Cover Credit: Dennis Bouman
Like it has done before, Amsterdam has once again arrived first. With Mirik Milan, the first professional example of Nightlife Mayor in the world, this city has reached another level in its relationship between public authorities and nightlife.
By traveling there and getting to know them, I have found Dutch people guided by a general result oriented approach when it comes to overcoming difficulties. In this case, the question was related to ensuring a nightlife culture that was not only fun, but safe: they had a problem and they tried to solve it through minimizing the downsides and exploiting all the opportunities.
A few years ago, nightlife was under the radar as a particularly sensitive problem in Amsterdam. It might seem difficult to believe, but many of the challenges faced by other cities were also present in Amsterdam. Nightlife was considered by public authorities as a problem and constantly linked with drug use, violence, crime, disturbing behaviours and difficult relations with the general population. As a consequence, restrictive legislation was slowly being put in place, while the nightlife community started to feel threatened. Instead of giving up and just protesting, the community decided to get together and organised a positive reaction.
From that came the idea of appointing a representative, to be their voice towards the city, authorities and fellow citizens. Probably thanks to that traditional Dutch rational approach mentioned before, public authorities decided to embrace this initiative while starting a dialogue with the nightlife community.
Clubber Confession sat down with Mayor Milan during Amsterdam Dance Event 2017, talking about their main achievements, what is still at stake and the possible replication of their model in other cities.
Thank you for your time Mr Mayor! Let me start from the beginning, if you don’t mind. You are the first internationally recognized experiment of a professional Nightlife Mayor (NLM), was it necessary to have such a position in Amsterdam? What are the main reasons for your appointment?
Mirik Milan: the need came from the fact that nightlife was perceived as a threat and a problem by public authorities. People in the Amsterdam scene felt like the city was slowly turning into an open-air museum, where nothing was possible anymore, the legislation was not appropriate and the city authorities were not really understanding their needs.
We said to the authorities: How can you produce good legislation if you have no clue about what is going on?
We decided then to get together and create this new position. The first attempt for a NLM was back in 2003, but it was never a professional organisation, just a voluntary position. From 2012, we took this thing to the next level in collaboration with the City of Amsterdam and with the full support of the local scene.
What was the first message you had to convene to public authorities?
Mirik Milan: We, as nightlife community, wanted to be part of the solution. We are not dangerous, we are not crazy, we just want the possibility to make this city a vibrant place.
You know, most of the time people are scared about what they don’t know, and a lot of people in the City Hall didn’t know anything about nightlife and dance music.
The social and cultural value of nightlife and electronic music was heavily underestimated. First thing we had to do was to change this narrative and bring to the surface our potential as driver of change, tolerance, mutual respect and – of course – economic growth and jobs.
Now people understand that we need a holistic approach, more cities are understanding this now.
Do you think this model is replicable anywhere?
Mirik Milan: In any city opportunities and issues will be slightly different, but it can work anywhere because the main challenge is common: how to find a good balance for everyone to enjoy living in an urban area. London, New York, Paris and many more are following our example, we learn from each other and the movement is growing day by day.
You have organised the Night Mayor Summit in 2016, how was it? Are you gonna have another edition this year?
Mirik Milan: The Nigh Mayor Summit was a great success. We think it’s important to bring all these people together, sharing the experiences and practices, gathering the knowledge and learning from each other can be decisive for our action. We have now around 10 cities who decided to have a NLM, but this number is increasing rapidly, so this events are gonna be growing as well.
We decided to have the Nigh Mayor Summit once every two years, so it will be back in 2018, but in the meantime we have other initiatives in place.
We are looking forward to an event called Global Cities After Dark which will be held in Sidney on the 28th of November, and we are also planning some more in other cities.
Big cities like Paris and London are following you, but what about small and medium sized cities? Do you think they should take action on this as well?
Mirik Milan: yes I think so! And these cities are already reaching out to us, they wanna learn from us.
You know, there is a similar dynamic all around the world. In any place, bigger cities work as the point of attraction for young people, causing a brain drain of teenager and people in their early 20s from small/medium sized cities to the bigger ones. This is a huge problem, because young people, whether we like or not, are the most innovative and creative.. the future of our communities.
Most of the time, one of the factor influencing this brain drain is the nightlife offer that bigger cities have. Of course, it’s not the only factor, but it is relevant one for young kids while choosing their place to live, study and then probably work.
In this sense, being a big or a small city does not matter that much. Nightlife can be a force to keep young people in your city, to avoid losing young potential and ensure in this way a future to your city.
One of the main issue is the difficult relations between residents and party goers, especially at night. How did you face this?
Mirik Milan: nightlife is one of the best accelerator for development, particularly for urban areas, but sometimes it can create frictions with the general population living in the same area.
When it comes to city centres, it’s fundamental to bring together all the stakeholders: residents, police and public authorities, businesses and so on. Try to find out what are the real problems, to have a mediation and bring these people together to find shared solutions.
We have a project on Rembrandtplein, one of busiest nightlife area in Amsterdam. We had many problems there, honestly, but after bringing all the players together, we managed to achieve a 25% decline in violence at night and a 30% decline in reports of disturbance of any kind to the police. With the right approach and policies, you can positively change things and find solutions for everyone.
