It’s complicated. If the solution is outdoors, there’ll be understandable NIMBY in response, at least in some cases. As usual, Berlin is ahead of the pack; the author also looks at Paris, London and Madrid. Will we see the return of the speakeasy?
The Nightlife Rescue Plan That Could Save Your City’s Scene, by Feargus O’Sullivan (CityLab)
As bars, clubs and music venues emerge as high-risk sites for Covid-19 outbreaks, a team of experts has developed a playbook for nightlife survival.
In March, just days before the city locked down, three young people in Berlin began experiencing symptoms and tested positive for Covid-19. All three had been partying at the nightclub Kater Blau. Could they, doctors wondered, have infected other people during the same evening?
The answer was a resounding yes. One clubber, called Sina by the newspaper Welt Am Sonntag that investigated the outbreak, estimated that she had hugged and kissed at least 50 people during her visit to the club. She had talked very loudly, in very close quarters, to many others, trying to be heard over the booming sound system. Within just a few days, the three clubbers diagnosed with Covid-19 had been in close contact with over 1,000 people, likely making them unwitting super-spreaders. It’s unknown how many of those clubgoers ended up contracting the disease, but the potential toll is high indeed. A single person infected with coronavirus who visited Berlin’s Trompete nightclub earlier in March ended up infecting 17 others in a single evening.
Since then, it’s become clear that such outbreaks were no outliers. In Japanese karaoke haunts, Zurich nightclubs and Florida beach bars, the indoor places where people gather to drink, dance and listen to music have emerged as major super-spreader risks. South Korean public health officials traced more than 100 cases to a single infected Seoul pubcrawler who hit five nightspots over two days. In communities that appeared to be successfully controlling the spread of the virus, reopened nightspots appear to be fueling fresh outbreaks.
So should all bars and clubs simply close until we have a vaccine or cure? A blanket ban on all nightlife activities would be economically devastating, impossible to police and socially harmful, says a new report from the nightlife consultancy VibeLab. Co-created with an international panel of night mayors, academics and music promoters, the report recommends that urban nightlife must very carefully move outdoors, and lays out a set of principles for doing that. The advice reflects what’s been learned over a period in which food and drink service in cities around the globe has set up shop outside, often claiming street and sidewalk space from other uses — an ad-hoc solution that hasn’t always succeeded.
The VibeLab report is just the first installment of the group’s overarching Global Nighttime Recovery Plan, due in September. Future installments will focus on a host of pandemic-fueled problems, including finding financial supports for workers and owners of venues that can’t reopen and what the future of dance and live music clubs might look like. Its goal is not just to save a threatened part of cities’ cultural and economic life, but to make some longer-term improvements in relations between nightlife businesses and citizens, and how public spaces are managed and monitored. It would be wrong, the report suggests, to see the pandemic as a unique and unprecedented emergency: The night economy faced a grave threat even before the coronavirus arrived …