24-hour cities are the next frontier in trade and commerce

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The world of work is changing globally, both in form and content. From the way we dress to the equipment we use, the workplace is not what we have traditionally been used to.

There are several factors leading to this changeover. One, we have a new generation that seems to be rewriting rules at work to suit themselves. With increased disruption from digitisation, they see no reason, for instance, why they have to be glued to a specific desk, in a specific location, the whole day.

Something else fundamental is also developing in employment, and urban culture as a whole. People who have travelled to major cities like New York, London, Buenos Aires and Tokyo have definitely experienced it.

These cities do not sleep. Their restaurants, supermarkets, cinemas and gyms have no working hours. They operate round the clock with the aim of catering for their flexible clientele who might be engaged at hours when they are closed for business.

Indeed, thousands of people in these cities work 24-hour shifts. As they say in Kenya, “hakuna kulala”, (Kiswahili for no sleeping)! As millions migrate to cities, experts believe we have reached a critical point where planners need to start taking the night-time economy seriously.

This trend is also catching up in Kenya. Already, there have been a few attempts at creating policy for a 24-hour economy, starting with the capital city Nairobi. As late as this January this year, County officials have been mulling how to enable people work early and late shifts.

Working night time has its unique advantages. One, it nurtures more creativity away from all the day time distractions. Evenings usher in serenity with noise and general movement going down significantly. These factors increase productivity.

It is not just business that needs re-engineering to suit the inevitable 24-hour economy in the near future. Sectors like tertiary education are also an ideal pick. For instance, this could create space for our so called parallel programmes in our universities, helping to avoid crowded campuses during peak hours.

There is more on the place of academia in this new world. According to the online University World News, the city has become a greater strategic concern and opportunity, and there is evidence of universities slowly undertaking an ‘inward’ or local turn, from nation to city. For example, university leaders are prioritising city trade delegations over national ones.

There are obvious sectors that have entrenched the 24-hour model, either out of necessity, or simply by choice. These include hospitals, police stations and entertainment facilities. In addition to handling emergencies, working overnight also staggers hours that clients seek services.

There are other advantages of establishing a thriving night-time economy. These include safety, since thugs are unable to operate on streets teeming with people. Then there is improved aesthetics as business owners would have to spruce up their properties in order to beat the competition.

City authorities will also have to beautify public spaces in order to make them habitable and attractive at night. Of course, a 24-hour economy opens up more economic and business opportunities, which creates more job opportunities, particularly in the tourism sector.

Ultimately, city or county authorities as appropriate must make deliberate plans and engage in purposeful planning for the success of such a venture. It might need closing some major streets to traffic in order to expand walkways and other necessary facilities for night-time operations.

It would also be an ideal opportunity to move some functions to the evening. An example is clean ups of streets, which are always done during the day to the great inconvenience of commuters and motorists due to billowing dust.

Ultimately, there has to be a balance between the economic and social benefits of a 24-hour economy. Public participation needs to be undertaken in order to give urban residents an opportunity to make recommendations on how they want to utilise public spaces in their city, both during the day and at night.

Moses Kimani
Architect and Urban Designer, Tatu City

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