By Elisabeth Faure
Since 1995, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) has hosted a major bilingual conference in Montreal on topics that matter to Canadians and are relevant to current public policy concerns. MISC’s next annual conference, The Cities We Need (Les villes qu’il nous faut) will take place in Montreal on Feb. 19 and 20, 2015, at the Phi Centre (407 St Pierre St).
The Reporter is running a series of interviews with guests who will be appearing at the conference in advance of the event. Born in Venezuela, Andreina Seijas is an urban night researcher currently working as a consultant for the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC. Previously, I worked as Policy Associate at Americas Society/ Council of the Americas and Editorial Associate for policy journal Americas Quarterly. Seijas will be giving one of several special presentations on “The Urban Night” at The Cities We Need.
The Reporter caught up with her to ask about her research and what she’ll be talking about at the conference.
You research the urban night. What is it about this topic that attracts you?
I began “studying the night” when I was living in Caracas, the city where I grew up and where I understood the importance of this time-frame, especially for young people. In Caracas, the night is synonymous to fear. Due to the high levels of crime and violence, today it is hard to find movie theaters showing films after 9:00 pm, or restaurants that stay open after 11 p.m.. As a result, the night has become a negative space, where spaces for leisure and social interaction are increasingly scarce and restricted.
Frustrated about what was happening in my city, I discovered the field known as “night studies,” which analyzes the relevance of this time-frame from an economic and a social perspective. On one hand, I learned that night-time policies have great potential to increase the economic value and competitiveness of a city. For instance, they help create new sources of employment, and make cities more attractive to local and foreign visitors. On the other hand, I learned that the night has deep social implications. It is a space where individuals develop values and identities, and the youngest look for spaces to socialize and gain recognition. Therefore, creating urban night-time spaces is key to promoting values such as trust and a sense of belonging to a city.
Many experiences around the world demonstrate the value of turning the night into a positive space. For instance, Nuit Blanche festivals in Paris, Amsterdam, Dallas, Copenhagen and Montreal have become significant sources of revenue for city coffers, as well as privileged spaces to showcase local talent. However, what attracted me the most was that only a few mayors from developing countries have paid attention to this time-frame.
That is why, for the past six years, I have been researching and documenting what cities in Latin America and the Caribbean can do to promote their night-time economies and to create quality spaces for work and leisure during this time frame. My goal is to raise awareness of the relevance of the night-time and to pave the way for the emergence of 24-hour cities in the region.
What does researching the night involve? How much time do you spend out and about at night?
For the past six years, I have been working on policy issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. During this time, I have had the opportunity to travel to many cities in the region, where I have conducted interviews, ranging from conversations with city officials, to chats with taxi drivers, bar owners and city dwellers. My interviews cover topics such as hours of operation for shops, bars and restaurants; night-time lighting, public safety and transportation.
You are speaking at the upcoming MISC conference, The Cities We Need. Is nightlife something that cities need? Why?
Rather than nightlife, I prefer to use the term Night-Time Economy (NTE), which involves all social and economic aspects of this time-frame, such as how to regulate the labor conditions for those who work at night.
From my experience, there are five reasons why our cities should promote their night-time economies:
- The night-time economy is a source of employment and additional revenue for local governments.
- It allows local governments to diversify its leisure and commercial activities.
- It promotes greater citizen security, for instance, by prolonging stores’ and restaurants’ hours of operation, keeping streets lively and safe.
- It boosts local tourism.
- It helps create a greater sense of belonging.
Tell us a bit about what you’ll be discussing at the conference.
The goal of my presentation at the conference is twofold: on one hand, I will make the case of why 24-hour cities are good, as they have many economic and social benefits; and on the other, I will present several examples of successful night-time policies around the world, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
You can follow Seijas on Twitter at @AndreinaSeijas.
Learn more about the MISC conference and register. Registration for the two-day conference, including the opening night reception, is $100 for the general public, and $25 for students.
Read the interview with, Dan Mathieson, Mayor of Stratford.
Read the interview with Bonnie Crombie, Mayor of Mississauga.
Read the interview with Mark Heyck, Mayor of Yellowknife, and McGill alumnus.