New Zealand nightlife could be revitalised by appointing 'night mayors' - report

New Zealand should appoint "night mayors" to revitalise the nightlife of cities and capitalise upon the social and economic benefits of "life after dark", according to a new report.

On Tuesday, think-tank The New Zealand Initiative released a new report, titled Living after Midnight: For a better night-time environment, examining Aotearoa's nightlife and the social and economic opportunities it provides Kiwis.

The report found that New Zealand currently has local alcohol policies that "restrict, not enhance opportunities for an exciting, vibrant, and safe nightlife" and doesn't allow the night-time economy to flourish.

It says the policies haven't made Kiwis feel any safer, with only 10 percent of Kiwis feeling "very safe" in New Zealand cities. By creating a more inclusive and vibrant nightlife, the report hopes more people will feel supported going out.

"Backstreet corners and shadowy figures do not disappear by sending clubbers home," the report said.

The current night-time economy provides professional opportunities for at least 20,000 people in bars and clubs with $2 billion in revenue each year. 

However, the think-tank said that relative to the New Zealand population, the number of bars and clubs nationwide has decreased between 2000 and 2018 by 2 percent and 7 percent respectively. That's despite a large increase in cafes and restaurants.

"Instead of councils being able to use local knowledge to create suitable night-time environments in their communities, they have been given a set of rules and regulations to minimise harm without weighing up the benefits of a night-time economy," the report's author Natanael Rother said.

"Contrary to common belief, empowering nightlife has not only brought about solutions for some cities, but also a positive way of facing problems of nuisance, crimes and alcohol abuse."

To revitalise the night-time economy and bring about social change, the report has several recommendations, such as appointing a night mayor whose job would be to balance the interests of all parties - such as bars, residents, local authorities and those going out at night.

"Appointing a night mayor ensures that all relevant interests are heard, whereas today, the benefits of nightlife are often left out of the conversation," the reports says.

"It is about bringing people together and talking."

There's also the suggestion that local authorities should have more power over making regulations.

"Cities that have a direct interest in their longterm economic wellbeing may think twice before implementing lockout laws to restrict the nightlife."

The third recommendation is more specific programmes should be set up to help those with the worst alcohol problems. It said alcohol misuse was not a nationwide problem but one for certain groups. 

"More targeted initiatives can do good," the report said.

It made reference to the South Dakota Sobriety project in the United States which "helps those whose relationship with alcohol resulted in criminal activity".

"Probation conditions that required no alcohol consumption resulted in sharp drops in re-arrest numbers - and in domestic violence. This kind of initiative could be trialled through New Zealand's Drug and Alcohol Courts."

The report noted that Melbourne and Amsterdam have created vibrant after-dark environments by looking at the benefits of nightlife. While Melbourne ensures all new venues and housing properties fit the culture of their neighbourhoods, Amsterdam has implemented the "night mayor" idea.

Hospitality NZ President Jeremy Smith told The AM Show that his association works with relevant parties to find the right balance, but they must comply with a "very rigid law that only looks at the minimisation of harm caused by the excessive use of alcohol".

"The city needs to be vibrant, the city needs to be liveable. We are not going to attract more people to the city if it shuts up early and there is no vibrancy."

He said laws are currently written focussed on the "0.05 percent of the population who behave badly anyway".

"They try and protect that percentage at the detriment of the rest of the population."


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