About GenslerOnCities

What makes cities tick? GenslerOnCities explores the planning, design, and the potential futures of urban landscapes.

Search GenslerOn
Cities Topics
Connect with Us
« Virtual Reality, Digital Technology and YOU | Main | Gensler at SXSW 2017: Can We Nudge People to Better Health? »

Carpe Noctem – Seize the Night: London’s Night Tube Launches

Image courtesy of Pedro Szekely.

On Friday, Aug. 19, London launched its first Night Tube service, which provides night-time services to travellers on Friday and Saturday nights. With this highly anticipated addition to the city’s transportation network, London will finally be able to contend with Berlin, New York and Tokyo to call itself a 24-hour city.

London has always strived to create memorable moments for visitors and those who inhabit the city–a culinary scene to rival any major city, uplifting spaces and places to breathe fresh air, historic buildings, innumerable cultural attractions and a pulsating nightlife. In 2015, London had close to 20 million overseas visitors, spending £15 billion. So with the launch of the Night Tube service this month, London will have yet another attraction, and a boon to the city’s economy.

I have long deliberated the implications the Night Tube will have on the city and its already thriving economy. Last week, I read a report published by London First in association with EY, which presented some interesting findings, most strikingly, that London represents up to 40 percent of the £66bn estimate for the total UK night-time economy. And once multiplier impacts are included, the overall additional contribution just from London is over £40 billion. Imagine then, what this figure might rise to when we have a transit system that encourages and facilitates this enhanced economy.

Image courtesy of Daniel Rozier.

London has long been a global city, and to keep connected with the rest of the world, the trend towards round-the-clock working has been rising across the capital. As we’ve come to expect more, we’re seeing services grow and expand to meet our 24-hour demands. And the introduction of the Night Tube will serve to support and boost this already burgeoning economy and all the people that support it, especially the key workers who provide the vital services that make this city what it is, regardless of the time.

It’s a great opportunity to drive business growth and build vibrant, creative and connected communities—places where people want to live with all the benefits that flow from that. The night-time economy directly supports one in eight jobs in London, and the launch of the Night Tube could well see this figure grow. Some figures estimate that the night-time economy could create up to 66,000 extra jobs by 2030. And with other sources evaluating the impact of the Night Tube leading to London’s economy growing by £77 million by 2029, surely this can only be seen as a progressive step?

But this move has its naysayers. Sceptics say it will increase alcohol-fuelled chaos, underage drinking and violent crime, whilst putting pressure on policing, emergency services and enforcement. A key concern is night-time safety. In mega cities, people face heightened safety risks throughout the day, but especially at night. Darkness becomes another barrier to navigating urban and suburban landscapes. Many point to better street lighting as the solution, or implementing principles of safe design (such as those put forth by the organisation Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, CPTED), but is it possible to address these issues in a new way?

The behavioural issues cannot be predicted, but with an overview that we have of other cities around the world, it is fair to say that you will only get behavioural change if people invest more in their communities, if they have more sense of belonging. The London Night Time Commission and the anticipated appointment of a ‘Night Czar’ must ensure that they fully understand the challenges and review policies accordingly to ensure the night-time economy can flourish.

Design plays an extremely important role here. By understanding these challenges, we as designers can produce solutions that are sensitive and appropriate and that negate issues such as noise, light pollution and crime to create places that promote health, happiness and civility.

The expectations for the Night Tube are high and London’s night-time economy won’t be transformed overnight. But the Night Tube is a really good step forward, and I think London has the obligation to do it, to keep the city liveable and attractive for people.

Hiro Aso is a leading UK-based specialist in the architectural design and delivery of regenerative transport hubs, with more than 20 years of experience. He has led major railway infrastructure projects in the UK, most notably as lead architect overseeing the multi-award winning redevelopment of London King's Cross Station for Network Rail and Crossrail Bond Street. Contact him at Hiro_Aso@Gensler.com.