The campaign against Sydney’s controversial lockout laws has been gaining strength in the past few weeks. The lockout laws have been a hot-button topic since entrepreneur Matt Barrie published a scathing editorial that tore apart the laws and the state government enforcing them.
An estimated 15,000 Sydney residents yesterday took to the streets to march against the much-maligned laws, which were introduced in February 2014 after two young men lost their lives in separate incidents of street violence.
Image via Daily Telegraph
The laws have decimated Sydney’s once-thriving nightlife industry and stifled the late night culture and music scene. Over 40 venues and many other small businesses have been forced to close permanently due to the massive decrease in late night foot traffic since the laws were introduced.
Protesters called for the government to repeal the heavy-handed laws - which stop new patrons entering a venue after 1.30am and stop service of alcohol at 3am - and consider alternative solutions to the issue of ‘alcohol-related violence.’
One solution that many have been urging state government to consider is the introduction of a ‘Night Mayor.’ The concept began in Amsterdam in 2014 and was such a success that cities including Paris, Zurich and Toulouse have instated their own Night Mayors and other global cities such as London and Berlin are also looking into the model.
“The night is always treated differently than the day,” says Mirik Milan, the elected Night Mayor of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Night Mayor Mirik Milan. Image supplied.
“If we have a problem during the night the first reaction of the mayor, city officials or policy makers would be ‘Alright we have a problem, we need to stop it,’ and I think this is exactly what is happening in Sydney at the moment.
“The state has the obligation to keep the city thriving and, in your case, need to come up with solutions, because you’re not dealing with the problem!”
Mr Milan believes that nightlife is an integral part of any city and has seen first hand how clever management can create a vibrant, dynamic and safe nightlife. As Night Mayor, he acts as a middleman between the municipality of Amsterdam, small business owners, and residents.
The office of Night Mayor is not a standard political appointment. Mr Milan is actually the head of a small advisory NGO that is equally funded by city hall and night businesses, giving them a critical distance to city hall but also an open door to the Mayor’s office.
“By having a dialogue we can change the rules of the game,” he says.
"The state has the obligation to keep the city thriving."
“It’s really difficult to penetrate the nightlife culture from your office in city hall, because how can you maintain a culture if you have no clue what’s going on?”
After previously suffering from issues with violence and anti-social behaviour, Amsterdam’s nightlife is in a great place at the moment, but Mr Milan says that it didn’t happen overnight.
“It took us years and years to build the trust between the mayor, the city council and the people in nightlife – the club promoters, the festival promoters, all those people.”
As night mayor, Mr Milan, a former promoter himself, was instrumental in building the trust.
“It took us a long time to make [officials] aware that, in nightlife, there’s not just criminals and shady people and people that want to sell drugs; these are hard working entrepreneurs and they want to make the city better,” he says.
“The mayor of Amsterdam is very helpful in looking for good solutions and we can have a round table with festival promoters.”
There have been a range of measures introduced in Amsterdam that have seen success and, within months, residents were reportedly happier.
“I see a positive change, at least from city residents. It’s really important that they feel there is people listening to them,” says Mr Milan.
Quite opposite to the NSW government solution of imposing lockout laws and 3am last drinks across the board, one of the first actions Amsterdam took was to extend trading hours for venues.
“If different groups of people from different backgrounds meet each other on the street late at night that’s when problems occur. So what we did was widen opening hours, so the jazz bar goes home at three o’clock, the bar ends at five or six and then the nightclub in the morning. We spread it out over the night,” Mr Milan explains.
24-hour licenses were awarded to ten venues dotted around Amsterdam, but away from the city centre, that were offering exceptional entertainment options.
“We gave the licenses to venues that were doing something special, like art expos, brilliant nightclub nights and good music; but were multifunctional and we knew that they could become internationally well known.
"We also did this because it's totally logic."
“We also did this because it’s totally logic. If all the nightclubs close at four o’clock and you push everyone out into the streets this will cause noise for the neighbours.
