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What is the Place of Night-time in the Urban Policy of a French Intermediate City?

Sandra Mallet and Céline Burger


Metropolisation is a widespread phenomenon, defined by special mechanisms operating on spaces in cities of all sizes. The process reorganizes not only space but also time, particularly night-time. Public policies consider the city at night-time to be a new field of action for competition. Cities aim to develop innovative actions to make them more attractive at night. This paper analyses these actions and the transformation of the urban geography at night, focusing on intermediate cities – less explored than the biggest cities – by studying the case of a specific French city. The research shows how public policy-makers are struggling and have difficulty positioning their actions and establishing guidelines, producing a situation that raises questions, creates problems and limits innovation.

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‘At night everything takes its right size and shape. And just as then for the first time the stars of heaven are visible, one also sees much on earth that one never sees by day.’

(Lagerlöf, 1894)


1Night-time planning has become a fundamental element of inter-city competition, and the attractiveness of cities at night-time is an important urban policy issue. The number of initiatives to promote urban nightlife is growing. Though some cities, such as Las Vegas, Ibiza and Hong Kong, specialize in the 24/7 model, the phenomena of night-time planning affects different kinds of cities progressively. The growing involvement of private stakeholders in the public policies of megacities and intermediate cities contributes to standardized public policies, including night-time policies. Private dynamics and public policies both change urban night-time environments, but the intensification and diversification of urban activities at night opens the discussion and sparks debates. These new forms of development facing entrepreneurialism (transformation of urban governance and implementation of inter-urban competition) reorganize the urban geography and the use of urban spaces. The intensification of night-time activities creates conflict as a result of the establishment of ‘negotiated territories’ by stakeholders (Burger 2013) and new inequalities related to night work, gentrification processes or the pauperization of urban spaces. The night-time city is raising new issues and debates and peaking the interest of researchers and urban policy-makers (Deleuil 1993; Gwiazdzinski 2005; Roberts, Eldrige 2009). However, although much work has been done on urban night since the 2000s, research on night transformations in intermediate cities is scarce. Yet public initiatives to develop urban night-time activities do not exist only in the largest cities; they are also launched in smaller cities. This article focuses on night-time evolutions and public initiatives in intermediate cities. The research on urban night gives rise to historical approaches, specifically the evolution of the urban landscape as a result of lighting and night-time parties or the change of the perception of this peculiar night-time (Schivelbusch, 1983; Schlör, 1998; Delattre, 2000). Researchers have also investigated the renewal of urban policies on night-time and spontaneous nocturnal mutations. In Great Britain, a substantial amount of work has been conducted on the night-time economy, introduced in some British cities in the late 1980s, especially in terms of safety, security policies, public health, and alcohol and prevention policies (Brands, Schwanen, Van Aalst, 2015; Hadfield, Measham, 2015; Landry, Bianchini, 1995; O'Connor, 1997; Middleton, Yarwood, 2015; Roberts, 2015). In France, the research focuses on nocturnal urban policies, in particular public lighting (Deleuil, 2000; Mosser, 2005, Mallet, 2010), night-time mobility and transit (Espinasse, Buhagiar, 2004; Gwiazdzinski, 2007), and more recently on conflict management. The evolution of urban night is reorganizing urban planning (Van Liempt, Van Aalst, Shwanen, 2015; Comelli, 2015). Urban night draws more and more interest from researchers and urban policy-makers, but most of the cases studies are on large international cities (Paris, London, New York and Berlin in particular), while very few study night transformations in intermediate cities (except in Great Britain). However, night-time transformations in intermediate cities raise questions: how do the effects of the metropolisation process affect urban night policies in intermediates cities? This raises the questions the night-time policies promoting attractiveness.

