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Applying the Night Lens: How Nighttime Economy Managers Collaborate with City Departments (and beyond)

Allison Harnden - Pittsburgh, PA

Contrary to popular belief, Nighttime Economy Managers, aka Night Mayors, work with more than nightlife businesses. Yes, acting as an advocate for the needs of food, beverage, and entertainment businesses is central to the night manager’s role. However, to successfully meet those needs, solve issues, and create policies that support nighttime economy, interdepartmental communication, and collaboration are crucial. Leadership or participation by nighttime economy managers in these interdepartmental relationships serve more than the nighttime economy; they can result in smoother rollouts of legislation, streamline City processes, and improve the City’s customer service and reputation.


Night Managers across the U.S. differ in their access and authority to work interdepartmentally. How the nighttime initiative is developed, where the night office or night manager is situated, and even the role’s title contribute to how effectively or robustly such work can be accomplished. 

NIGHTTIME STUDIES - Cities such as Sacramento and Savannah that conducted Nighttime Economy Assessments or studies to understand the state of their nighttime economy before, or in conjunction with, creating a nighttime economy office or role have a deeper understanding of where gaps need to be filled with a collaborative focus. Through such a study, the charge to work across department silos can be  built into the structure of the night economy management strategy and the yet-to-be-hired night manager’s scope of work. 

ACCESS AND AUTHORITY - Having interdepartmental access, the formal or informal authority to work across departments and having contacts that are engaged, is a critical element to the effectiveness of the role. In recent years, night management efforts such as those in NYC, Philadelphia, and D.C. have formalized advisory alliances that include some key departments and non-City partners. The placement of the night management role in mayor’s offices (NYC, D.C.) or city managers (Sacramento) seemingly grants more authority to cross department lines. So too it seems when the night manager title is positioned higher in the municipal hierarchy. Night management roles at the Director level can easily interface with other Department Directors, whereas those at the manager level by protocol often must be invited, assigned or request permission of their supervisor or Department head to be granted ability to move forward.   

MANDATED COLLABORATION -  Directing parties to work together through legislation,  city code or mayoral directive can be successful too. One example  is Austin. Their City Council passed a resolution directing a long list of departments to team up on their Safer Sixth Street initiative under the lead of the Nightlife & Entertainment Services Division. The structure has led to more robust relationships and coordinated vision. 

Seattle’s mayor-directed Joint Enforcement Team (JET) has two frameworks: a “street level” collaborative and a complimentary policy level component. The street level conveys challenges and potential improvements to the policy group. Having a deeper understanding of the complexity of the night ecosystem, the Policy members then analyze and develop policy responses that tailor enforcement in a way that upholds public safety, but also supports the nighttime economy. 

Clearly, baking the expectation for inter-departmental work into the job description and scope of work from the outset of creating the night strategy affords an advantage to sustaining ongoing inter-departmental collaboration. But other paths for those with less authority or access can work too, though they may take more steps and therefore more time to succeed. In any case, it is imperative that other departments have a clear understanding of the night management role and how to work collaboratively with it.


There are myriad ways that Night Managers and City Departments are currently working together throughout U.S. cities. Many are interesting case studies that would require a deeper dive than a blog affords. Below is a high-level overview of some. If you would like more information on one, please contact NITECAP at

  • EYES AND EARS IN THE NIGHT REALM - Most cities are not budgeted as fully for night and weekend service coverage as they are for daytime. Since night managers spend more time in the City after dark, they are well positioned to assist departments such as Public Works or Mobility by fulfilling simple requests to check on a situation or condition during weekends or night hours. 

  • TRAINING – Trainings for service industry are becoming a common priority in many cities with Night Managers taking the lead to coordinate and schedule EMS, Police, Fire, and others to deliver Harm Reduction, Active Shooter, Narcan, De-escalation, and Nightlife Door Security trainings to nighttime employees.  

  • EQUITABLE TROUBLESHOOTING - Beyond City departments, night managers deal with other entities to be the voice for the night. Case in point: utility companies. When the water department was poised to cut service at a nightclub at 11 pm on a Friday night, so as not to interrupt service for a repair outside a donut shop to ensure that it opened at 5 am, Seattle’s advocate stepped in to work out an equitable solution. 

  • CURB USAGE AT NIGHT – Applying day-centric processes to night operations often elicits a big fail. Parking demand and turnover is an entirely different ballgame at night. Several Cities’ nighttime managers are assisting their Parking and Mobility Departments to understand and address those differences and tackle loading zones for musicians, needs of which vary greatly from daytime UPS deliveries.    

  • IMPROVING CUSTOMER SERVICE - Nightlife operations are often square pegs that don’t quite fit the round holes of city government. If businesses have difficulties  in applying for permits or complying with a code or process, it can frustrate both the City Department and the applicant. With one foot in government and the other out in the community gaining an in-depth understanding of nightlife business operations, night managers are “bi-lingual” and can help a given department translate “CitySpeak” to clarify requirements. Doing so improves both parties’ experience. 

  • CO-AUTHORING LEGISLATION – As cities realize that the night economy has unique needs, they may require legislating changes to processes, policies, and codes. Of note, Philadelphia’s night manager partnered with Council, Licensing, Zoning and Law Department on legislation to define a nightclub more accurately. San Francisco’s night manager also worked on a proposal with a state legislator who ultimately authored a bill for a new type of music venue liquor license that, among other barriers, removed the requirement for a kitchen.  

  • INDUSTRY INPUT & BUY IN – When it’s time to write legislation or introduce a new procedure, night managers can lend a hand to ensure a smoother rollout. Bringing industry reps to the drafting table can head off unforeseen resistance and ultimately make for a better bill. Pittsburgh partners with several departments to host industry-focused info sessions to get feedback and  fine tune implementation of requirements such as the plastic bag ban.  When making their Outdoor Dining Permit Program permanent, their Office of Nighttime Economy was asked to edit the guidelines with a business-friendly perspective. 

  • PROVIDING THE NIGHT LENS TO BROAD INITIATIVES - As subject matter experts, night managers are becoming more valued for lending the night perspective to long-range planning, including Shared and Autonomous Mobility Advisories, on Strategic and Comprehensive plans for City Planning Department, Regional Transit, and Visitor Bureaus.  


Hiring a night manager or creating an Office of Nighttime Economy is often seen as the magic elixir that will cure all ills in the night realm. Those of us  in the trenches know it cannot be done alone. It takes a village to make a city operate as well at night as it does in the daytime. Collectively, we can make that happen.  

NITECAP believes the longstanding lack of attention, resources, planning and management for the nighttime economy is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed. To do so, we need the perspectives and expertise of City professionals from other departments to better understand their intersection with night and create better outcomes for night businesses, patrons, residents, and City Departments alike. We invite you to join us in this cause.

-Allison Harnden

Pittsburgh, PA

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