“If you want to develop nightlife then you have to take small steps. If you were to introduce 24-hour licenses statewide we will be met with resistance from resident groups.”
Extending trading hours has been successful, but it has not been applied without careful thought. Venues must adhere to certain rules such as providing special training and education to security staff and having a staff member ensure that patrons leave the area after they have left the venue.
“We didn’t just open it up and wait to see what happens. There are rules and it is really well monitored as well,” says Mr Milan.
In Rembrandtplein, one of the busiest squares in Amsterdam (similar to Kings Cross), ten ‘square hosts’ walk in couples on Friday and Saturday nights to provide information and a friendly face, but also remain in close contact with the police and keep an eye out for potential issues so that they can be diffused before any harm is done.
Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam. Image via Redroom Studios
Since the square hosts have been operating in the area, there is no longer need for a heavy police presence, making the overall atmosphere much friendlier.
“If you see all these squad cars and guys in heavy armour it feels like a war zone,” says Mr Milan. “With the police on the outer edge everyone feels more welcome.”
The ‘festival approach’ has been applying the same processes used for music festivals to busy public spaces such as Rembrandtplein on weekends. At a music festival you know where to go, you know who to approach for assistance, there are plans in place to ensure ease of entry and exit to the site and clear walking routes.
Another campaign in Amsterdam raised awareness of street violence by laying a tile with a ladybug to signify the spot where someone was killed as a result of violence, a permanent and sobering reminder that unnecessary violence can have devastating consequences.
Image via ghotiindustries.com
Obviously, every city is different and comes with its own unique culture, people and set of issues. Mr Milan concedes that he has not had to deal with the level of governmental corruption that seems to be rife in Sydney, where gambling dollars are valued over vibrant nightlife. But he still believes that installing a night mayor would be beneficial to any city looking for long term solutions.
“Nightlife and night culture is really something where you can develop your creative talent for the creative industry. In fifty years time we will not be working in warehouses and powerplants, we’ll have robots doing that. So the creative industry is the way forward.”
"The creative industry is the way forward."
He points to Berlin as an excellent example of how nightlife and creativity can save a city. Berlin was bankrupt and in a crisis when their world renowned nightlife turned it around - now an estimated 30% of visitors to Berlin travel there just for the nightlife. There was an explosion of creativity attributed to the nighttime economy and now Berlin has the second best tech startup scene in Europe.
“We wanted to compete with Berlin, which is the creative industry and nightlife Valhalla of the world.”
The appointment of Amsterdam’s Night Mayor has seen real change effected and Mr Milan believes that Sydney is capable of heading in the same direction, if we approach the situation correctly. He has some sage advice for how we can turn our situation around and abolish these draconian laws from a government that would rather see us tucked up safe in bed.
"Nothing has changed in the behaviour of people if they just don't go out."
“Try to make small steps. If you want to save the whole Sydney nightlife in one go, get rid of lockout laws, get new venues, get new licenses, that will be super hard and you will fight for years and then nobody is interested anymore,” he advises.
“The first step would be getting somebody [in politics] on your side and getting some hard figures on the loss of income and the loss of jobs, because many people are losing their jobs and what people forget is that when people are dancing, people are working.”
“Deal with the real situation instead of killing an industry," he advises Premier Mike Baird.
"Nothing has changed in the behaviour of people when they just don’t go out. Start listening to all the stakeholders and work from a knowledge based position and fill the obligation that you have. You won’t get a behavioural change by killing an industry.”
Mr Milan is hoping to see a representative from NSW state government at the first ever Night Mayor Summit in Amsterdam on April 22, so that they can observe how cities around the world are introducing effective solutions to nightlife problems that don’t involve shutting everything down. The summit will discuss topics including creative industry, art and culture, diversity, safety, human health and mobility.
“It’s really important to share this information because cities are different, but what people want is the same”