What makes a 24-hour city?

‘London is a bustling, 24-hour global city and by this time next year we’ll have a 24-hour Tube service to match.’



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The announcement of a 24-hour Night Tube in London has been welcomed by local residents and urban planners. This video published by  The Economist explains the historical reasons for London’s early closing hours. It also looks at how a 24-hour city better reflects modern life and population movement in the city.


What makes a 24-hour city? 

Is it the culture of people enjoying public space or a few stores open at night, and is this feasible for smaller cities? There are many considerations about what may constitute a 24-hour city. Marion Roberts, a professor of urban design at London’s University of Westminster notes that ‘24-hourness’ in the US, Europe and Australia focuses on ‘extending entertainment’. This in itself poses certain challenges, especially for urban dwellers facing increased noise pollution

The Institute of Alcohol Studies found that late-night commercial activity in 24-hour cities was concentrated on alcohol consumption. Roberts agrees that this is “not a desirable urban philosophy for the 21st Century”. Some politicians and residents also believe that by extending economic activity hours, crime will increase. This is not so according to Roberts; in London’s Soho party district, police did not report higher incidents of crime. Roberts concludes that the 24-hour city will ‘generate more jobs, activities and social solidarities.’

London set its sights on becoming a 24-hour city

London has long been criticized for its early closures of public transportation facilities. The capital city compares unfavourably with 24-hour  cities such as Berlin and New York. There are historical reasons as the metropole has a history of mass commuting and  workers have favoured a ‘happy hour’ over late night revelries. Furthermore, Britain’s original licensing laws determined that drinking establishments must close at 11pm. The London Underground continues to reflect these laws, as it ceases to run shortly after midnight. Late night revellers have instead had to endure expensive cab fares or slow night buses.

However in the last ten years liberal licensing laws have been introduced. Drinking establishments are able to stay open longer and other businesses are catering to a nocturnal clientele. Increasing numbers of restaurants, salons and gyms are staying open over-night to meet this demand.

The increasingly nocturnal nature of the city reflects demographic changes. London’s population growth of recent decades has brought an end to the city’s steady population decline. Between 1999 – 2013 the number of night buses doubled and passenger numbers tripled. Since 1991 – the city’s youth has been expanding faster than any other population group in the city. It is this group that is driving the demand for a 24-hour city. The expansion of night buses also reflects the changing nature of professional life in the city as night shifts become increasingly common. Almost half of all night bus passengers are commuters, travelling to or from work.

However changes are afoot to ensure that the city’s public transportation reflects its status as a ‘city that never sleeps’. In September 2015 the London Underground will introduced a Night Tube – a 24 hour service that will run on weekends. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson explains:

London is a bustling, 24-hour global city and by this time next year we’ll have a 24-hour Tube service to match. Running trains all through the night was once thought impossible, but with the huge investment we’ve put in and upgrades that have been delivered we stand ready to take the Tube to the next level. As well as creating vital new jobs and giving a huge boost to our economy, the Night Tube will help millions of people to get around our city more easily and quickly. The evolution of the Night Tube will without doubt make London an even better place to live, work, visit and invest.

This video was originally published by The Economist on 2 October, 2014.