A top Auckland cop once said nothing good happens in the CBD after 3am. It is that kind of narrow thinking which has stifled nightlife in the city, a think tank says. Isaac Davison takes a look at what Auckland could look like after midnight with a few modest changes.
Picture this: It's past midnight in Auckland's CBD and you're walking down busy, well-lit footpaths.
Public disorder is at a minimum. A few "hosts" employed by the council are walking the CBD streets to make sure people are being well-behaved, and they shush the occasional partygoer who comes out of a bar yelling.
Nightclubs on K Road and CBD bars stay open until dawn, restoring the city's reputation as dance music hub. And basic services are open too. If you're a shift worker, you can get a haircut, groceries, or a good meal.
New apartment owners on Queen Street aren't calling noise control because, as the newcomers to the CBD, their building specifications had to attenuate the existing neighbourhood's noise levels. If a party gets excessively loud, residents simply open their easy-to-use app and let noise control know.
Earlier in the evening you were at the Auckland Art Gallery as part of an occasional initiative in which all public spaces are open at night-time. Older people are mingling with young partygoers.
Then there's the drinking. Rather than early closing times, only addicts and those who commit booze-related crimes are targeted with tailored programmes for alcohol abuse. Because there are no closing times, people aren't spilling out onto the street all at once at 4am.
These are a handful of the ideas being floated to restore Auckland's - and other New Zealand cities' - nightlife.
A report by the think tank New Zealand Initiative published this week that New Zealand's relatively strict rules and regulations had made cities "overly tedious" without actually reducing alcohol-related harm or violence. People do not feel safer, and meanwhile the number of bars and taverns per capita have fallen.
Part of the problem, the report's authors said, was that the rules focused narrowly on minimising harm, without taking into account the social and economic benefits of a thriving nightlife. This approach could be summed up by Auckland's former crime prevention manager Gary Davey, who during discussions on bar closing times said "nothing good happens in the CBD after 3am".
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Alcohol law changes in 2012 led to an end to all-night bars and clubs, which were made to close at 4am. In the past three years, assaults in Auckland have fallen at most hours, but it's not known whether this is the result of earlier closing times.
Sydney introduced much stricter "lock-out" laws in 2014 following a spate of violent assaults, preventing anyone from entering bars after 1.30am or buying a drink after 3am. New South Wales police say it's been a success, but some argue that the crowds - and violence - have simply moved elsewhere and the city has lost its soul.
"It had a massive impact, a very detrimental effect on their night-time economy," said Auckland's Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck. "Now that people have stopped going to places they are trying to work out how to get them back."
Beck said in Auckland there was no clamour from local businesses in Auckland to reverse the changes to closing times. But there was a strong desire for decisions about nightlife to at least be influenced by all interested parties.
NZI cites the example of Melbourne. After its own lock-out rules were loudly protested in 2008, the city introduced rules which said new developments like apartments and bars had to fit the existing neighbourhood.
Any housing built within 50 metres of live music venues had to put in place measures which kept noise levels to 45dB for tenants or owners - a similar noise level to birdsong. It worked both ways - new music venues also had to meet this criteria if they were set up near housing.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff thinks Auckland has its settings right.
"I'm not personally persuaded that you're going to transform Auckland by having bars open until 7am rather than 4am," he said. "While I'm a drinker and not a prohibitionist, I also acknowledge that there's a considerable cost to alcohol abuse."
Asked what he would change to improve the central city after dark, Goff said pedestrianising more of the streets and allowing cafes and bars to spill out onto the footpaths.
Beck said improving Auckland's nightlife was not just about drinking or catering to young partygoers. It might mean all-night shopping, more cultural events, or more services for shift workers. She also suggested leftfield ideas like a night marathon.
"As the makeup of the city changes, and you get more people coming from cities that are used to all-night activity, the nightlife will inevitably grow - and we want to make sure it grows in a way which is really healthy and creates a great environment, whoever they are.
"And if you get more people in the city, people tend to feel at ease. If you are coming out of a film festival show late and there are a lot of people around, people will feel safer."
The proposal which gained the most attention this week was for a Night Mayor, an initiative which began in Amsterdam and has been adopted by around 30 cities. While the idea conjures images of a partying politician wearing their mayoral chains on the dance floor, the initiative is mainly designed to ensure there is a dedicated advocate for nightlife.
Goff flatly rejected the idea in Auckland, saying it was simply not a priority.
Police are also resistant to liberalising the rules around nightlife, and have occasionally called for even stricter opening times following serious assaults in the CBD . Public health officials also believe New Zealanders' heavy drinking culture will always be a barrier to any attempts to expand or change Auckland's nightlife.
In making its case this week, the NZI researchers said making cities better after midnight was about more than boozing and business profits.
"Night-time is the time when emotions rise, when we meet, drink, fall in love … and sometimes act if there were no tomorrow. New Zealanders deserve to do all this in an inspiring and vibrant environment."