Amsterdam offers Vancouver advice on ways to improve its nightlife

May 7 2018, 7:54 pm

There’s quite a bit Vancouver could learn from Amsterdam, one of the world’s nightlife capitals.

And that begins with establishing Vancouver’s very own Night Mayor, which was approved last week by Vancouver City Council when it approved a series of new Granville Entertainment District (GED) policies, including a new Night Council for the city.

But how would Vancouver’s Night Council operate? Well, it will be quite similar to Amsterdam’s Night Mayor.

Mirik Milan, the Night Mayor of Amsterdam, told Daily Hive the Amsterdam organization operates as an independent non-profit that helps ensure Amsterdam has a dynamic and vibrant nightlife. It was established in 2012, becoming the first city in the world to have such an ongoing initiative.

Amsterdam Nightlife

Nightlife in Amsterdam. (Shutterstock)

“We really want to bridge the gap between the municipalities, small businesses particularly nightclubs and restaurants, and residents,” said Milan.

He says it has streamlined access and communication with the municipal government, so that when there is an issue regarding nightlife – whether it is about noise complaints, violence, or funding for events – the city will automatically go to the organization to tackle these concerns and policies.

There is also an overarching benefit to the Night Council, as they will create awareness by explaining to the public the value of nightlife and the benefits from a socio, cultural, and economic perspective.

“It really supports grassroots, talent development and young creators,” he said. “Nightlife just makes the city more interesting to live in because nobody wants to live in monoculture. You want to have a rich nightlife, a rich cultural offering… all of this is for young people. That is the reason why they move to a city.”

According to Milan, ever since the Night Mayor was introduced in Amsterdam, alcohol-related violence and other nuisances in Amsterdam’s entertainment districts have fallen by 25% and 30%, respectively, through the Night Mayor’s efforts of managing and working with a wide spectrum of public, private, and community stakeholders.

Vancouver will join 10 other cities around the world with Night Mayor organizations, including London and New York City.

The problem with the Granville Strip

Milan says the problem with the Granville Strip in downtown Vancouver comes down to poor mobility – as in, the challenges of transportation.

He says the calls for longer overnight SkyTrain hours and the introduction of ridesharing are warranted.

“There are so many people who say they need the SkyTrain going on later, and the city needs ridesharing of course because Uber and Lyft are solutions for getting home safe and cheaper,” he said.

Much of the disorder and violence the GED is known for can be sourced to the problem of club patrons pouring out of bars and nightclubs during the closing times mandated by the city. The crowds then fight for the limited transportation options.

“If there are 15 people fighting for one cab, then you create a scene where nobody really wants to be near,” he said. “That’s why you have all these fights and incidents because people can’t get away, and they want to go home.”

When asked whether it was a mistake to cluster dozens of bars and nightclubs onto the GED – a relatively small area – instead of spreading out these establishments, his answer was, “no.”

Similar compact entertainment districts exist elsewhere in the world including in Amsterdam.

One of the reasons the GED is packed with bars and nightclubs is to reduce policing costs for the municipal government. Instead of policing entertainment venue locations that are scattered over a wider area, the Vancouver Police Department is able to use less resources and focus on just one general area.

Milan adds that the GED could become safer and enhanced into a more vibrant area if there was more activity during the daytime, such as from new retail, co-working office spaces, affordable housing, and student housing.

Some of this is already happening.

The old Tom Lee Music building, located in the middle of the GED, is being converted into a 70,000 sq. ft. co-working office location for Amsterdam-based Spaces. This new office will provide space for up to 550 people, which is a relatively significant addition for the GED.

Artistic rendering of the future redevelopment of Empire Granville 7 on the Granville Strip. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

As well, the vacant Empire Granville 7 theatre complex will be developed with 27,000 sq. ft. of retail within the ground and basement levels and 30,000 sq. ft. of office space within the upper levels, including an additional new floor. The three-building theatre takes up one-third of an entire city block and has sat vacant for the past five years, and has greatly contributed to the rising disorder on the strip.

24-hour nightlife venues

While mobility is identified as Vancouver’s greatest nightlife obstacle, he says municipal governments can also seize the value of the nighttime economy and create a scene that operates at night.

He points to the establishment of 24-hour nightlife venues in Amsterdam, which he says is one of his biggest accomplishments as the Dutch capital’s Night Mayor.

These new entertainment venues are not located in the city centre, but closer to the outskirts – within old school buildings and warehouses – in areas with development potential.

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“What was really radical about this process is that we focused on the creative content. There was a tender written out by the city and we wrote the vision for it. We said we wanted venues that are multidisciplinary so that they have a bar, gallery, co-working office space, maybe a gym, and of course a nightclub that would be open 24/7,” said Milan.

“It really creates a new and diverse nightlife, and it creates a new dynamic, but also these venues can have bigger programs, more artists, and really become this creative hub where a lot of talent development is going on.”

He says there are 10 such venues in existence, and he hopes to see another 10 licenses over the coming years.

“These venues really help to shape the future of nightlife in Amsterdam.”

Amsterdam’s next steps

The next steps for Amsterdam’s Night Mayor organization will centre around education to continue fostering the entertainment industry. Milan says there will be an emphasis on education for the nighttime entertainment industry, young promoters, and party goers.

The Amsterdam Night Mayor is pursuing a new form of licensing that allows young event planners to more easily organize events for 200 or 300 people, as such scale of parties are “really easy to safely control.”

The new licensing policy would educate these event planners so that they do not have to reapply for a festival permit, which is time intensive and involves the expensive cost of lawyers.

Sky City Music Festival Amsterdam

Sky City Music Festival in Amsterdam. (Shutterstock)

“I’m talking about awareness on how they can set up their companies, start organizing their own parties and events, [and] start their business when they’re an artist or musician,” he continued. “It will make it more easy for them to enter the scene and start their own business. It will make it more easy to build a fan base, and that is something that is a really progressive program.”

This will only enrich Amsterdam’s already lively festival and electronic music scene, which already has 150 music festival events annually.

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