The introduction of the all-nightTube is not going to be a revolution, more a slow-burn fuse. It highlights a more subtle transformation of world cities such as London in respect of the cultural economy (the range of economic activities related to making and consuming arts, culture and entertainment).
Of course, it is most obvious the Night Tube will also make it easier for night revellers: it will dilute the rush for last orders (as did the relaxation of pub 'closing times'), or from the final curtain. However, let's not forget that those wanting to stay later already had the option of the night bus; not the quickest, or pleasant at times, but it did the job.
On the other hand, nobody would choose to commute on a night bus. In the short term the main beneficiaries are going to be the workers who staff the venues and events; they will no longer have to take the night bus or taxi home. This will save them time and money, and it reveals the important point that if we want a night-time economy, we need night-time workers, and a means for them to get to and from work.
The potential of increased economic activity, or simply securing current activity, that constitutes the night-time economy is important for any city, London included. It is an unacknowledged fact that the cultural economy (a fair proportion of whose consumption activities take place at night) are playing significant roles in employment and income as well as taxes for cities like London – they now rival the traditional sectors of finance, health and education that dominate most urban economies.
London has taken the sensible choice to embrace the cultural economy, and the night-time economy, for so long the Cinderella sectors of the city: overlooked and underestimated. The cultural economy is a growth engine; one whose growth has outstripped many other sectors. The big challenge is to realign the governance and infrastructure of a capital, planned and imagined as a 9-5 city, to one that runs close to 24/7. Transport – the Night Tubes and busses – is one critical component.
The other factors are less obvious, and represent a job in progress. Waste collection, parking management, policing and licensing are all issues that will need their provision reassessing. Above and beyond this there will be conflicts between old and new uses; simply between the day and night uses: noise, safety and security will need to be balanced. Practically that might mean improved sound insulation for pubs and clubs, and modified agreements with residents: delicate issues.
This is why the establishment of specific, co-ordinated oversight of the night time economy is needed. A number of European cities have begun to experiment with rejigging their governance to accommodate these new demands in the form of a 'night mayor'. Although the English translation, which sounds too much like 'nightmare', will be called a 'Night Tsar' or similar: London mayor Sadiq Khan is currently proposing such a role.
The night-time economy, and the cultural economy, as important components of city life, have the potential for further development and innovation. Providing the 'infrastructure' of transport, and joined up governance, as well as a visibility of the area of activity are necessary foundations for innovation. This platform will first enable minor extensions at the 'shoulders' of the day/night; but we will have to wait and see what creative uses it is put to by artists and cultural practitioners. The stage is set. At least now we will all be able to get home afterwards.
Professor Andy Pratt is Director of the Centre for Culture and the Creative Industries at City University London