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OpenCities Notes: Creating A 24-Hour City

2007_06_28OpenCities.jpg
OpenCities was a weekend-long unconference that took place on the 23rd and 24th of June. Many excellent conversations came out of the weekend, and this is one of them. You can read notes from the rest at OpenCities.ca.
The late Jane Jacobs asserted that a great public space should attract different people for different reasons at different times of day. Why, then, have we forgotten the last part in our planning—and our thinking?
Torontoist and the OpenCities participants agreed that Toronto is not, in fact, a 24-hour city. In almost every neighbourhood, we decided, there is a point after which the streets are literally deserted, and in most places, buying or doing anything becomes impossible. This is in stark contrast to some of the examples offered, such as New York’s Union Square where there are just as many hundreds of people sitting, playing, eating and breakdancing at 3 a.m. as at 3 p.m.
What was difficult to agree upon, however, was what would be necessary to spawn a 24-hour culture, and therefore a 24-hour city. Would the ability to buy goods 24 hours a day create the push needed to bring people out of doors in the middle of the night? Would a 24-hour transit system get people out? Perhaps not—Nuit Blanche was completely free (and transit options remained the same) and it persuaded people to postpone their bedtimes. (It is worth noting, however, that this year’s Nuit Blanche may see part of the Yonge-University-Spadina line running 24-hours for the first time ever.)
Some excellent suggestions came out of the conversation, though: to truly create a 24-hour city, we need to stop stigmatizing the hours after dark as a “dangerous” time, namely by abandoning the under-16 midnight curfew, opening up public space to people of all ages at all times of day (or night). The worry that “we wouldn’t want six year olds running around alone at night” was quickly answered with “we wouldn’t want six year olds running around alone in the daytime either!” Extending last call was also proposed, which was met with unanimous support.
A plan of action was formed, and it was agreed that we’d need to start with a directory and map of all the 24-hour locations in the city, and add more as we asked our local businesses if they would consider staying open. That directory, we realized, already exists, or can, in the form of Torontopedia, using its Google Maps capabilities. The idea of a project called Bloor24 was also proposed, in which Bloor Street store owners would be asked to stay open 24-hours for the first night of Spring.
However, like all of the topics of discussion at OpenCities, this conversation is far from over. How would you, Torontoist readers, create a 24-hour city?
Photo by Kieran Huggins on Flickr

Comments

  • guest

    I know! Increase the population of Toronto by 5 million, but keep it all in the dufferin-dvp-eglinton boundaries. While you’re at it, extinguish the last remaining Presbyterian cultural traces and make it a Class A city.

  • guest

    The biggest step would be more frequent late-night transit service – I think there’s already demand for this because the Queen and King cars are frequently packed between midnight and 3.
    More after-hours liquor licensing would be a big step too. It’s always a pleasure visiting other cities where they don’t kick everyone out the door at 3 (Mtl, NY, etc.) like likkle kids.

  • Liza Badaloo

    I would just love 24-hour areas in the city, and we’re definitely a long way from it currently. I think one of the first steps would be ensuring that people feel safe hanging out in the 24-hour areas in question. The ‘gendered city’ idea comes out clearly here, where issues of particular concern to women are given lip service at best by city planners. Having spent some time in Spain (where you can see entire families taking a stroll at 3 am)and feeling totally safe at any time of day, I can say that their wide piazzas and good lighting definitely helped.

  • Amanda Buckiewicz

    Definitely extending last call and creating more after hours clubs (that aren’t Comfort Zone).
    I have never felt unsafe being out and about at night, I usually go home because there’s nothing left to do. In New York there are things to do at 4 in the morning, which is why it’s alright to be out.

  • guest

    Look, New York is not exactly 24 hrs either, despite popular belief. A very small part of it might be, but even then there is some serious sketchiness involved. The trains and stores do tend to run 24 hours though, which certainly helps. And bars are open until 4 am.
    Toronto does have late night transit, but only in the form of buses. Make more streetcars all-nighters and run the subway later on Fri and Sat. (No one is doing track maintenance at 3 am Sun morning.) Let the bars stay open till 3 or 4. Encourage pharmacies, big supermarkets and some other retail to be open 24 hrs – but be prepared for the density you need to support this. (No more whining about a 35 storey building at Yonge + Eglinton. Do you hear me Michael Walker?)

