a recommendation that the Committee for Sydney provided in ‘Sydney as a 24-hour City’ in March 2018 and would effectively solve the governance issue for the city at night.[iii] Amongst other things, the Night Mayor would lead the growth in the number of night time options, establish better, safer transportation and champion Sydney as a global 24-hour city.

Poor night time management should be solved through meaningful engagement with local businesses (night club owners, new entrepreneurs, retailers and food/drink premises) to create outcomes that people believe in and will inherently abide by, a claim widely explored by urban theorists such as Charles Landry.[iv] By implementing a Night Time Mayor, the solution becomes more than just creating safe environments for liquor fuelled after-5pm activities, but provides a platform to establish a holistic and participatory approach to Sydney’s complex Night Time Economy for its patrons.

KEEP SYDNEY OPEN is an example of a group who are advocating for the repair of the ruptured dialogue between the State Government, Local Government, residents and night time business owners. The lack of strong thought leadership has seemingly been obstructing the re-growth of Sydney ‘s Night Time Economy, at the dissatisfaction of its stakeholders. By introducing a coordinating figure such as a Night Time Mayor the NSW Government would be supporting the governance of Sydney’s diverse night time precincts.

Leadership of a common group, for a common cause is not a new idea and Sydney is most certainly ready for it. In fact, Andy Warhol is probably one of the more famous examples of someone who brought people together as he brought together groups and helped them develop their talents in night life. Whether they be actors, fashion designers, photographers or film makers, Warhol’s influence is not too dissimilar to the concept of the Night Time Mayor - someone to help foster behaviour change, understand the issues better from all sides, facilitate communication and ensure that everybody benefits. I mean, everyone has to get a good night’s sleep at some point, right?

Madison Winnel is a passionate member of MacroPlans planning team and is currently in his 4th year of a Bachelor of City Planning degree at UNSW. Madison is currently writing his undergraduate thesis on the Night Time Economy and is developing an intricate knowledge of the NSW planning system.

[i] See:

[ii] City of Sydney, 2011, OPEN Sydney Future directions for Sydney at night: strategy and action plan 2013-2030.

[iii] Committee for Sydney, 2018, Sydney as a 24-hour city.

[iv] Landry, C, ‘Creative City: A toolkit for Urban Innovators.


This article originally appeared in New Planner – the journal of the New South Wales planning profession – published by the Planning Institute of Australia. For more information, please visit: