Sheena Jardine-Olade defines importance of nighttime economies

No matter what Sheena Jardine-Olade does, in work, school, or leisure, it all comes back to the night. She loves it, and her hope for the audience at her Thursday lecture in the Amphitheater was that Chautauquans might fall a little more in love with the night, too — or at least learn how to think about it a little differently.

Jardine-Olade, who gave her lecture on “Equity and the 24-Hour City” as part of Week Six’s theme, “After Dark: The World of Nighttime,” opened with a land acknowledgment for both the ground on which she stood at in Chautauqua — the Erie and the Haudenosaunee — and for where she was born in Ottawa — the Anishinaabe.

She now lives in Vancouver, where she’s an equity planner for the city, and is co-founder of the consultancy group Night Lab, whose specialty is nighttime governance structures of municipalities. It’s the first nighttime economy development group in Canada. 

“I am a person who loves nightlife, the night economy, and night activities,” Jardine-Olade said. “In fact, I spend most of my time thinking about how we can cultivate our 24-hour day and strategically think of the hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.”

She invited the audience to think about what goes into planning for a city-centered vacation: restaurants, music venues, cultural attractions. But no city report or tourism brochure is complete without mentioning a great night out.

But what is the nighttime economy? Jardine-Olade ran through a couple definitions, but landed simply on the world between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“That’s it. I feel anyone within that time, when I discuss the nighttime economy, falls within my purview,” she said. “Nighttime economy ‘Level One’ is when we  think about live music, clubs, restaurants, evening games, casinos, theaters, operas, night markets, street festivals and fireworks.”

Digging deeper, one considers doctors, nurses, firefighters, police and safety services, airports, and transportation workers. Even further, she asked, what else is going on while most of us sleep? Sanitation workers, factory workers, hotel staff and gig economy workers all are making their livings in the dark.

“When we think about the NTE, our mind always flips to the consumptive side — the revelry, the entertainment,” Jardine-Olade said. “But what about the productive side and the vital services that are components of this large, nighttime economy machine?”

A city with a strong nighttime economy is efficient in terms of public infrastructure — by sheer necessity. A solid NTE (Jardine-Olade’s shorthand) is good for branding, tourism and reputation. Vibrant NTEs create a unique culture, are good for attracting and retaining populations, support tech and start-up workers, and — her favorite — foster social cohesion from authentic experiences.

It’s only been within the past 10 years or so that cities have begun to consider the impact of NTE, but Jardine-Olade said that what we know so far is that in 2020, China’s nighttime economy grossed $4.6 trillion; in 2017, tourists in Toronto spent $8.8 billion on nighttime tourism; NTE contributed to 4% of Australia’s GDP and 6% of the U.K.’s GDP; in Berlin, 35% of tourists take part in NTE activities — 150,000 visitors every weekend. And in New York City, the nighttime economy brings them $35.1 billion a year and has created 300,000 jobs.

But, “what about the things that go bump in the night?” Jardine-Olade said. “Good question.”

Safety, noise, gentrification and residential conflicts top the list of concerns when considering a nighttime economy, and when determining what the right approach to NTE is in an individual city, “you have to determine what the drivers for your nighttime governance look like,” she said.

Most strategies at the moment fall into one of three categories: Public safety, revitalization and tourism, or resource distribution.

“Public safety is usually a top priority and a key goal for both residents, as well as municipalities,” Jardine-Olade said. “While cities with a vibrant nightlife do face challenges in public safety, including alcohol-fueled challenges to public order, a 24-hour city can actually improve public safety by providing additional eyes on the streets and critical infrastructure needed to support 24-hour things, like public transit and increased lighting along main routes and residential areas.”

In terms of public safety, governments can — at best — encourage residents to feel comfortable and participate in nighttime activities. At worst, the focus centers bylaws, regulations, licenses, fees, taxes and a disproportionate police presence. 

A good example: In Amsterdam, a nightlife initiative was paired with a mobile app to immediately report nuisances or threats. There was a 25% reduction in crime, she said, and a 30% increased perception of safety.

A bad example: New York City’s Cabaret Law, created in 1926 to make dancing illegal when three or more people were in a room unless an establishment had a license to operate. In a Prohibition effort to curb alcohol sales and enforce segregation, the law was weaponized against marginalized communities. It remained on the books until 2017.

To focus on revitalization and tourism, development offices use tools like tax breaks and other incentives focused on businesses, in the hopes those incentives will attract cultural and creative development.

“Often, the purpose is to re-energize downtown cores that have lost people or mass due to suburbanization or post-industry activity,” Jardine-Olade said. “Most of these efforts have worked very well when it comes to revitalization, and the injection of money usually creates vibrant entertainment districts. On the flip side, this can often act as a catalyst for gentrification.”

The final approach, she said, is a “fairly new take on night stewardship” — that of resource distribution and support services.

