This article originally appeared on Noisey Netherlands.
In 2013, Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan officially rang in the first 24-hour nightlife permit in the Dutch capital by playing the Detroit Swindle track "Brotherman" in Trouw, a popular nightclub occupying the former offices of a national newspaper. The permit project was an experiment to see if expanding the opening hours of certain clubs would improve the city’s nightlife. Nearly five years later, the results have been evaluated, and according to an official report put together by the city, the outcome is positive. But how have the 24-hour permits actually changed Amsterdam nightlife?
Extended opening hours already exist in places like Berlin and the Dutch city of Groningen. Calls to introduce them in Amsterdam had been long and loud for years. The first steps in that direction were taken back in 2012, when business owners started having the option to request a 24-hour permit. A team of experts consisting of industry professionals and city employees were asked to rate innovative ideas; if approved, the businesses that stood out were no longer required to close at 5:00 AM on the dot. Aside from partying on until sunrise or after, the extension of regular opening hours also incentivised urban development. Only existing and empty spaces outside of the city centre were eligible for a special permit, to ensure that clubs and all-night destinations would be more spread out over the city. So far, several permits have been granted.
Not everyone was happy about the city centre’s exclusion from the permit process. Music venues Paradiso and Melkweg weren’t bothered by it – both have had special permits for years, one that allows them to stay open "up until an hour after the last performance". Most other businesses don’t have this option. “I think the competition was definitely unfair, especially in the beginning,” says Mirik Milan, Amsterdam's "Night Mayor". “But that first step was necessary to make way for city wide extensions.” After the 24 hour-permit pilot, that’s exactly what happened: Businesses on the busy square Rembrandtplein have been allowed to extend their opening hours, and other clubs in the city centre can stay open later for up to 12 times a year. Even so, professional organisations such as Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (the Royal Dutch Association for the Restaurant, Hotel, and Catering Industry) still argued unfair competition in front of the city council a few weeks ago.
One major result of the 24-hour permits is a more even distribution of party-minded people. “When I threw a party on Java Island 30 years ago, we had to hire our own shuttle buses,” says Maz Weston, who's responsible for electronic music programming at Paradiso. “These days, people have no problem cycling to [bar and event space] Radion. I notice a big difference between people who come to Paradiso Noord versus our location in the city centre: In the north, people really come for the lineup, [whereas] in the centre we have more random visitors.”
Mirik Milan has noticed another shift: “People don’t stop going out once they turn a certain age. Going to a club after you hit thirty is no longer considered weird. People in their thirties don’t go out as frequently though, so they won’t leave [the house] just to dance for two hours. They want get get their money’s worth, so that means parties that go on until later. And because of all of the summer festivals, people have gotten used to events that last longer.”
When the pilot project started in 2013, the growing congestion of the inner city wasn’t yet the controversial topic it is today. The 24-hour permit system most likely has given nightlife tourism a boost: In the report evaluating the project, clubs outside of Amsterdam's city centre state that approximately 20 percent of their visitors come from abroad. On the other hand, the new permits have helped to alleviate the growing number of tourists by leading some of them away from the city centre.
Either way, the ever increasing number of visitors has become a more important part of the equation when it comes to creating and shaping nightlife policy. “At first, the 24-hour economy was being stimulated a lot,” says Tim-Oktay Leeman, who works for the city of Amsterdam’s department of Public Order and Safety. “At the moment, we still want to grow, but we more carefully try to avoid creating a nuisance for people who live in the area.”
Nightlife contributes to the city’s development. That sounds good, but it also has a downside. In an interview with THUMP Netherlands, former director of Trouw, Kim Tuin, calls that nightclub a tool for gentrification: An empty space is rented temporarily by creative entrepreneurs, but this cultural haven is temporary. Once the club has put the area on the map, the now more expensive land is sold to developers who are only interested in making a profit. Tuin used to run the non-profit NDSM-werf – the historical remnant of Amsterdam’s biggest shipbuilding yard – but has recently quit. In her eyes, so many new houses are being built around the old yard that the area is at risk of losing its cultural purpose. Often times, the new apartments are so expensive that people with low to median incomes can’t afford to live there.
It’s worth asking if the city facilitates gentrification by offering encouragement with 24-hour permits only to clubs outside of the city centre. It’s not unthinkable that the current, temporary clubs will soon be surrounded by unaffordable houses – or that the actual nightclub building will eventually be turned into condos. However, a nightclub doesn’t always precede major real estate investments; sometimes it’s actually a part of the puzzle, as is the case with Ven. This entertainment complex houses a hotel, a conference space, a casino and a rooftop bar. Ven recently obtained a 24-hour permit. Should a space like this, which mainly focuses on cosmopolitan dual-earners, be further encouraged with a special permit?
Leeman avoids having to answer: “It’s an important question: Do you want to stimulate small businesses that promote creative work, or do bigger companies also deserve attention? Ultimately, it’s up to politicians to answer that question.”
Mirik Milan isn’t afraid to speak out: “I hope future permits will be awarded to experimental [businesses]: Locations that hold 200 people where new ideas can be nurtured, because trying to fill up the joint isn’t the first priority. That’s why – and you should know this – the permit for Ven wasn’t in line with my principles. It’s important to maintain a certain balance in the city, so we need to also be careful to not only focus on white college educated people who like house music. The overall quality of nightlife has improved, but it hasn’t diversified. Any added diversity – for instance at parties like Bassline or Encore – is just the result of market forces.”
With the help of 24-hour permits, Milan thinks it's possible to shape programming within the city. “If you do that, you can see which locations are committed to diversity, openness and tolerance. This wasn’t a consideration in the last round of permit requests, but could be a condition in the future.” One space with a 24-hour permit that doesn’t cater to the aforementioned white lovers of house music, is De Koning Events. They host, for instance, a lot of Moroccan, Turkish, and Hindu weddings. Yet, in the city’s evaluation report, it’s exactly this element that draws ire from other business owners. They either don’t understand how this particular space got the permit, or complain that "doing something multicultural" is a sure way to get into anything.
There’s no question about the important role 24-hour permits have played in putting Amsterdam nightlife on the map internationally. At the same time, it’s important to take an honest look at the unintended side effects of the policy. It touches upon many political issues, from cultural innovation to public safety and reducing nuisance behaviour. Because nightlife is such an important part of the city's development, it can increase social inequality. The 24-hour permits create an opportunity to – as Mirik Milan put it – shape programming in the city. The challenge is to actually do just that, and not only cater to affluent party goers.