Exploring Nightlife: Space, Society and Governance
Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)
Exploring Nightlife is a fascinating and insightful volume exploring often overlooked issues related to the “night” and those who inhabit it. The concepts of nightlife, night time, and urban nightscapes are closely scrutinised by the diverse authors in this collection. Nightlife for the purposes of this review is conceived as both the actual physical sites for the consumption of intoxicating substances and experiences, and as the location of such sites within city nightscapes. Therefore, nightlife, as the authors in this book highlight, refers to more than physical venues. It is a more fluid concept that can also refer literally to life at night: how the urban landscape is transformed after dark, and how the city at night is consumed by its often-diverse populations. As the editors note in their introduction to the book, nightlife is not new, but the regeneration and gentrification of urban areas is a phenomenon that has taken on increased significance in the post-industrial era of neo-liberalism. Such regeneration often has a relationship with nightlife, either by altering, sometimes radically, existing ebbs and flows of urban nightscapes or through the introduction and development of new nightlife areas and venues. The idea that this type of intervention and regeneration in inner city locations and other areas perceived as run down, risky and dangerous will “save” the area and its inhabitants while providing economic stimulation and profits is one that is critically interrogated in this volume. A variety of topics such as: harm reduction; power and resistance in city nightscapes throughout processes of gentrification and regeneration; resistance to regeneration as a form of social control; and the displacement of existing nightlife traditions, are explored by the authors in this volume providing a critical and nuanced discussion of some of the key themes related to nightlife and the city after dark.
A key theme running through many of the chapters in this volume is the success of regeneration and gentrification, and the typically dramatic effects these kinds of urban policies have on nightlife and those who inhabit(ed) urban nightscapes. Several authors question these kinds of developments noting the displacement of important nightlife traditions to make way for allegedly new and improved ways of experiencing the spaces and places of the night. It is also notable that the capitalist model of economic revitalisation and profit is a key presence in schemes of regeneration and gentrification, in contexts that have previously had very different ways of approaching social life: for example, the socialist perspective of pre-war Yugoslavia that viewed nightlife and leisure as important for human development, not as an escape from capitalist oppression of labour as noted by Nihad Cengic and Jordi Martin-Diaz (54). The gentrification of nightlife after the Bosnian war to accommodate new migrant groups as well as the emerging youthful middle classes, coupled with new kinds of state policies, radically altered the nightscapes of Sarajevo, producing tensions between old and new residents of the city. As Peta Wolfison in chapter 2 notes class inequalities are often embedded in gentrification and regeneration developments, producing tensions between urban populations and antagonism towards city planners who have “ruined” previously thriving night time economies. Similarly, in Johhannesburg Crystal Oloukoi’s description, in chapter 1, of urban redevelopments and the symbolic violence wrought by gentrification paints a vivid picture of sanitised and surveilled spaces with previous inhabitants displaced to other parts of the city.
A Westernised view of nightlife is challenged by Atepheh Amid in chapter 5, through her discussion of the city of Mashhad in Iran. Using religion as a lens to explore the redevelopment and gentrification of a particular part of Mashhad that contains an important shrine, a different view of the night unfolds. A vibrant, thriving nightlife culture, built over centuries exists or existed in Mashhad and the night was not associated with sin and immorality as it is in many Western cultures. A 24-hour city was built around the arrival of pilgrims to visit the shrine at any time of the day or night, and places serving food or providing accommodation were bustling and numerous. The plan to redevelop this area to accommodate more pilgrims and visitors to the shrine is critiqued in this chapter with Amid pointing to the negative impact on the local cultural and economic success of the area. The redevelopment has overwhelmed existing night time communities and failed to attract pilgrims to the new modernised area. Similar to other chapters in this volume she points to the detrimental effects of gentrification on public night time spaces and the cultural diversity they engender.
This volume therefore raises key questions around gentrification and regeneration such as who are they actually for and who do they benefit? Although, more pertinent questions to ask may be who should they actually be for and who should they actually benefit? as noted in the example of Amsterdam by Irina van Aalst and Ilse van Liempt in chapter 11. Here “touristification” is viewed as problematic and as upsetting the balance between sex workers and residents in the red-light district of Amsterdam. The redevelopment of this area of the city to reduce the visibility of sex work, to attract a more respectable class of tourist to the area, has had detrimental effects on the urban spaces/s and on the sex work industry. Locals can no longer shop for essentials like bread in their newly developed upmarket environment, and sex work clients are scared away by the high level of tourism that makes clients of sex workers highly visible. Here the impression is that urban development was outward facing in a global tourist context rather than inward facing for local residents and businesses, and raises the question of who should these kinds of regeneration and gentrification plans be aimed at? These are also issues raised by Daniel Malet Calvo, Joao Carlos Martins and Inigo Sanchez-Fuarros in chapter 9 throughout their consideration of the “studentification” of Lisbon through the presence of Erasmus students. The commodification of the student experience has contributed to the segregation of urban nightlife between Eramus and local students, while the gentrification of areas of the city offering commercialised student nightlife experiences continues the eviction and displacement of previous populations. It could be argued that areas with countercultural and resistance traditions are replaced with “controlled diversity” the phrase used by Penny-Panagiota Koutrolikou in chapter 4 (79). However, perhaps encouragingly, Calvo et al. also note that not all Erasmus students flock to the commercialised experience with some preferring more diverse nightlife experiences.