What exactly did you do in Rembrandtplein?
Mirik Milan: we had a situation that was getting out of hands. 20000 people every weekend gathering there, over 300 violent incidents reported to the police every year and the regular issues you can expect in those situations: dirty street, residents complaining and lots of work for the police.
Mayor Van der Laan was particularly concerned about this situation and pushed all the players involved into developing a common solution, we can safely say he was one of the driving force behind it.
So the first thing we did was getting together all the parts involved, public authorities, police, businesses and residents.
We started by trying to create a pleasant environment, for example by closing the area to traffic (even bikes) and changing the lightning in the square with the support of private partners.
We also invested into a team of young Rembrandtplein host patroling the area in a friendly way. They are not police or security, they are young faces reminding the people the basic rules and trying to de-escalate the situation.
It is a 3-year pilot project and given the results I believe it might be extended to other areas in the future.
Also the 24 hours permit for some clubs and bars is part of the solution?
Mirik Milan: yes! Sometimes cities react to this problem with stricter rules, prohibition, shorter opening hours and less club or bar permits in general.
On the contrary, if you allow some clubs to be open 24hours you avoid people getting out in the street all together at the same time. Or, the more places you have, the less concentration in one specific area you will have and so on… For years the approach toward this problem has been totally wrong, we are trying to change this.
You mentioned before Amsterdam’s Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, who recently passed away. You have been working very close with him and he was celebrated by the nightlife community as one of them, what can you tell us about him? What is his main legacy?
Mirik Milan: Van der Laan inspired us to take responsibility on our shoulders, to be open minded and open to everyone. For him, people came always first. He believed that if you wanna change things, you need to be engaged, to be able to speak with and understand everybody. The goal was always to find a good comprise, a balance satisfying everyone involved.
Talking about your work in Amsterdam, what are your main achievements so far?
Mirik Milan: The most important thing is that we unified the nightlife community. Now we can speak with one voice, and this was the precondition for everything that came after.
Now we have a structure and we worked very hard to professionalise this position, so that this effort will not finish with us currently working on it, but it will continue when the responsibility will be given to someone else.
Everything we have done it was possible because we worked together with all the stakeholders. It was not just me, but everyone!
That being said, of course we have many concrete examples of our work. We talked about the 24h licences for 10 clubs and bars in Amsterdam, which is one of the main achievements to me.
Also the Rembrandtplein project is a really good initiative, but I would like to remind also the Chicks on a mission project, facing sexism and security for women in the entertainment culture and dance industry,
And what is now the main challenge instead?
Mirik Milan: in this moment we are struggling to find a solution for festivals. We have around 450 festivals in Amsterdam per year, of which 150 are electronic and live music festivals with more than 2000 attendees each! These are big numbers, with an huge impact on the overall city. We are working on new, updated legislation to find a balance between the needs of festivals and the impact on the city. This is one of the main project we are working on right now.
In terms of funding, how does it work for your association?
Mirik Milan: we are a public private NGO. On average, 30% comes from public funding, mainly via project funding; 30% come directly from the industry, we have now around 60 members; the remaining 30% comes from our own projects, such as the Nacht voor de Nacht – a citywide, multi-venue club festival where partygoers can go between 20 different nightclubs with just one ticket – or many others.
You mentioned the gentrification process, how do you cope with this trend? It is a common issue in different cities all around the world and it is backed by huge financial interest, how can we face this effectively to ensure space for culture in the future?
Mirik Milan: for a long time, our response was mainly reactive. A club was closing down and we were going into the street to protest. But we realized that it was not enough, we were always too late.
We came up with an idea with my friend Lutz, from the Club Commission in Berlin – which is a similar organization to the NLM. We decided to go for another approach, to create a new standard to influence legislation and face the gentrification process.
We launched the Creative Footprints, a new way of measuring the amount of musical creative space in a city. We did a mapping in Berlin, we are about to do the same in New York, and the idea is that it doesn’t matter if a club close down, as long as another one is allowed to open somewhere else in the city. In the same way of the carbon footprint, we consider the total amount of space dedicated to music as the only reference. This approach is a different way to face gentrification, a positive and proactive approach.
Other than this, a wider action is needed. Community building, being loyal to each other in the scene, fighting to get acknowledgment of the vital contribution nightlife, underground music and culture offers to the general society.. these are the things that can really change how nightlife is perceived and help ensure a better future for us.
Do you have a message you want to send to cities around the world facing your same problems?
Mirik Milan: it is definitely a huge challenge, and the decisions we will make will shape the future of our societies. I believe talking to each other, take the time to understand the needs of everyone, seriously trying to find middle ground and compromise is something worth it, because this approach can be beneficial to everyone.
We are open to take on board any city willing to invest in finding common solutions!
The example of Amsterdam is a benchmark for any other city in the world. The issue of preserving nightlife – and finding solution to balance its existence and prosperity with the needs of the general population and residents – is one of the most important one in the daily public debate.
For this reason, Clubber Confession will try to go deeper and probably talk with other people involved in this challengin journey.
Stay tuned, we will have more on this soon!