Reimagining the city planners’ vision for nightlife

PUDUCHERRY, 10/02/2020: Luc Gwiazdzinski, professor at the University of Grenoble-Alps, France (centre), along with Frédéric Landy, Director, French Institute of Pondicherry at a recent talk on Geography of the Night during the Pondicherry Heritage Festival. T. Singaravelou   | Photo Credit: T. Singaravelou

City planners, who have for long ignored the night hours in their scheme of things, are now starting to wake up to the prospects of a 24/7 identity for cities, especially metros, according to Luc Gwiazdzinski, professor at the University of Grenoble-Alps, France.

In a recent talk, ‘Geography of the Night’ at the French Institute of Pondicherry during the Pondicherry Heritage Festival, Prof. Gwiazdzinski drew the audiences into questions such as why the was night so neglected, why public authorities forget to plan the city for the night, and why nocturnal hours are too often considered in negative terms.

In etymological terms too, the night was cast in negative shade. In European languages, the term is constructed negatively, since it means ‘not-8’ (n-ight, n-otte, n-uit...), the eight meaning the eight hours that human beings spend sleeping (some less, some more), he pointed out.

However, considering space in relation to time, it has become imperative to consider the city during the night, when other landscapes appear, with other uses, other frequentations.

Prof. Gwiazdzinski pointed out that the city at night can be the space of intimacy and rest (in one's room), or of transgression (bars, etc.), but it is also the space of work — in Europe, for instance, a fifth of the population works at night.

In fact, the professor had advanced these fascinating thoughts in The Urban Night: a Space Time for Innovation and Sustainable Development (Journal of Urban Research 11 | 2015), where he argued that just like the human body, cities are bound by the rhythm of the transition between day and night.

“In a society that is rethinking its nychthemera, the night has a lot to offer the day and the future,” he had stated. To his audience at the IFP, Prof. Gwiazdzinski said, “Fortunately, a certain awareness is emerging. Cities are beginning to be designed for the night, and “night mayors” are even sometimes elected to better manage these night spaces”.

However, as he stated in the paper, some of the real challenges lay in lighting the night without killing it; making the night accessible while preserving its original identity; developing the night without creating new conflicts of use; animating the night while respecting our body clocks; ensuring public safety without imposing a curfew or opening up the night while protecting the workers’ health. Most importantly, reconciling the “right to the city” with the “right to the night” and finally reclaiming the night while conserving some of its mystery.

Real challenges

Beyond the urban night, the issue is whether or not to retain our traditional rhythms or to shift towards a continuous society, an à la carte 24-hour, seven-day city that represents comfort for some and hell for others.

“By burying these issues or asking the private domain to referee, we allow the economy alone to dictate its laws and run the risk of seeing a series of isolated decisions generate new conflicts and new inequalities. That the night that gradually seeps into the agenda of the day is a blessed sphere for futurists, who can identify and try to interpret faint signals of our lives and cities of tomorrow,” was Prof. Gwiazdzinski’s proposition in the paper.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 9:20:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/reimagining-the-city-planners-vision-for-nightlife/article30786925.ece

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