2This paper studies these questions by focusing on the case of Reims. This city’s night activities have become increasingly developed in recent years in order to assert itself as a metropolis. The city has implemented a variety of activities such as cultural events, new urban lighting, new night places and charters on night-time practices. This intermediate city, located about 140 kilometres from Paris in north-eastern France, tries to make itself more attractive, expressing its leaders’ desire to position it as a metropolis, but the situation in Reims is complex. The population is about 180,000 and is decreasing rather than growing. Reims lost more than 7,000 inhabitants between 1999 and 2000 and has difficulty retaining young residents. Reims is often described as a non-dynamic city that is ‘dead’ at night. However, the municipal government has implemented various actions to develop the city’s nightlife. In our opinion, these actions show a willingness to begin the metropolisation process. Metropolisation is a widespread phenomenon, defined less by categorization criteria than by special mechanisms operating on spaces in cities of all sizes. Cities aim to develop innovative actions to foster their attractiveness. During this process, public policy-makers consider the night-time city to be a new field of action for competition.

3This paper examines public policies that developing urban nightlife and night-time geography changes, showing how these policies, leave out some aspects. This situation exacerbates the problems and difficulties of resolving them. We will also highlight the issues urban policy-makers face when making policy choices and adopting a comprehensive strategy.

4The methodology relies on an analysis of policy choices and speeches, articles from local newspapers and a survey. We chose to apply qualitative and quantitative methods to our research. We wanted to understand some aspects of social nightlife management in urban policies; the survey was conducted to this end by means of a questionnaire and face-to-face interviews. We identified stakeholders involved in nightlife, partygoers, local residents, and public and private stakeholders. This research was carried out over the course of one year, from June 2013 to June 2014. Discourse analysis allowed us to understand how the process of metropolisation affects the relationship between stakeholders in urban night policies.

Metropolitan issues

5Intermediate cities have metropolitan issues, just like large cities. Urban competition leads intermediate cities to develop attractive offerings in their urban policies. This process of metropolisation reorganizes not only space but also time, particularly night-time.

A process extended to intermediate cities

6The term ‘metropolis’ refers to a specific urban category based on demographic, economical or functional criteria. The term ‘metropolisation’ is distinct and does not have exactly the same meaning. Metropolisation refers primarily to a dynamic process of urban transformation. The process is often described as the urban translation of globalisation (Lacour 1999) and requires a comprehensive functional integration. The phenomenon is widespread, so much so that the world now appears to have entered ‘the area of universal metropolisation’; it seems ‘there is no more places of the world that escapes the influence and the authority of these metropolis which lives on the rhythms of a global capitalism’ (Di Méo 2010).

7Not every urbanisation or urban extension can be defined as a metropolis. However, metropolisation does not only deal with the world’s largest cities, but also with smaller cities. All cities are immerged in a generalised inter-city competition based on economic performance, and intermediate cities have a complex role in the territorial structure. They exist in the shadow of the metropolises but have to develop metropolitan functions to continue polarising their regional space and distinguishing themselves at the national level (Deraëve 2014). Metropolisation means a transformation of urban organisation.

8Reims belongs to a new category of territories that are trying to reinvent their forms, their languages, their definition and their time (Pagès 2010). Global competition encourages cities to play the game of attractiveness. In terms of indicators related to the definition of a metropolis, Reims is nowhere near the top of the rankings of the most populous regions, nor does it rank among the cities with the most jobs.

  • 1 As written on the flyers presenting the Reims 2020 project to the general public.

9Given these observations, Reims is establishing a metropolisation process in which the organisation of space is an issue. Like other cities, Reims is trying to find its place in the metropolisation process by implementing various policies, such as planning and cultural policies. Reims is looking to structure its network to be competitive with other intermediate cities that are also located near Paris and created the G10 project was created. The project has been advocated by local stakeholders since 2007 but remains unapproved. The G10 project brings together 10 cities, with Reims as the main city, and indicates a political desire to identify Reims as a metropolis. Indeed, the project’s goal is to ‘make the G10 a metropolis with a European visibility’1. A main project called ‘Reims 2020’ was launched in 2008 by the urban community, Reims Métropole, aimed at modernising the city’s image and confirming Reims as a metropolis. However, urban projects related to this strategy are often implemented without communication between them and without a clear overall territorial strategy. Like many other intermediate cities, Reims adopted some measures and plans that metropolises generally have (Deraëve, 2014). In the context of inter-city competition, innovation has become an element of territorial development and has redefined urban strategies. The order for innovation has become a multifaceted line for public intervention and refers to an aggregation of processes at work in territories. Thus, ‘[i]f large metropolises seem to have the monopoly of technological innovation, smaller cities further promote the potential of non-technological innovation on their territory’ (Deraëve 2014). Cultural policies are often invoked in this field of action, directly or indirectly following the class-creative theories. The cultural policy implemented by Reims also aimed to place the city among the country’s most attractive cities. Many cities in northeast France, such as Metz, Nancy and Lille, require a strong cultural policy to be more attractive. The night-time is an element of this cultural policy and results in the reorganisation of urban temporalities.

