How can Auckland create a bigger, stronger and more rewarding night-time economy? Simon Wilson sets out a plan.
Partner content in association with Heart of the City, who are interested in growing the vibrant night-time experience in the city centre.
In the new year we’re getting lights on the harbour bridge. It’s a great initiative. And then what? What would it take to make Auckland a city that really comes alive at night?
Here are 10 ideas, just for starters.
1. Lots of light
Everyone knows lighting makes the night-time safer, but too many of our outdoor spaces are still not well lit. That applies to public spaces including side streets and alleys, city parks and carpark buildings.
Don’t stop there. Lighting has the potential to be decorative, inspirational, festive, artistic and entertaining – especially now that LEDs provide more choice and more safety, for less environmental impact and lower cost. Strings of fairy lights have their place, for sure, but that’s just the start of it.
Public authorities and private building owners wanting to grow the night-time economy should put lighting consultants high on their list.
2. A late-night after-show culture
Most of Auckland’s show venues – the theatres, concert halls and bar venues – are clustered around Aotea Square, and the precinct could definitely do with some late-night TLC.
Imagine, coming out of the Civic, the town hall, the Aotea Centre or one of the smaller venues, and having a real choice of places to eat and drink: supper options, with a variety of price points and culinary styles, where you can while away another hour or two after the show.
If the idea of eating after a show – a concert or play or some other kind of performance – is to work, it will need to be actively fostered by the venues and production companies, and by the restaurants and bars, and it will need support from the council. Hospitality outlets will need to rethink their opening hours on Queen St, Elliott St, Lorne St, Wellesley St and in Aotea Square itself. Better late-night bus services have a role to play as well.
There’s a good opportunity to trial this coming up soon: the Auckland Arts Festival in March.
3. A bigger night-time events culture
What are the chances of more big night-time events in the city? On the waterfront, concerts and operas performed on barges on the water. Dance parties in Aotea Square, or Victoria Park, or Takutai Square at Britomart. Big spectator events between the Britomart Railway Station and the new Commercial Bay precinct, once it opens late next year.
As for the big shows at Spark Arena, the potential there is similar to the potential in the Aotea precinct. The streets leading from the downtown to the Arena – Fort Street and Fort Lane, the Britomart precinct, Customs Street and the bottom of Symonds Street – already offer a wide array of hospitality options. Now it needs a concerted effort to open late, offer show specials and promote the exercise heavily. The season of summer shows has already begun: this needs to get moving too.
Near Spark Arena and around the Aotea precinct, the idea has to be that eating later at night doesn’t have to mean fast food, the price-point and food-style choices are good, and it’s a fun way to extend the night.
Afterwards, your punters can go home or, recharged, they can go on to late-night bars and nightclubs. Putting food into the heart of the late-night experience is a key to extending the hours people are out and about and to making the whole experience work.
4. A late-night shopping culture
Hospitality and entertainment are not the only pillars of a late-night economy. Shopping also has a role to play. As most people who have spent time in the cities of Europe and other parts of the world will know, prowling around bookstores and clothes emporiums late at night is one of the great pleasures of city life.
5. Better public transport
Why don’t the trains run special schedules whenever there’s a concert at Spark Arena? Do it all the time and people will get used to the idea it’s a great way to get to and from the show. Could buses extend their routes, to start at the Arena?
The more we all know it’s easier to get home afterwards, the more we’ll all be inclined to stay longer in town.
The trick of it is to ensure the trains and buses are frequent, safe and reliable. That’s critical.
6. A business plan
It can’t be random, it can’t be piecemeal. Businesses, promoters, the venues and others need a working group to prioritise the activities, focus and coordinate the work and generally kick things along.
In Sydney, they have a plan already. By 2030, they want 40% of people using the city at night to be aged over 40 – and 40% of the businesses open at night to be shops. Those are pretty good goals.
7. Great marketing
You can’t do any of this well unless the punters know about it. A big marketing campaign for The Night City is essential. Again, the Arts Festival and the summer concert season are almost upon us: miss the chance to trial things with them, and the city might have to wait another year.
8. A great media guide
What’s on in Auckland? There are many ways to find. The Herald will tell you a lot, in the newspaper and its supplements, and online. Paperboy is handy too. Heart of the City actively promotes what’s on in the city centre. Other listings websites also help.
But where’s Auckland’s Time Out? Where’s our one-stop insightful and comprehensive publication+website+app dedicated not only to listings, but to reviews that are independent, entertaining and reliable, along with lots of other information about the entertainment and hospitality sectors in town?
Perhaps a media company could be persuaded to launch such a service. If not, the promoters of the whole venture will need to find another way to make this happen. An indispensable, critically engaged guide to what’s on in Auckland has an essential role in making the night city come alive, because it’s a memorable and constantly visible reminder to everyone of how much there is to see and do.
9. Appoint a Night Mayor
London uses the term Night Czar, which seems unnecessarily squeamish, but the name isn’t the big thing. The idea is that someone has the authority to pull everyone else together and also – crucially – to front the project.
In some cities the council appoints a Night Mayor, in others it’s done by a business association or community organisations. Auckland is way overdue. We need someone we’re prepared to empower, a person we know can make things happen, a person we love.
10. More safety and more help
The biggest single obstacle to overcome? The sense of safety. People need to be kept safe, and to know they are being kept safe. That’s not principally a matter for the police. They’re vital, of course, but helping people who need help and keeping people safe can’t just be a matter of hauling angry and intoxicated young people off to the cells for the night.
A night warden culture is required: in the city, on the trains, in the main feeder centres too. That happens now, particularly with Māori Wardens. We could do with many more in the same role.
So why build a better city by night?
The benefits of a busy nightlife in the city are easy to list.
The city is safer. The more people in the streets, the safer those streets are for all those people, and for businesses whether open or closed.
Business is better. The more people are out and about, the more viable it becomes for businesses to stay open to serve them – not just bars, restaurants and entertainment venues but also a range of ordinary shops.
More choice brings more people. The more places open at night, the more options we all have and the more appealing the city at night becomes for different sorts of people.
It gets better by day as well. The more appealing the inner city becomes, both day and night, the more people will want to live in it, setting up a mutually reinforcing loop: more people allows more places to open, offering more things to do and to buy, enticing ever more people to move to the inner city and partake of it all. That creates a more vibrant city centre by day as well as night.
It gets better for everyone else. More people living in the inner city means more people living much of their lives by walking, using bike-share schemes or their own bikes and catching short-hop public transport. And that all helps take the pressure off the roads everywhere else.
At the same time, the inner city will become more attractive to people who live in the suburbs but like to visit. That increases the safety and viability of night-time public transport. There’s a mutually reinforcing loop involved in that too.
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Will it be hard to do?
Not especially? Auckland’s got so much of the necessary elements already: lots of entertainment, lots of bars and restaurants, several natural centres of activity in the inner city, a fast-growing inner-city resident population, a great desire in the population for the city to keep getting better.
All it will take now is a great deal of determination, willpower and leadership. And those things are not really so hard, once you get started.
This content is brought to you by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre that all Aucklanders are proud of and is a great place to be.