On Saturday February 23, Melbourne followed the lead of Saint Petersburg, Paris and other Western cities by holding White Night Melbourne, a festival showcasing the arts an culture of the city. Street performances were held, roads were closed to traffic and landmark buildings opened to the public as an estimated 300,000 people spilled out onto Melbourne’s streets for the event. Federation Square was converted into a public display of the history of dance, the Arts Centre Melbourne hosted Club Spiegel’s cabaret-styled entertainment, and gigantic illuminated sculptures on the Yarra were just some of many installation art pieces scattered throughout the city. Trams and buses ferried people to and from the city in what was considered a successful night of celebrating Melbourne’s culture and diversity.
For years the rhetoric of State Premiers and Lord Mayors has included the developmen of Melbourne as a 24-hour city. This initiative is seen as a key part of providing all essential services within 20 minutes from any location in Melbourne’s suburbs. In 2010, former Premier Ted Baillieu promised “the city’s galleries, theatres, laneways and major cultural institutions will come alive” in a bid to showcase Melbourne’s 24-hour capabilities.
Whilst Melbourne was able to create such a well-received all-night event in White Night Melbourne, the logistics of a one off occasion are vastly different to sustaining a round the clock hum of social interaction. While there would still be a rhythmic rise and fall to activity in the city, Melbourne’s resources seem to be stretched thin and unable to cope with an increased demand. The public transport system (trains in particular) struggles to manage a decent service at the best of times; imagine the dramas and cancellations when they switch over to a 24-hour timetable. Then there is the issue of policing and curbing alcohol fuelled violence. The current initiative to train Protective Service Officers (PSOs) is less popular than expected, and more people on the streets throughout the night will inevitably lead to a higher crime rate unless police numbers are bolstered in turn.
The development of a 24-hour city would lead to the creation of new jobs and a financial windfall for businesses and services within the city. Increased tourism and international appeal would help make Melbourne a more recognisable city to others throughout the world. Given this, the proposed Victorian Government policy recognises that Melbourne is currently dominated by daytime commerce and proposes to build upon its culture of the arts, restaurants and bars after hours. There is no attempt to recreate the casino-driven nightlife of Las Vegas, nor does Melbourne have the population size and density to challenge the all round services of the city that never sleeps, New York. Aside from these logistical hurdles, the affect on the residents of the city will also need to be taken into account to make Melbourne a successful 24-hour city.
It’s a nice idea in theory; who wouldn’t want to be able to get their groceries, catch a show or be spoilt for choices of a late night meal? Melbourne is expanding, and ensuring key services are easily accessible is an integral part to sustaining and enhancing the quality of living. It may be a while off in the future, but it will take a bigger commitment than stand-alone festivals to showcase Melbourne’s 24-hour credentials. For now, initiatives such as White Night Melbourne should be more about showcasing the diversity of Melbourne entertainment rather than highlighting a commitment to a 24-hour city evolution.