3. Dublin needs a ‘night czar’

Nightlife in the city is dy­ing. We need to sup­port Dublin’s brave, risk-tak­ing, cre­ative youth

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Una Mul­lally

Dublin is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a nightlife boom. Kind of. What it’s re­ally ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is a glut of restau­rant open­ings and bar re­fur­bish­ments.

But if there’s one thing we know about booms in the city, it’s that they have a ten­dency to go bust. Be­yond op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­cial­is­ing largely aimed at sub­ur­ban Dublin­ers trav­el­ling into the city, tourists, and peo­ple with enough money to buy ¤12 cock­tails, the type of nightlife cul­ture that could be loosely char­ac­terised as “cut­ting-edge” is woe­fully lack­ing in Dublin.

The city now has only a hand­ful of qual­ity elec­tronic mu­sic-driven clubs; club­bing cul­ture is dis­si­pat­ing, squeezed out by the “boom”.

Clubs and club nights that of­fer a sense of dis­cov­ery, com­mu­nity, and cre­ativ­ity are a norm in other Euro­pean cap­i­tals. The layer of cre­ativ­ity that should if not over­lay a city at night, then at least in­ter­sect with it, is be­ing scrubbed away.

Of course, there are venues, pro­mot­ers, col­lec­tives, par­ties and club nights aim­ing for some­thing above av­er­age in a city that in­creas­ingly em­braces the nice-but-bor­ing, but a cre­ative nightlife scene is not be­ing fa­cil­i­tated, nor of­fered the sup­port it needs.

Club cul­ture

One way of fix­ing this, is for Dublin City Coun­cil to ap­point a “night mayor” or “night czar”, as other cities have, to pri­ori­tise, pro­mote, sup­port and em­brace the im­por­tance of nightlife, cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity.

Such a per­son could pro­mote the cul­tural and eco­nomic ben­e­fits of nightlife and club cul­ture, sup­port venues in dan­ger of clos­ing down, lobby for kin­der li­cens­ing by­laws, and ap­proach nightlife in a fa­cil­i­ta­tory mode, in­stead of a mode of en­force­ment.

In Lon­don, for ex­am­ple, mayor Sadiq Khan ap­pointed Amy Lamé as the city’s first “night czar”. Lon­don’s night-time econ­omy con­trib­utes £26.3 bil­lion (¤29.6 bil­lion) to the city. A Cul­ture At Risk Of­fice was also es­tab­lished, sup­port­ing cul­tural spa­ces at risk of clo­sure, and within the first year it as­sisted 200 spa­ces.

Other sup­ports have also been in­tro­duced in Lon­don. For ex­am­ple, new de­vel­op­ments near mu­sic venues are re­spon­si­ble for their own sound­proof­ing, in­stead of the mu­sic venues them­selves hav­ing to foot the cost. Lon­don’s vi­brant, grass­roots nightlife is val­ued and sup­ported.

With­out recog­nis­ing the cul­tural con­tri­bu­tion of nightlife, and then es­tab­lish­ing sup­ports at lo­cal govern­ment level to en­sure it doesn’t die, cre­ative nightlife is swim­ming against a tide of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, devel­op­ment, en­force­ment, and sim­ple eco­nom­ics.

How did Dublin’s nightlife cul­ture be­come so staid? The city’s clubs have al­ways been cur­tailed by strict li­cens­ing laws, re­duc­ing the fi­nan­cial mar­gins in run­ning a small in­de­pen­dent club to al­most noth­ing.

The eco­nom­ics of the sit­u­a­tion – whereby a club may op­er­ate on a Fri­day and Satur­day night, 10pm-2.30am, giv­ing them nine hours where cus­tomers are ac­tu­ally in the venue over an en­tire week­end – are tough.

When the fo­cus on ev­ery square me­tre in the city is based on how much profit can be squeezed from it – as ho­tels, apartho­tels or stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion – cre­ative nightlife spa­ces look like eco­nomic anachro­nisms. Yet any­one with any in­vest­ment in the vi­brancy of a city knows “value” in a city should not just be mea­sured in mon­e­tary terms.

The hous­ing and rental cri­sis is hav­ing a ter­ri­ble im­pact on the city’s cre­ativ­ity, push­ing young peo­ple and artists out of the city.

Spa­ces mat­ter, and places to have par­ties are dis­ap­pear­ing. The fab­ric of a city is about its land­scape but also about its po­ten­tial. The cur­rent wave of devel­op­ment in Dublin, largely fo­cused on ho­tels, of­fices and ex­pen­sive short-term ac­com­mo­da­tion, is lit­er­ally de­stroy­ing the po­ten­tial for nightlife in the city.

De­mo­li­tion

Dis­used build­ings, ware­houses and other spa­ces are be­ing de­mol­ished. Some of this de­mo­li­tion very ob­vi­ously re­moves ex­ist­ing club­bing in­fra­struc­ture, for ex­am­ple, the de­mo­li­tion of the night­club Hangar, and the up­com­ing “re­de­vel­op­ment” of the Tivoli the­atre, also known as the club Dis­trict 8.

These two spa­ces were two of the most im­por­tant spa­ces for elec­tronic mu­sic in the city, and in the case of Dis­trict 8, one of the most im­por­tant can­vasses for street art in the cap­i­tal. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Re­ces­sion

Dur­ing the re­ces­sion, when devel­op­ment and build­ing stalled, some build­ings were re­pur­posed for cre­ative, artis­tic, and cul­tural use. With no one around to de­velop the spa­ces, they be­came avail­able. At that time, there could have been moves to pro­tect this emerg­ing, en­er­getic, but also very frag­ile grass­roots cre­ative in­fra­struc­ture. That did not hap­pen.

So when the econ­omy woke up, peo­ple were moved on. Rent hikes forced artists out of stu­dio spa­ces. Squats – such as the hive of cul­tural ac­tiv­ity at Squat City in Grange­gor­man – were de­mol­ished. Build­ings that housed clubs be­gan to make more mon­e­tary sense to their own­ers as ho­tels.

So what else can we do? The long-stalled re­form of lo­cal govern­ment, be­gin­ning with the fun­da­men­tal idea of a di­rectly elected mayor, has been stalled once more.

A lo­cal govern­ment that un­der­stands, sup­ports and pro­tects the cul­tural value of cre­ative nightlife in the city is vi­tal for that nightlife’s sur­vival. Right now it’s dy­ing. Hav­ing a night mayor or night czar would be a step to­wards sup­port­ing the brave, fun, and cre­ative peo­ple who want to take the risk to do some­thing in­ter­est­ing, things that adds value to so many lives.

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