A reorganisation of urban temporalities

10Metropolisation refers to a ‘spatial organisation method of social realities’ (Lussault 2012). This ‘urban realm metropolised’ is more diluted in space and less delimited. The urban realm tends to eliminate the city, marking the end of ‘discrete urban entities’ (Choay 1994).

11Defined by spatial discontinuity and the lack of borders between urban and other spaces, the urban realm means not only spatial transformation in the city, but also major lifestyle transformation.

12Changes are not only of the spatial order but also temporal, affecting the organisation and division of daily temporalities; a ‘differential space-time’ is formed (Lefebvre 1971). Moreover, metropolisation brings changes to the urban way of life, recomposing and desynchronising urban temporalities.

13In a context of metropolisation, night-time is of particular interest. The current idea is that a city’s attractiveness lies partly in a dynamic nightlife: ‘The reaffirming of one’s metropolitan status means that one cannot have influence on a part-time basis, at certain times only, only during the day or during part of the week. It means having drawing power as strongly as possible, as often as possible, and continuously if possible’ (Mallet 2014).

14Some cities in Europe have depended on improving night-time activities, especially British cities such as Leeds, Nottingham and Leicester, since the 1980s. The ‘night-time economy’ established during this period was based on an increase in the number of restaurants, bars, pubs and night clubs that stayed open late in city centres. According to some theories of creative cities (Landry, Bianchini 1995, O’Connor 1997), this strategy was seen as a way to revitalise city centres in decline by creating jobs and converting abandoned industrial buildings. ‘The “24/7” city thus became a seductive marketing tool for cities aiming at reinventing themselves, at remaining or becoming competitive at national, European or global levels.’ (O’Connor 1997). For the promoters of the ‘night-time economy’, cultural innovation was supposed to give cities a new image and attract new populations, especially tourists, students and young professionals, as these are the main populations that go out at night. Conflicts rapidly appeared because of the increase in drunken young people whose behaviour was considered inappropriate (Roberts, 2006). City centres were therefore seen as unsafe by most people (Thomas, Bromley 2000). Since then, the night-time economy has slowed down and cities that had bet on it have since encouraged the rise of other kinds of activities at night (such as shopping, for example).

15In France, cities of various sizes are stuck in a complex network of stakeholders with diverging interests, as we can see in the case of Reims.

Urban policies to develop the night-time city

16Reims’ public policies, like those of numerous intermediate cities, encourage the night-time attractiveness of the city. At first glance, we may suppose that this new field of public policy implies coordination of the different actions carried out by the municipality with an overall urban planning vision, but the reality is different. Reims urban policies on night-time can be divided into two categories: those that emphasize the city at night, and those that animate the city’s nightlife. Overall, these actions tend to challenge the image of a non-dynamic city at night and lead to the emergence and improvement of some night-time areas. These changes cause a redistribution of urban occupation and strengthen neighbourhood functionalities.

A traditional concentration of night-time activities

17Reims by night is characterized by the historic centralisation of activities at Place Drouet d’Erlon. This public square, located in the centre of Reims, is considered the most dynamic space in the city, both by day and night. The square includes numerous stores that are mostly open between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., but also many businesses that are open in the evening or night such as cinemas, restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as a department store that remains open until 9:00 p.m. and a 24-hour pharmacy. Many events take place in the square, such as the Christmas Village (one of the largest in France). The square offers a wide range of activities and services. However, over the twenty last years, these activities have become concentrated on nightlife. The turning point in the occupancy of commercial spaces in the area occurred when the square was pedestrianised in 1994. Our survey showed that a portion of the population, particularly students, qualify the square as a trendy area. Place Drouet d’Erlon is historically ‘the place to be’ due to Les Colonnes bar (so called because of the building’s colonnade architecture).

