4 ways to make 24-hour cities safer, more productive and more inclusive

May 17, 2023 | By Vicki Hyman

When the sun sets, city life doesn’t stop.

But many cities aren’t built with nocturnal workers in mind, and districts with vibrant nightlife have often been treated as nuisances that require regulation and restrictions. But over the past decade or so, many cities have come to appreciate the economic vitality that 24-hour cities can nurture, and when the pandemic shuttered public life, it left culture, nightlife and hospitality among the sectors hit hardest and most acutely missed.

In response, city leaders and planners, nighttime experts and activists from more than 50 cities across 21 countries joined forces last year to identify challenges, share best practices and develop new ways to make the nighttime economy stronger, safer and more inclusive. The result was the 24-Hour Cities Network, a global initiative spearheaded by the cities of Bogotá and New York along with Mastercard’s City Possible, a global ecosystem that brings together public and private organizations to solve urban challenges.

Here are some of the key findings gathered in a new policy report.

Safe nighttime streets don’t necessarily require additional police presence. More than 60 cities have hired “night mayors” to help nightlife businesses coexist with their nine-to-five neighbors and local residents. In Amsterdam, one of the first cities to embrace nighttime governance, young hosts in bright red jackets patrol one of the city’s main nightlife districts, which has resulted in a drop in alcohol-related violence and fewer nuisance reports. And effective nighttime management doesn’t require reducing hours or restricting locations of nightlife. Staggered closing times can help manage large crowds of people in areas with a high concentration of licensed venues and can result in more safe and convenient options to get home.

Nighttime governance isn’t just about traditional nightlife. In an always-on society, there are many businesses that depend on round-the-clock operations — call centers, urgent care centers, home health care agencies, warehousing and delivery services — and the needs and safety of their workers should be taken into account when devising nighttime strategies. Autonomy, a U.K.-based think tank, released six proposals to better support them, including enforcing a nighttime living wage to reflect the higher cost of working at night and funding a network of “nocturnal commons” — places where night workers can make use of facilities and services that their daytime counterparts can access, such as changing rooms and 24-hour child care.

Mobility at night is a challenge for both workers and revelers. Even though the pandemic drained both fare and tax revenue from public transit coffers, many cities are recognizing that more diverse transportation options are needed, such as expanding late-night bus and subway service or providing discounted rides at night. Public-private partnerships can help, such as special hubs created by ride-sharing companies in conjunction with cities — as seen in downtown Orlando — which offers safety and better mobility in nightlife districts.

Protecting a city’s nocturnal heritage is everyone’s job. Clubs, bars and other nightlight establishments can be a vital part of a city’s identity, culture and history. In Berlin, the city gave the nightclub Berghain, a global mecca for techno music, the same lower tax rates paid by high-culture concert venues. In London and San Francisco, policies require developers, for example, to bear the costs of structural changes like soundproofing when they build in mixed-use areas where nightlife is already established.

Vicki Hyman, director, communications, Mastercard