Does “No Fun City” need a “night mayor”?
Should some liquor-serving venues be allowed to limit entrance to only patrons over the age of 25?
What can the city do to promote family-friendly nighttime events for those under age 19?
And, crucially, what would it take for Vancouver to finally get late-night SkyTrain service?
Such questions, and many others, could come in for review if Vancouver council decides next week to proceed with what the city is calling a nighttime economy strategy.
“Despite the city’s support for many aspects of the nighttime economy, Vancouver has gained a reputation for being a ‘No Fun’ City in the minds of many,” states the motion on next week’s council agenda, put forward by NPA Coun. Lisa Dominato.
If approved, Dominato’s motion would direct city staff to work with the Vancouver Economic Commission to develop recommendations for a comprehensive citywide strategy, with the aim of “realizing the economic and other potentials of Vancouver’s nighttime economy.”
Vancouver is already developing other strategies involving the cultural sector, such the Vancouver Music Strategy, for which the city is seeking public input over the coming weeks, and the Creative City Strategy. Recommendations for both of those strategies will be presented to council in September.
But Dominato wants the city to create a broad, more comprehensive look at promoting the city’s economic and cultural potential after dark, for tourists, locals young and old, and those who work night shifts.
“I think we have some untapped potential here … both in economic terms, with jobs and tax base, but also in terms of the vibrancy of the city, in terms of culture, arts, music, outdoor activations, retail, tourism,” Dominato said. “But if you really want to realize that potential, you have to have a strategy.”
This comes as a growing number of city governments around the world have started to take nightlife and nighttime economies more seriously. A City of Toronto report last month described nighttime as the “new competitive edge for post-industrial cities,” and asked: “What is the City of Toronto doing to advance the other 9 to 5?”
The City of Victoria is already looking for someone, seeking to conduct a “late night economy assessment.”
This month, council in Sydney, Australia, endorsed a plan for its nighttime economy, described by the city as “some of the biggest changes to city planning in a decade.”
Other global cities, including London and Paris, have appointed people to oversee nightlife, positions often colloquially called a “night mayor” or “night liaison.”
Amsterdam’s “night mayor” Mirik Milan visited Vancouver city hall last May. The nighttime economy has its own needs and requirements, he said, and his job is to make sure it isn’t merely an afterthought to what happens during the day. Amsterdam, for example, has allowed some businesses to operate any hours they want, including art galleries and live music venues as well as some nightclubs.
Following Milan’s appearance in Vancouver last May, council voted to support a series of nightlife actions, including directing staff to establish a “nightlife council” combining safety, transportation, economic development and “vibrant street life.”
Since then, the city has participated in a research report, conducted by masters of public policy students at Simon Fraser University, to assess the city’s nightlife economy, explore the city’s needs and help inform the work of a future “nightlife council,” said Lara Honrado, Vancouver’s assistant director of cultural services.
That city-commissioned report from the SFU grad students raises the possibility of a “nighttime liaison,” as someone who could “grasp the workings of nightlife spaces, identify trusted providers, and help provide information to the next generation of cultural operators.”
Among the SFU report’s ideas is spreading out closing times in the Granville Entertainment District to more gradually dissipate patrons by letting some businesses, with and without liquor service, to stay open later.
The loss of cultural spaces is a constant challenge for Vancouver’s nightlife scene, which is exacerbated by the pace of development, said Yousif Samarrai, one of five SFU grad students who co-authored the report.
Today, many of Vancouver’s “most culturally interesting” nightlife events are in underground, do-it-yourself venues, Samarrai said, “but the only way they actually set up places is in spaces that are set to be demolished.”
That means, of course, that those underground cultural spaces have a very limited lifespan.
Vancouver is more of a nightlife town today than it was a decade ago, said Nate Sabine, a director of the Hospitality Vancouver Association, which advocates for businesses in the Granville Entertainment District and Davie Village.
“I don’t believe the ‘No Fun City’ tag applies to us anymore. I feel like if you’re bored in this city, then you want to be bored, you’re not looking at all,” Sabine said. “But we need to do better, we need to do more.”
“Our belief is a strong culture drives a strong economy,” Sabine said, citing the Hospitality Vancouver Association’s recent report that the Granville Entertainment District 14 liquor-primary businesses alone generate $43 million in annual revenue and 900 jobs.
The SFU report highlights one particularly long-running complaint of Vancouver’s night owls: “The first and most common transportation barrier identified was a lack of public transit service during late hours.”
The absence of SkyTrain service after venues close was identified as “particularly problematic,” the report notes, especially considering the “unreliability” of local taxis, and Vancouver’s status as North America’s largest city without ride-hailing services.
TransLink has been conducting a feasibility study over the last year, looking at different late-night transit options, including SkyTrain service, said TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drew. That report is expected this summer.
Dominato also hopes to develop the nighttime economy beyond bars and nightclubs. She previously lived in France, where she regularly saw kids out in plazas and parks with their parents late at night. Similarly, she would like to see what else the city can do to promote family-friendly, all-ages nighttime events that aren’t centred around alcohol.
The motion, if approved as written, would direct staff to being work on the nighttime economic strategy in 2020, and present a draft to council by June 2021.
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