January 8, 2019 Tas Britas

What’s a Night Hub, and why should Vilnius have one?

This building is owned by Vilnius Municipality. It’s in Vilnius street. At the moment it’s got a news kiosk and three bars in it, and lots of empty space. It’s falling down and needs investment and the rental contracts need to be renewed.

The previous Mayor rented some of the space for a low price to a guy who did a whole bunch of illegal stuff, got into debt and attracted a bad vibe to the street. When the previous Mayor lost the elections, that bad guy somehow disappeared and sold the cheap rental contract to other guys.

For months, we have been debating what to do with this building, and the previous Mayor has been fighting very hard for those other guys to keep their nice rental contracts in the most profitable part of the city without giving anyone else a chance to take over the space. Draw your own conclusions about that.

I have a better proposal, and yesterday the Finance Committee approved it. Tomorrow the Council will vote on it. I hope they will vote YES.

Here’s my proposal:

Let’s make a Night Hub

All year I have been researching nightlife economics, city planning, drugs and alcohol abuse prevention, noise pollution and violence. I have been invited to conferences where I have met many experts from all over the world to discuss how to make nightlife better quality, more attractive and safer.

Every expert says the same thing:

You need to have a mixture of cultural activities in the bar zone, not only generic cocktail bars with background music. It’s fine to have those bars, but you also need other bars around the street where people can discover local culture, where musicians and other artists can try their new material live, where people go not just to get drunk, but to experience some culture. You need a variety of people going to the area, not just people who want to get drunk. If you have more culture, it makes the atmosphere calmer and reduces crime. This also reduces the amount of alcohol people drink, because in a cultural venue there’s something to do, not only drinks to drink. Generic bars have only alcohol in them and no culture because its more profitable in the short term. But eventually it goes wrong because those generic bars kill the vibe of the street.

If you don’t have culture and variety – your bar zone turns into a warzone full of drunk stag parties and nobody else wants to go there. Your musicians can’t play anywhere because none of those generic bars has a space for live music. You make a cultural desert and you pour alcohol on it and you get more and more problems.

We don’t have a lot of problems with nightlife violence in Vilnius (yet) but if there’s a problem – it’s normally near this building. Recently, a girl was apparently punched to the floor by a man in the street near this building at 4am. And nobody’s there to help. Nobody. The bars don’t help, because it’s not their job to check the streets outside their property. The police can’t help much, because they are too far away and they arrive too late. Also it’s not a great idea to have armed police walking up and down the street all the time; it might be safer but it’s expensive and it makes a bad vibe.

Cities without culture are dangerous and/or boring.

When London authorities stopped caring about those kinds of cultural spaces and tried to shut the smaller music clubs down, the city vibe died so much that the Mayor had to make an emergency working group to protect the venues. He could see that young professional people were moving out of the city because it became generic and boring. We don’t want this to happen to Vilnius.

In Berlin, the Club Commission and the Municipality made a fund for soundproofing, so that music venues don’t have to shut down because of noise complaints. They can just apply for funding to make alterations so that the neighbours are disturbed less. It’s totally possible for nightlife to be awesome and less noisy. We don’t want Vilnius to become Sydney, a city famous for killing its nightlife scene with stupid laws.

In this building there’s space for four bars. So, my proposal is to rent out three of them for the highest possible price, but keep the small one as a culture and safety centre open all night at the weekends.

“Vilnius Night Hub,” we could call it.

What could we put in the Vilnius Night Hub?

Performance space

On the ground floor there is space for a bar/cafe and a small stage for musicians, poets or other performers. This space would be easily available to young musicians who are making innovative stuff which maybe isn’t superprofitable yet, but they need a place to start and experiment. This is the place.

These are the experiments that can make Vilnius famous for culture innovations and attract more people to the city. These are the experiments that later turn into successful projects. Every city needs incubator spaces like this, not miles away from the city centre but right in the middle.

There are basically no places set up for innovative musical performances in Vilnius street. That’s not good. Let’s make at least one space. In the foyer of this building.

Rehearsal space

There’s also room on the second floor for rehearsal space for musicians, so they can prepare their shows for downstairs. Whenever there’s a survey of musicians they always say there’s a lack of rehearsal space, and this restricts the amount of awesome music Vilnius can produce. Vilnius nightlife is booming and we should be helping local musicians to create innovative new stuff for us instead of just importing pop from foreign countries.

Art spaces

There’s places for video installations, workshops, a Night Gallery… wouldn’t that be awesome?

Health services and harm reduction

Also, we don’t want Vilnius’ booming nightlife to lead to an increase in health problems. So, in the Night Hub we could have alcohol and drug abuse prevention information, free condoms, HIV tests, first aid and psychological help for people who are in trouble. Already the government’s Narcotics, Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department is doing these kinds of services in music festivals, and they wrote to the Council to ask for a space to do it in the city. Well look, I found the perfect space. Right in the middle of the area where people need help the most.

Friendly Night Hosts

Another thing in the Night Hub could be Friendly Night Hosts. This is a technique from Amsterdam, where the city hires people as “hosts” to walk around in the nightlife zone in a bright yellow jacket, offering help, water, calling the police if needed, guiding people to the night hub if they require services, asking people to not piss on the pavement, generally controlling the atmosphere of the street and reducing the problems.

In Amsterdam these simple techniques reduced public order problems by 18% and reduced violent crimes by 13%. Friendly Night Hosts are cheaper than the police, and very approachable, and always near the action, ready to respond. That’s why the Amsterdam Night Mayor has been doing this thing for years.

Training sessions

The Paris Night Mayor tells me that in Paris the Council has worked on nightlife harm reduction programs since 2007, connecting the police, the bars and the health professionals to deliver training programs for bar staff. We could do that in the Night Hub. There’s room on the second floor for all sorts of lectures, workshops and meetings.

There’s also room for a chillout place with psychological help for people who are too drunk, overdosed or freaking out. A lot of things can happen at night and I’m sure at least once you’ve seen someone crying about something. Sometimes it’s very serious, especially when combined with alcohol. The Friendly Night Hosts can see people in trouble and guide them to the help room, give them water and warmth, give them emotional support, call an ambulance if necessary. This can obviously save lives. That’s why in Lithuania the Narcotics Department are already running a psychological help tent in music festivals.

Night Chapel? Why not?

If you want more ideas, how about a Night Chapel on the second floor, for people who want to pray? These people don’t go anywhere on Sunday morning, because they are asleep or having a hangover. Why not have a multi-faith chapel on the second floor where people can pray, receive blessings and then go out and have a good time? For the Catholics there could even be a place to confess. Maybe people in trouble with drugs and alcohol would prefer to confess to the Night Priest, not the police or their family’s church?

Let’s do this

All this might sound like a total fantasy, but it seems to me like this makes perfect sense.

A culture and safety centre in the middle of the place that needs culture and safety.

If you think it’s a good idea, show your support with likes and shares and comments.

If you work in this area and you want to find out more or join the project, please email me markadam.harold@vilnius.lt

Let’s hope that on Wednesday the Council understands and supports my proposal, so we can make our local culture famous for creativity, not just alcohol.