Adelaide has been recognised by UNESCO as a "music city"by John McTernan / August 22, 2016 / Leave a comment
Amsterdam has a Night Mayor. I’m not sure that the pun works the same way in Dutch, but perhaps that’s appropriate—the independent appointment is a serious one that reflects how important the night-time economy now is to a major city. The city already has a Mayor whose focus is the day-to-day—but added one for whom night-life is a serious business. The idea is catching on and now councils around the world are looking at ways that they can appoint Night Mayors of their own to provide focus for lobbying, consultation and policy development when it comes to the night economy.
When cities are reshaped, and new life brought into urban areas, the catalyst is often entertainment, and more specifically music. There is now a global conversation about how government—central and, most importantly, local, can support the music industry. This conversation takes place at events like the Music Cities Convention in Brighton, Liverpool Sound City and Primavera in Barcelona. Happening events in happening cities.
As with so much that is good in modern life, there is a distinctive Australian strand to all of this. I think it was Jan Morris who pointed out that Australia has become a must-visit country on today’s gap year equivalent of the Grand Tour. A lot of that is to do with clubs, bars and restaurants—the infrastructure of entertainment. Melbourne’s laneways have brilliant bars because the barrier to entry—a license and a lease—cost so little that entrepreneurs can try out their ideas. If it works it stays open. And, crucially, the big licensed trade is prevented from strangling startups at birth.
Adelaide, often an innovator, has gone one step further and at the end of last year was recognised by UNESCO as a music city. This is a reflection of the strong support that the South Australians give to music not just as an art but as a business. As Joe Hay, formerly a linchpin of the Thinkers in Residence programme and now a consultant to cities around the globe, puts it:
“The key to South Australia’s success was a committed local government who recognised the cultural and economic contribution made by music. A process that enabled the government to design and deliver regulation and licensing changes, a business accelerator program, initiatives supporting venues and the development of artists and music professionals.”
In short, music was looked at—and looked after—by the Industry Department rather than Culture. A simple but fundamental shift. It doesn’t eliminate the challenges—the decline in venues, the threat of digitisation and piracy to traditional routes for earning money—but it ensures that the responses to them are commercial in form.
Of course, this is the easy part: redefining the problem. The hard work is solving it. Particularly when you remember the vicious circle of gentrification. Abandoned urban spaces provide a playground for artistic experimentation. Pioneers are followed by hipsters and then, increasingly rapidly, by the mainstream. An area goes from edgy to popular swiftly. Then the developers move in and the new residents in the trendy condos complain about the noise of the night time economy and demand licensing restrictions. The wheel turns and the search for new urban space starts anew. It’s a good problem—a problem of success. But maybe it should be managed more proactively. Sadiq Khan is appointing a Night Czar –but that sees the evening economy as a problem to be managed, the clubs and restaurants as potential noise nuisances. London needs a figure representing its night life as big, bold and brash as that night life itself. Time for a Night Mayor for London!