Toronto has a new mayor.
Following the leads of San Francisco, Amsterdam and London, Toronto appointed its first-ever night mayor. Last month, Scarborough councillor Michael Thompson was announced as the city’s Night Economy Ambassador. In that role, he’ll be “the voice of entertainment-related activities” that occur from 6 pm to 6 am across the music, social and cultural sectors.
So what exactly does a night mayor do?
City council has asked Thompson to look into launching a pilot for a new arts event permit that allows pop-up performances and events in unconventional spaces, looking into the feasibility of 24-hour licensed venues and developing a safe-venue industry guide.
He’ll also work with DIY organizers and non-profits to establish best practices for an inclusive nightlife culture, as well as assess the viability of increasing TTC service past 1 am and access to public restrooms at night.
The external working group will include night shift workers, venue owners, performers, harm reduction and safe night out organizations, promoters and reps from tourism-related groups. In a statement, the city said they will “ensure it has strong voices from racialized communities, LGBTQ2S communities and women.”
Though the Night Economy Ambassador role is still being defined, it can involve everything from acting as a liaison between noisy late-night businesses and angry neighbours to developing special licenses for spaces that focus on supporting marginalized communities, as was the case in Amsterdam.
But can Thompson steer Toronto’s music scene through its most pressing issues – like rising rents for precarious arts spaces, noise complaints, over-policing at shows or venues that refuse to book hip-hop?
We spoke to him just two weeks after he was appointed, so Thompson wouldn’t get too into the specifics of how he might address these problems. (When asked about his connection to the music scene, he said: “I can’t go a day without music. Music is life, right?”) Instead, we talked broadly about his new position’s next steps, Toronto’s billion-dollar nightlife economy and what to do about vanishing venues.
What’s the first issue you want to tackle?
When I talk to people about the nightlife economy, there’s a tendency to suggest that it’s all about loud noise and music. The biggest issue for me right now is to give Torontonians a broader sense of what this initiative is all about. There’s an opportunity for us to yield great economic benefits from Toronto’s nightlife, including expanding our food sector. Imagine having a reservation at a restaurant for 1 am? Toronto’s late-night economy has the potential to generate $4.2 billion [per year].
Are you more concerned about economic possibilities or fostering the arts scene?
All of those things. We’re going to have public consultations in the new year. We want to hear the concerns of Torontonians. I know people will say, “I don’t want a lot of noise,” or “I don’t want bright lights shining in my bedroom.” I want to make sure we can brighten up areas for people who are moving around in the night to make it safer so the arts sector can really expand and shine as much as it does during the daytime.
In the music scene, the closure of venues is a big concern. How will you address it?
It’s definitely on my radar. This is an area we want to focus some attention on. Working with landowners, how can we create special areas where venues can exist? We may have to do some special incentives. I don’t have specific incentives in mind, but we certainly don’t want a city where people don’t have access to venues.
Some nightlife issues have to do with liquor licenses or land use, which are handled by the provincial government. How much power does city council have to make real change?
Part of the night economy ambassador role is to bring forward ideas of what needs to be addressed and changed, and you’re right that there are things for which we need to get cooperation from the provincial government. But I think there will be lots of collaboration between the city and the province when we bring initiatives, request changes or review policies because when Toronto’s economy grows, it also benefits the province and other GTA communities.
What are your next steps?
I’m travelling around the city in the late night to see various venues, restaurants and neighbourhoods that are closely located to entertainment areas and highly trafficked streets. I want to see how vehicles travel in the city and how people disperse from venues. I want to take a holistic look at the city: What do we need to do more of? What do we need less of? I want to see the current state of nighttime in Toronto.