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Governing Leisure: Permissive and restrictive nighttime urban policies in the North American context

Authors: Robert Catherall*, University of Toronto
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography
Keywords: Nighttime Economy, Night Mayor, Cities at Night, Nighttime Policymaking, Urban Geography, Urban Policy, Urban Planning, Temporal Geography, Music Cities
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The urban night is often conceived as a site of violence and antisocial behavior, where young, predominantly male, users threaten the existing harmony of daytime (Baldwin, 2012). Historically, cities in North America have struggled to effectively regulate the way that people interact with the built environment, and each other, after dark. However, increased communication between nightlife operators and regulators has facilitated new practices of managing a city’s life at night.
Urban planners have historically neglected to develop policies that respond to the spatio-temporal differences of the night, distinguishing it from those developed for the daytime. This oversight has prevented the urban night from becoming a serious forum for theoretical inquiry and regulatory practice (Roberts, 2009). The lack of policy direction for urban nightlife has caused music-related economic development initiatives to catalyze gentrification that caters to affluent cohorts while ignoring others (Hae, 2011; Nofre et al., 2017).
Many cities in North America have recently developed nighttime management strategies that include entertainment districts, noise ordinances, Night Mayors, and music city strategies. Research in various jurisdictions finds policy responses to nighttime urban governance issues vary across space and time. They have produced both enabling and restrictive policy responses that affect how live music spaces are regulated and, in turn, the development of local music scenes. By examining the planning and regulatory environments of North American metros, this research develops a new policy regime for the urban night that considers temporal land use and zoning opportunities and transitional business use licenses.

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