In chapter 4 Penny-Panagiota Koutrolikou also notes issues of displacement of some populations through the gentrification process in her exploration of the nightlife developments in Athens. The concept of “ghettos of the mind” is raised here in relation to fears about particular, often inner-city, neighbourhoods, exaggerated through media discourse and sensationalism. This chapter also raises questions about surveillance and control – are increased surveillance and control the price paid for gentrification and revitalisation of inner city and other run-down areas? New gentrified populations demand safety and reassurance through increased policing and control of undesirable pre-existing residents, as they experience newly developed residential and nightlife areas. As pertinently noted in this chapter, solutions to problems such as addiction and poverty are seen through repression and displacement, rather than through helping the populations that need it (77). Resistance to regeneration and gentrification is also noted the Brazilian context, in Rio de Jenerio by Marcos Paulo Ferreria de Gois, in chapter 13, with more intensive policing accompanying the revitalisation and redevelopment of urban areas, aiming to control unruly groups. The effect was to reduce the numbers of patrons visiting these newly developed areas at night, similar to the experiences in Amsterdam, and “the heavy-handed actions, as a result, only worked as a stimulus for the creation of other night places, protected from the eyes of authority” (218). These kinds of observations bring to the fore the fluidity and flexibility of nightlife, and the perseverance of resistance in urban nightscapes.
This perseverance of resistance is noted by some of the authors in this volume, notably Samantha Wilkinson in chapter 7 and Jose Sanchez-Garcia in chapter 6. Mahragan music is seen as resistance music, linked to working class male populations, and exists on the margins of city nightscapes in Cairo. Mahragan enthusiasts are seen as misfits and the music as vulgar and uncivilised by those who want to present a Westernised, cultured face to the global world. The endurance of Mahragan music, its politics of resistance and challenge to dominant groups, signals that these hidden and underground spaces of the night time economy continue alongside the gentrification that often dramatically alters urban landscapes, echoed in the Erasmus students who seek out “authentic” local experiences and resist more commercialised entertainment developments.
The pleasures and harms related to alcohol and other drug intoxication are also explored in this edited collection. The choices of young people in two suburban areas in Manchester, UK about where and how to consume alcohol may also be read as resistance to commercialised nightlife spaces from which they are excluded due to age, gender or class. Young people in these under researched cultural contexts moved between spaces for alcohol consumption and a number of things played a part in their choices: others inhabiting the bars/pubs; the atmosphere; what kind of night out they wanted and so on. For those choosing to drink in outside spaces, such as parks, the freedom and excitement experienced were preferable to being in enclosed spaces. Samantha Wilkinson—in Chapter 5—makes the important point that outdoor spaces were not necessarily used for drinking because young people had nowhere else to go – some groups of young people actively sought out and chose these kinds of places for alcohol consumption. Her work also demonstrates that the nightscape is multi-faceted and complex with a number of different ways of engaging with suburban drinking environments, allowing a rejection of commercialised venues.
Marion Roberts in her discussion in chapter 8 notes the gendered aspect of the night time economy with women struggling to find a (safe) space or place in this hyper masculine environment. Intoxicated women face a number of issues, not least the accusation that they are inviting harms such as sexual violence by being intoxicated. Often policies to make the night time playscape safer are gender neutral, ignoring the issues faced by women in particular, although Roberts points to two promising initiatives based on improving mini-cab safety, and raising the profile of the unacceptability of sexual violence and harassment of women in nightlife venues. However, the challenge to undo deeply embedded notions of traditional masculinities and femininities in spaces of intoxication is fraught with tensions that “require concerted and explicit action to challenge” (143). The development and commercialisation of the leisure industry and night time spaces has led to the normalisation of the use of illicit drugs in some clubs and venues. The notion of pleasure, bound up with illicit intoxications, is explicitly engaged with by Helena Valente, Christina Vales Pires and Helena Carvalho in chapter 12 in their exploration of harm reduction in the Portuguese context. They focus on a peer based harm reduction organisation that offers advice to club and other party goers around alcohol and other drug use, and sometimes provides reagent testing of substances. The importance of engaging with discourses of pleasure is noted by the authors of this chapter, as well as the necessity of moving away from medicalised notions of harm reduction that are not necessarily appropriate for a mainly youthful population using drugs in a recreational manner. The success of this approach is demonstrated through interviews with users of the services, who note their behavioural change in terms of not mixing drugs, taking less of a substance or drinking less alcohol. Reducing the harms related to the city nightscape and moving patrons successfully through their intoxication experiences is an important part of urban development that should not be forgotten or sidelined.
It is clear from the chapters in this volume that the night is a complex phenomenon, entangled in a number of debates related to space and place as well as numerous social, cultural and historical contexts. The arguments presented by the authors in this edited collection raise important questions around gentrification and development of city nightscapes, not least who benefits or should benefit from these kinds of developments. Sadly, it seems that often such developments sweep away existing thriving and diverse nightlife cultures displacing marginalised populations and moving them further to the outskirts of urban life. However, that resistance is still apparent speaks to the importance of diversity in shaping nightlife spaces and places, even if from the margins. This volume grapples with the thorny problems surrounding the development of nightlife, gentrification and regeneration in a global context, not least the complexities in developing nightscapes that are as risk free as possible, while maintaining diversity and respect for existing nightlife cultures – a highly recommended read.