  • Kevin Bracken

    #5: the Queen streetcar runs 24 hours, and the Bathurst becomes bus/streetcar after 1:30.
    Also, I dispute the part about a “very small” part of NYC being 24 hours: Nowhere in Manhattan are you more than 5 small blocks away from a store that is open 24 hours a day, and that’s 1.9 million people right there. Broadway, Chinatown, NoHo and Union Square and the East Village are always safe and full of people, everywhere.
    This particular assertion comes not out of popular belief, but years of firsthand experience.
    #1: You’re actually quite right, if we kept the density downtown, the demand for 24 hour goods and services would definitely increase!

  • guest

    Having later nightlife is great, but to be a proper 24-hour city, regular services need to be available all the time — grocery stores, drugstores, restaurants outside the central core. And maybe if the city started to lose its hold on the 9-5 mentality, then we could see more drycleaners, postal outlets, bookstores, doctor’s clinics, gyms and the like with 24-hour services.

  • guest

    How many of the people tooting the 24-hour city work in retail? My guess: None.
    This meme is more about instant gratification and endless consumerism than making a better city.

  • rek

    Here in Shinchon, Seoul, South Korea, the night doesn’t end until you go for breakfast. You can leave a bar or 노래방 at 6 or 7 or 8 in the morning and the restaurants are open and waiting.
    I think an essential part of a 24 hour city lifestyle is keeping people outside and moving through pedestrian-dominated areas. Hide them away in bars and clubs and give people nothing to do or eat out on the streets and you miss the point.

  • guest

    mmm, strolling through Parkdale at 4am in mid-february — dunno about you but i feel like breakfast alfresco!

  • guest

    there are a lot more important problems in toronto than the fact it shuts down between 3 and 6 am… like 99% other cities in the world.
    if it’s going to become a 24-hour city, it will happen organically. businesses will stay open to serve a demand, but expecting people to stay on the streets later because – why, exactly? – it makes us cool or something? is ridiculous.

  • guest

    This is the classic sort of silliness that makes people wonder if Toronto can actually see past it’s own nose. Did New York City ever need to have an (un)conference on how to become a 24 hour city? I love this city, but some people just take it too far.
    I’d also like to ask: is it necessary to be a 24-hour city? Lots of European cities like Paris, for example, are not 24 hour cities. They may have some 24-hour services, but they do shut down at a certain point. I agree that this is more an excercise in futile consumerism. I don’t really need to grocery shop or buy a new sofa at 4:00 AM, even if I am a night owl (I am).
    Maybe we could turn our attention to something more useful now, like coping with the endemic number of people who are forced to be on the streets 24 hours a day.

  • Kevin Bracken

    The “we have more important things to worry about” complaint is kind of meaningless; people pick their battles, and because a group thinks about something does not mean they believe it is inherently more important than ending war or solving homelessness.
    Also, not everything that is not ending war or solving homelessness is useless to think about.
    Haha, and no, not because it makes us cool.
    We have a vision of the kind of city we’d like to live in, and discussion like this helps us approach that vision. This is what makes and will continue to make Toronto one of the greatest places in the world to live: people dreaming and doing.

  • guest

    I spent a night in Toronto a few months ago after missing the last Greyhound bus home. I swear, I spent hours walking around, trying to find a place that was open after 2:00. Finally I found a Tim Hortons…but that was about it.
    Pretty much the only other people I talked to were others who’d missed the last bus home. I never felt that I was in any danger, but it was depressing to see how dead the city was at night.

  • guest

    maybe you should have got on a greyhound and gone to new york. and maybe you could take all the other new york wannabes with you, so you can all live together in a 24-hour hipster paradise and pay 2 grand a month in rent.

  • guest

    what of the environmental impact of keeping the lights on (and keeping the heat and a/c at regular temps) for longer? Why not shorter hours?