Atlanta’s night mayor will rule more than parties
Within three months, four people aboard electric scooters were killed by a vehicle, all but one at night. It was then that Atlanta took action. The mayor has decreed a nighttime ban on electric scooters that turn off devices every day from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Atlanta board member Amir Farokhi recalls the upset reaction he received when the ban was announced in 2019.
âI got a bunch of emails from people who work nights and came down around 11:00 am, saying, ‘Hey, I was using the scooter to get home or to the train station. Now I can’t use it anymore, âhe says.
Two years later, the ban is still in effect and a micro-mobility option is denied to anyone leaving after 9 p.m.
It’s clear to Farokhi now: it’s the kind of situation that requires a night mayor, a city official who oversees activities and fixes problems that arise overnight. He proposed the idea of ââAtlanta hiring a night mayor. In October, that came close to completion when city council approved a feasibility study on the prospect.
Since the first night mayor was elected in Amsterdam in 2012, more and more cities around the world have also created this post. This is especially true in Europe and the United States. Often night mayors focus on nightlife and entertainment. But in addition to these elements, Atlanta plans to focus on night workers.
This is part of a growing awareness around the responsibility of night mayors to all who share the night, whether they are workers, the homeless or seekers of recreation.
âThere is a much wider range of things going on at night in a city,â says Farokhi. âIn a truly dynamic city, there is a full-fledged night economy, which frankly doesn’t get the same attention as the daytime economy. “
Night workers – in hospitals, nightlife venues, hotels, and ridesharing and delivery services – face issues that their daytime counterparts are less likely to encounter, Farokhi says. They have to get to work when nighttime transportation options are more limited. The streets must be safe at night so that people can walk.
Another problem is making sure there are bathrooms. As the availability of public toilets has declined in cities across the country in recent decades, this has become a growing problem.
âIt’s a basic human need,â says Farokhi. âThe city needs to be able to provide it, especially at night, when there are fewer stores open or places that might normally allow you to enter to use the restroom. “
Night mayors are a growing trend. But until recently, they’ve focused on recreation rather than a more holistic approach, says Andreina Seijas, an expert in governance and nighttime planning who has worked around the world. (A book she co-wrote on the subject, Managing Cities at Night, released November 16.)
âIt’s a huge population of people who work at night who were previously invisible,â she says. “There is a lot more that can be done to think about vulnerable populations at night, such as the homeless, migrant groups who are vulnerable at night, as well as those who work at night.”
All of these people have the right to fair working conditions and a safe return home. Part of a night mayor’s job is to protect these rights, says Seijas, a Barcelona-based senior consultant at IdenCity, a company specializing in sustainable urban development strategies.
Atlanta has examples of other night mayors’ jobs to study. Seijas says London has a holistic nighttime strategy that goes beyond leisure workers to consider people working in call centers, airports and public transport. Washington, DC, whose new night mayor began in November, created programs during COVID-19 to deliver meals to people working at night, she adds. In September, New York City launched a mental health program for nightlife workers.
In Orlando, the night mayor launched free public restrooms, a pilot food truck program, and designated downtown ridesharing centers. But the night mayor job fell vacant earlier in 2021 and Orlando has not hired a replacement. Waiting for, all of those programs are gone.
Still, there have been periodic virtual meetings for a few years between all of America’s night mayors, Seijas says. They are discussing best practices and in the height of COVID-19, they have talked about managing curfews and how night workers would get home safely during transit closures. Seijas says Responsible Hospitality Institute has been an important player in bringing night mayors together in the United States
The next step for Atlanta is its feasibility study to determine the responsibilities and budget of a night mayor. Farokhi is confident the city will hire a night mayor in 2022. He plans to start with someone who will report to the mayor. Maybe it could be a dedicated municipal service in the future.
âI hope whatever Atlanta decides to do, they get a broad perspective on the night as more than just entertainment and culture,â Seijas said. âIt’s a time and a space where people work and earn a living. It must be thought out, regulated, governed and thought out proactively, taking into account individual needs and interests. “
Adina Solomon is an Atlanta-based freelance journalist. She writes on a range of subjects with specialties in urban design, business and death. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, CityLab, US News & World Report, and other national and local media.