The rise of the 24-hour society has gathered pace in recent years, bolstered no doubt by a range of features from city living to round-the-clock pub and shop opening hours.

But how many of us genuinely take an active part in this phenomenon?

This is a question raised by The Civic Trust ( in a new study on the impact of the 24-hour society on our towns and cities. The report, entitled NightVision, questions whether the night-time economy could be improved with the introduction of more diverse activities.

It is a timely one to ask as the government reviews the success, or otherwise, of 24-hour licensing.

The 24-hour society that has emerged in this country is one-dimensional and serves just a small section of the population. For many people these days our towns and city centres, or at least large chunks of them, have become no-go zones at night as they are taken over by those only interested in making full use of the relaxed pub and club opening times.

As someone who has sampled city living, albeit a few years ago now, I found the only real plus was easy access to work and in order to relax and socialise I invariably headed out of the centre of Birmingham. Maybe that says more about my attitude and age and perhaps, if I’d been 10 years younger, I would have embraced the 24-hour city living experience with more enthusiasm.

However, I’m not convinced we’ve really understood what our 24-hour society can and should mean. Whenever we talk about such a society someone inevitably suggests we are moving towards a more Continental outlook.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Our model of a 24-hour society is a long way removed from the one enjoyed in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other European countries – as long as you don’t include the Brit-infested holiday hotspots or latest stag and hen weekend favourites, of course.

Take a stroll around midnight through one of the major European towns and cities and you will encounter a relaxed, convivial atmosphere enjoyed by a wide cross section of the population. There is enough happening to keep every generation happy.

Now contrast that with a stroll around an average British town or city centre at midnight and it isn’t hard to spot the glaring differences – if you’re brave enough to venture out in the first place.

Our 24-hour society does not have to revolve around a quest to consume as much alcohol as possible.

By opening up the town and city centres to a greater cross-section of people and offering more than just all day and all night drinking opportunities, we will finally begin to move towards the Continental model so many appear to want to embrace.


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