“Nothing good happens after midnight” is a bit of advice given to the young in an often futile attempt to keep them out of trouble.
Lots of good things happen after midnight, of course. Emergency room personnel save a fair number of lives in the early morning hours, for example.
Police officers, firefighters and ambulance personnel repond to emergencies. All-night dinners and convenience stores serve people leaving second and third shifts, late-night travelers and, yes, those who have stayed late at nightspots (which themselves employ people and offer late-night entertainment). Hotel employees take care of visitors to the city, while security guards protect business assets.
Jess Reia, an assistant professor of data research at the University of Virginia who has worked with cities on nightlife policy asserts that the nighttime urban experience constitutes its own “complex ecosystem.”
In an article on Governing.com, a government policy website, Reia writes about ways officials are running their cities after dark.
In 2017, New York established an Office of Nightlife that serves as a point of contact for businesses that support “the city that never sleeps.”
“This office is tasked with the routine regulation of after-hours businesses and issuing licenses, as well as confronting abstract challenges like the ways in which gentrification leads to rising rent prices, which threaten cultural and community spaces that operate at night,” Reia writes.
Other cities have followed suit. Washington, D.C., now has an Office of Nightlife and Culture, Boston has created the position of “night czar” and Atlanta has formed a Nightlife Division. The offices also work with other agencies to enforce noise ordinances and improve the quality of nightlife in their cities.
In academia, an interdisciplinary field called “night studies” has emerged to study nocturnal urban life.
As a data scientist, Reia maintains that smart technology can be marshaled to improve how cities operate at night. For example, data tracking movement throughout a city can help determine where late-night public transit might be effective.
But she also cautions that data can be misused, referencing facial recognition software and other surveillance tools that could lead to discriminatory policing.
Knoxville probably won’t name a night czar anytime soon. The cities that have established offices focused on after-hours governance tend to be larger metropolitan areas with more robust nocturnal activity and around-the-clock transit. The Kincannon administration hasn’t discussed the possibility.
“This has never been anything that’s popped up,” said city Communications Director Kristen Farley.