|| #nights2016 stadt-nach-acht conference on the nighttime economy

Last week, #nights2016 stadt-nach-acht conference on the nighttime economy took place in several Berlin nightclubs (mainly Watergate, Musik&Frieden, Salon zur wilden Renate). I had the pleasure to host three panels and be an active participant in discussions for the rest of the time. A lot has been written already, but mostly in German (you can find an overview here). The schedule was very packed which was a pity, because I could only attend some panels and missed other promising panels. Consequently, my overview will mirror only a small part of the whole conference.

nighttime economies. I have to admit, I skipped the opening – I hate mornings. I hate talking to people in the morning. And I can’t stand people talking about the night in the morning. Other attendees told me, it was interesting. For me, the conference started at noon with Adam Eldridge‘s talk about nighttime economies in which he conceptualised the nighttime more broadly than a club- and bar-centered nighttime economy. He talked about competing claims on the city at night (leisure vs. work / social vs. anti-social) and showed that the night consists of several types of nights. His core question was “Whose idea of the night is privileged?” This sparked a very fruitful discussion on perspectives on the night – do we only see it through the lense of an economy and the logics of economy? And if not, which wording and concepts could we use instead? Nightlife? Nighttime practices? Nighttime cultures? And isn’t the perception of all this dominated by white privileged players? – Questions that would run like a golden thread through the rest of the conference. I’ll continue using “nighttime economy” as the other panels I attended sticked to the common understanding of club- and bar-centered nighttime practices and the possibilities and problems that go along with them.

the power of the night. A vibrant nighttime economy is the flagship of a vibrant and attractive city. So, (how) can and should cities make use of their nighttime economy to attract more visitors, inhabitants and investors without destroying the nighttime economy itself? Cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam were named as negative examples of too much touristification whereas Munich was considered fairly lame (I had some fun nights there…). The basic agreements were: Cities shouldn’t over-use their nighttime economy for placebranding but rather leave the nighttime economy in the shadows that make it so attractive. Berlin should prevent neighbourhoods from becoming Disneylands of nighttime economies (Failed. The conference took place in one of Berlin’s nighttime economy Disneyland neighbourhoods…). Cities struggle to provide the nighttime economy with enough spaces, especially since clubs can’t move just randomly. Participants were divided over the question what defines a valuable nighttime space. Are subcultural nightclubs more valuable than gambling halls? Well… the sociologist-me would say: definitely not. Both are nighttime practices. The questions of quality and aesthetics are always also questions of perspective and definatory power. Complaining that orchestral music is considered more valuable than techno music and considering gambling halls as less valuable than techno nightclubs mirrors a pecking order, not factual quality.

urban myths. I took part in this panel because “After Dark”, the panel I originally wanted to go to, had the wrong description in the printed programme and I only found out after the panels were almost over. Damn. Never trust texts! “Urban Myths” was all about urban regeneration, the lack of enough appropriate spaces and noise. How to define noise and outsmart regulations (use scientists as experts!). And how to deal with the fact that sometimes one neighbour is enough to ruin a nightclub’s existence. The solution would be to define a vibrant nighttime economy as a part of common good and to put common good over particular interests. Which requires cities that are willing to use their scopes of action in favour of the nighttime economy.

shadows of the night. I had the pleasure to host this panel on (in)security. What struck me the most was the broad variety in potential sources of insecurity for revellers: a terrorist attack and the long way to overcome its aftermath (Céline Delgrave); a post-war society’s police forces who are one of the biggest threats for revellers (Tato Getia); first post-reunification Berlin’s nazis, now abusive guests (Markus Ossevorth), ‘oldschool’ bouncers (Smiley Baldwin) and… neighbours who are sensitive to noise (Irina van Aalst). It was very insightful to see that security issues depend so much on the context of the city, but still the quality of security personal is one of the key essentials to ensure revellers’ safety and security. Another part of the discussion involved the question who to exclude so that other party-goers can feel safe and free. Nazis and terrorists, obviously. Systems of online registrations or ‘only friends and friends of our friends’ can be means to increase safety… but also of exclusion.

conflict management. Another panel I hosted. Like in the panel before, the diversity of the speakers mirrored one of the qualities of the conference as it brought together a lot of different professional perspectives and know-how about the nighttime economy. All inputs in this panel emphasised the necessity of conflict management systems that fit the context of the given city (examples were given from various British cities, Zurich, Munich, and Berlin). It became clear that all of these systems have one Achilles’ heel: drunk revellers. Administrations, authorities, club owners and even neighbours can successfully be involved into  conflict management systems, but they are all fairly dependent on the collaboration of revellers whose willingness and possibilities to act considerately diminish drastically over the course of the night.

24 hour city. This was the last panel I visited. The first part of the panel was dominated by the question how 24 hour cities could look like and whether the city at night should be the same as the city at night (No!). And if not, what does this mean? Then a question of Adam Eldridge addressing me changed the focus of the panel: “Do you think, the night is gendered?” As Dimitri Hegemann left earlier, I suddenly found myself sitting in the discussion round and the second half of the panel dealt with questions of exclusion, participation, gender and ethnic backgrounds. One participant from the audience noted “Well… the day is sexist and racist, how should the night be any better than the day?” and another participant commented “And how about conferences on the night?” So, how can we make the night more inclusive? That’s a long way to go. One first step was demonstrated in the panel itself: giving your seat to others. ;) Which leads me to my final conclusion on the conference….

things i liked. The conference was a very good start to bring people together and into contact (“Now we all know (of) each other and can start to exchange ideas and collaborate”). I also liked the fact that it took place in nightclubs at daytime, this was a great framework. The broad variety of experts from science, administration, authorities, but also the nighttime economy itself (club owners, DJs, promoters…) and from different (mostly European) contries was impressive.

things i would change next time. I would say, it was a good start. I would wish for more respectively different diversity for the next time.* The conference was just like the nighttime economy itself quite dominated by white men and I would expect more female, black/p.o.c. and LGBT speakers and perspectives next time. I would also expect more perspectives of those who are actually on site during the night: revellers, police officers, bouncers, medical staff aaaand…. neighbours. As much as I appreciate white men and their perspectives on the night – the night is more colourful and more complex than that.


* I started drawing attention to this and making suggestions months before the programme was settled, so I would not need to complain about the lack of diversity after the conference…


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