Rotterdam: The city that does sleep – quite early!
Travelling around Europe is a joy for anyone interested in urbanism. It offers a unique model of development that may inspire visitors to try to bring that model home with them. As a Canadian, I was surprised to find that visiting Europe also inspired me to acknowledge some positive aspects of North American ways of life. At least, it forced me to reconsider some preconceptions.
A few days ago, I was in Rotterdam, Netherlands, ogling at all the mindblowing architecture and feats of city planning. My accommodations were located several blocks from Middellandstraat, a gloriously busy old multicultural boulevard that has bizarre and interesting stores and kebab shops lining either side and an occasional tram running down the middle. But when the clock strikes eighteen, all but a few of these businesses shut their doors. The place turns into a ghost town. On one hand, I kind of enjoyed the eerie quiet. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t right.
Perhaps it’s because of what I’m used to. In Toronto, you can sleep until six o’clock in the evening and still get most of your daily business done. Drug stores are open until midnight, pizza places are open until 4am, and now some supermarkets never close. Even the bustling metropolis of London, England, where I have been living for the past few months, doesn’t reach the bar that Canada sets so high – most things are closed by 10pm.
Notwithstanding my bourgeois complaints of not being able to buy brownies at 5:15am, there is a case to be made for closing shops early. There is the ideological argument that consumerism is taking over our lives and should be restrained. Shorter, standard business hours make life easier for shop owners and their employees, giving workers more time to spend with their families. That said, the traditional idea of family time has changed quite a bit, as has the traditional idea of family. In addition, many people who work in retail are students and others who might value working at odd hours.
Why would anyone one want or need longer business hours in the first place? Just for convenience, or to satisfy momentary cravings? I see it as more than that. Longer opening hours mean more eyes on the street later into the night, which translates into increased safety, or at least the perception of safety which can be nearly as important. It is interesting how much street life a grocery store alone can generate at 4am. Two or three other people walking around with their groceries can turn a dark, scary street into a fairly relaxing place. Even stretching closing time to 8 or 9pm means that downtown streets become more interesting places. They may become more tempting for anyone considering moving in from the suburbs and going carfree. The economic benefits of this scenario are plain to see: more hours of employment, more income for local businesses and more tax revenue generated.
So what do you think? Should businesses be encouraged to stay open later, or should they be encouraged to close early and send their employees home?