“Many realize now that the nighttime economy is merely an extension of the daytime economy,” Jardine-Olade said. “Policy-makers and planners and politicians realize the residents need access to amenities and essential services, the same ones they require during the day, as they do at nighttime.”

These services and amenities include policing, transportation, and food are needed by everyone, but marginalized communities need them even more, she said. Accessibility is important, especially with wayfinding and lighting solutions. This is a lot of municipal work; enter the night mayor.

“The idea (of the night mayor) was first conceptually introduced in the 1970s, and now it has taken off. There are 50-plus night mayors installed all across the world,” Jardine-Olade said, with different titles in different countries and different cities, but with essentially the same mission — providing municipal governments with the capacity to focus on nighttime management.

Across the world, some night mayors are internal to a specific government, external consultants, or a hybrid of the two. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, Jardine-Olade said, and limitations in either case can lead to a “focus on just one portion of the nighttime economy, the consumptive portion of the night, catering to demographics focused on a night out, tourism, or those who have the money to spend. That’s why many are slowing down to ask the question, exactly who are we planning for when we plan for the nighttime economy?”

Here, Jardine-Olade pointed to a photo of her mother in her PowerPoint above her in the Amp. A Triniadian immigrant to Canada, Jardine-Olade’s mother worked for $3.25 an hour, from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., commuting long distances in terrible weather, often with no time to shop for groceries.

“That’s the question we need to ask ourselves. What about the people who are basically invisible to the policy-makers in the system, with the careers like my mother?” Jardine-Olade asked. “They are the cleaners, the drivers, the factory workers, the sex workers, the security workers, and people that go around in nighttime spaces and often fall through the cracks when we are considering about who we’re planning for.”

Jardine-Olade rattled off a list of what would cease to exist if not for these workers: Clean gyms, clean streets, coffee on a commute to work, no one-day Amazon packages.

“Even our evening experiences are facilitated by waiters, bartenders, cooks, often using secondary, part-time work to supplement low wages,” she said. “If you remember, many workers’ intersecting identities compound their ability to safely and comfortably navigate the night that is integral to their livelihood.” 

Thus, it is time to shift NTE from the top-down approach drawing on academics and experts. Cities need a bottom-up approach.

“We need to figure out exactly what cities, residents, and businesses with a focus on communities that have been particularly underserved actually need,” Jardine-Olade said.

With better citizen engagement and more fulsome discussions, cities can look deeper into how existing resources are deployed, or how new resources can be most practical and helpful. Even something as simple as increased, safe transportation and lighting, she said, can change the perception of public spaces. And then there are the resources that communities truly need, like 24-hour washrooms or phone-charging stations.

“Many times these amenities can be a lifeline for sex workers or those experiencing homelessness,” Jardine-Olade said. “But even beyond that, how many times have you been out in public and used a washroom or your phone died? Everyone can use these amenities and resources.”

Talking policy, governmental approaches and practical infrastructure for the NTE, for Jardine-Olade, stems from a very simple place, and one of her “most favorite things about the nighttime city” — social cohesion. She showed Chautauquans photos of herself at age 16, DJing at an underground music event. The warm reception she received in that community, at that age, is the reason she said she stood on the Amp stage now.

“As the main space for my social interaction, it has led to positions on municipal music advisory committees and eventually led to my degree in master’s in urban planning,” she said. “It also led to me consulting on the nighttime economy and my equity work. The relationships I made and causes I supported are a big part of who I am today. The nighttime economy provided invaluable social infrastructure for me and others in the community, and does so especially for queer communities and culturally based communities.”

These spaces were put at risk during COVID-19, making NTE stewardship all the more important now, she said. During the pandemic, Night Lab pivoted to partner with other organizations to offer services, “typically to underserved and marginalized populations to help them navigate the often-unwieldy processes” of businesses, permits and licensing to survive.

Closing her lecture, Jardine-Olade said she hoped the audience came away with, if not new information, a new way of thinking about the nighttime economy “in a more expansive way.”

“The key takeaway today is that the nighttime economy is a complex organism that is rapidly changing to meet the needs of the people and the surroundings,” she said. “Due to its complexity, night life moves beyond consumption and encompasses culture, production, social inclusion, and cohesion.”

She called on Chautauquans to help manage and support their own nighttime economies, starting small, starting collaboratively, starting from the bottom up.

Finally, she said, they must remember that “when we plan for the most vulnerable among us, we all benefit. By strategically allocating night resources in an equitable way, we can ensure that the invisible majority doesn’t get lost, especially since they shape so much of our environment.”

Her last question: “So, what goes bump in the night? Me, and hopefully you, too.”

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The author Sara Toth

Sara Toth is entering her fifth summer as editor of The Chautauquan Daily and works year-round in Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Education. Previously, she served four years as the Daily’s assistant and then managing editor. An alum of the Daily internship program, she is a native of Pittsburgh(ish), attended Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and worked for nearly four years as a reporter in the Baltimore Sun Media Group. She lives in Jamestown with her husband, a photographer, and her Lilac, a cat.