Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Night Mayor could rescue downtown from chaos

When it comes to controlling bad behaviour, the Dutch do seem to have the magic touch. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
When it comes to controlling bad behaviour, the Dutch do seem to have the magic touch. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Following the rolling brawl in Auckland's Britomart club-lands, heavyweights from the police and Auckland Council squared off over who was to blame. In the council corner, councillor George Wood, a former North Shore police commander, criticised the ongoing lack of police presence to control late night revellers, declaring "the chickens have come home to roost".

Auckland Police prevention manager Inspector Gary Davey pointed the finger right back at council, expressing his "disappointment" at the wimpish local alcohol policies being proposed by the politicians.

He said "council has a responsibility to reduce unacceptable levels of intoxication and alcohol-related harm, yet proposed closing hours of 4am in the CBD and 3am in the rest of the city allow the current level of harm to continue".

I confess that in the past, usually after some particularly vicious drunken assault has hit the headlines, I've tended to sympathise with the idea of both more cops on the beat, and earlier closing hours.

But an old friend, now based in Amsterdam, who spotted last week's debate online, pointed to the ever-practical Dutch's solution to this seemingly universal dilemma of how to prevent 24-hour entertainment precincts deteriorating into vomit-spattered, foul-mouthed, no-go zones well before dawn approaches.

In Amsterdam back in 2012, after years of this sort of stand-off between authorities, bar owners and local residents, they invented the role of a Night Mayor, complete with a team of helpers, to oversee the city night life. A sort of Maori Wardens set-up, it seems, on steroids.

I'm a sceptic by trade, but when it comes to controlling bad behaviour, the Dutch do seem to have the magic touch. Where else in the world, for example, is crime disappearing so rapidly that a third of prison cells are empty, and the prison authorities expect another 3000 cells and 300 juvenile detention spaces will be surplus to needs by 2021?

Indeed, last week, the prison guards union was up in arms at plans to cut 1900 jobs and close eight prisons. There's so much spare capacity, the Dutch are leasing cell space out to Norway and the first of 240 Norwegian felons have already begun moving in.

So let's not wipe the Night Mayor concept without checking it out. Before the Night Mayor, the late night "war zone" of Rembrandtplein was experiencing up to 300 recorded violent incidents each year. As in Auckland now, and Sydney's Kings Cross back in 2013-2014 after two young men died in violent bashings, the call was for more controls, earlier closing hours and more policing. In Sydney, the state government rushed through restrictive laws. The outcome has been that over 40 venues around Kings Cross have closed, basically killing this legendary late night music and party heartland.

In Amsterdam, they adopted an alternative approach aimed at both preserving the valuable night industry while keeping local residents happy and the streets safe. The politicians took some persuading, but by 2012, Mirik Milan, a former club promoter, was elected Night Mayor in a poll of users, the general public and a panel of "experts". He now heads a small NGO, jointly funded by local government and club and bar owners.

Watch: Large brawl in downtown Auckland


His aim has been to enhance and grow Amsterdam's night-time economy in a way that keeps everyone happy. They're experimenting with 24-hour licences, on the principle that turning everyone out on to the streets at 3am or 4am is a recipe for disruption. Also being trialled are satellite all-night party venues, 20 minutes or so cycling distance from the town centre, to take off pressure in the centre, which have proved very successful.

And in Rembrandtplein on Fridays and Saturdays, 10 non-threatening "square hosts" walk the streets endeavouring to dampen down potential problems.

The concept seems to have caught on, with 15 other Dutch cities borrowing the concept along with the French cities of Paris, Nantes, and Toulouse. Berlin and Cologne are also considering it, and a couple of weeks ago, after meeting Mr Milan, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced a Night Time Commission aimed at protecting London's declining $140 billion night-time economy.

In three weeks' time, Amsterdam hosts the first Night Mayor Summit on the economic and cultural value of "the night". Auckland Council should check it out.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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