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Amsterdam's 'Night Mayor' On The Nightlife Balancing Act

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Who presides over a city that never sleeps when the mayor goes to sleep? Well, for some cities, it's a night mayor - not a bad dream but a mayor of the night. London, Paris, even Iowa City - or should that be especially Iowa City? - have all hired special mayors to help balance nightlife with the needs of sleeping residents. New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles might soon do the same. The concept originated in Amsterdam, where Mirik Milan became the night mayor in 2014.

Mr. Milan - Mr. Mayor - thanks very much for being with us.

MIRIK MILAN: Thank you for having me on the show.

SIMON: So what do you do?

MILAN: (Laughter) So the night mayor is an independent not-for-profit which helps ensure that the city of Amsterdam has a dynamic and vibrant but also safe nightlife. We really want to bridge the gap between the mayor and city councilors, small business owners - like nightclubs and festivals - but also city residents.

SIMON: Yeah. Was your job created because there were problems that you were trying to solve?

MILAN: Yeah. Actually, to be honest, really often, the role of the night mayor - whether it's in London, Amsterdam, similar organizations in Berlin - it's a reaction because there's a problem. In Amsterdam, people had the feeling that the city of Amsterdam was turned into an open-air museum, which was only there for tourists and not for the Amsterdamers themselves to go out, meet people, have a cultural, diverse nightlife. And, of course, nightlife also creates a lot of economic impact.

SIMON: My family and I have been to Amsterdam. And it goes all night, although we go to bed fairly early. Are some residents upset by that - they just want to get a good night's sleep?

MILAN: Of course. Our work is always about creating a good balance. And we would never say, we need more parties. We need more festivals. We need more of everything - we need better quality nightlife. So in this entertainment district, we managed to get down alcohol-related violence by 25 percent and have a decrease in nuisance of any sort - littering, people shouting on the street, anti-social behavior - all the things residents can't sleep from at night - we brought that down by 30 percent.

SIMON: How'd you do that?

MILAN: Yeah. So there were three steps. The first one, we looked at the public space - how is lighting set up? How can we make sure that people feel more safe because the lighting is better? We also looked at, are there a lot of obstacles in the public space? Like in Amsterdam, as you have been here, you know that there's a lot of bicycles. So we transformed this district into a pedestrian area instead of having all these different forms of mobility crossing each other.

The second step was installment of square hosts. Like stewards - they patrol the streets every Friday and Saturday night during peak hours of nightlife. They are seen as a non-aggressive intermediate, so they try to de-escalate the situation when there's a problem. They even give advice - what music is played in what nightclub to visitors that visit the area. And the third step we did was the instalment of a really simple, actually, web app where city residents could report their complaint. And the complaint would go directly to the first community officer, which is in the neighborhood - so who could really efficiently deal with these forms of nuisance.

SIMON: When do you sleep?

MILAN: I sleep normal hours...

SIMON: That's a personal question. I apologize. I just meant...

MILAN: No. No, no. Like...

SIMON: ...Given your responsibilities.

MILAN: Yeah. No. So we work during the day. I call myself a rebel in a suit because you need to speak the same language to get something done. And the people that create policy work during the day. So that's my working hours, as well.

SIMON: Mirik Milan, the night mayor of Amsterdam, thanks so much for being with us.

MILAN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.