Place d'Erlon: Subé Fountain and Les Colonnes bar

Place d'Erlon: Subé Fountain and Les Colonnes bar

Source: the authors, 2014

In the 1990s, planning of the city centre focused on Place Drouet d’Erlon. Nowadays, promotion of the square is always on the municipality’s agenda, especially to reinforce the sense of belonging to the city, but less so in recent years than in the past. Promotion of Place Drouet d’Erlon is not part of the Reims 2020 project, which is the main urban project proposed by the municipality to organise the city in terms of new issues like public transit, public squares, higher education, culture, etc. Some areas in Reims are concerned by this project to form a new downtown, but the Place Drouet d'Erlon is only mentioned in the project because of the restoration of the central fountain. The city council representative in charge of student life and nightlife tried to mobilize other members of the municipality to create a new design of the square, particularly with a mobile garden to give variety to the predominantly mineral setting of the square, which has often been criticised by the residents, but the proposal was not accepted. In the last few years, the municipality has been less attentive to development in the square.

Emphasising the city at night

18The election of a new mayor and a new city council in 2008 led to a transformation of urban lighting. In many cities in France, urban lighting is used as a tool to demonstrate a new council’s ability to make decisions, show a break from past urban policies, and act as a symbol of the city’s development (Mallet 2010). Lighting can be quickly and easily installed, and is also a strong symbol of life. Lighting is often designed as a communication tool by creating new images of a city. Changes in urban lighting can act as proof of municipality’s actions and consequently to legitimise a new city council.

19In 2008, the municipal council of Reims renewed its interest in emphasising urban heritage at night. In the council’s main project, Reims 2020, the night-time dimension of the city was considered a strong element of identity, useful in asserting the city as a metropolis. Following this logic, a lighting master plan was created in 2008. The explicit aim was to enhance the remarkable components of the urban landscape and therefore the image of the city.

20In France, this kind of lighting has been current since the development of light urbanism and the increase in lighting master plans at the end of the 1980s (Narboni 1997). In Reims, the completion of a lighting master plan was late and is not widely known by the various municipality departments. Moreover, the changes implemented by the new lighting plan are not radical. However, some features are notable. The new lighting is colourful and dynamic; this kind of lighting was rare previously and can easily catch the eyes of passers-by, challenging the image of a sad, grey, sleepy city. In addition, this lighting constitutes one of the new municipality’s first urban design actions and also shows a willingness to break from the actions of the old municipal council.

Animating nightlife

21In recent decades, successive municipal councils showed a willingness to develop the cultural life of Reims. Numerous actions were carried out to this end, such as support for various cultural institutions and existing events, the establishment of a friche culturelle’ (cultural site), creation of many artist residencies, installation of a design business incubator and establishment of a current music scene.

22The municipal council aims to create a new ‘cultural centrality’ in the Halles du Boulingrin area of the city. The Halles of Boulingrin is a central market, registered as an historic site. It was closed for twenty-four years, restored and re-opened in 2012. The space includes two cafés located inside the market place that are open day and night. These cafés serve as drinking establishments, restaurants and cultural spaces for philosophical debates, exhibitions and concerts. The Museum of Fine Arts, the city’s largest cultural project, scheduled to open in 2018, is located nearby. The increase in festivals also demonstrates the municipality’s willingness to establish Reims as a cultural city. In France, urban festivities have become more numerous since the 1980s (Di Méo 2001). The organisation of festivities in public spaces is not new: community events have been celebrated in urban environments since Antiquity. But since the 1980s, a particular renewal of the urban festivities in France has been observed based on the organisation of artistic, cultural and sporting events. The French Revolution bicentennial parade in 1989 helped launch a new era of urban festivities, including a variety of parades (techno parade, gay pride parade, etc.), festivals and many different kinds of events in public spaces, instituted by public policies. The events are increasing in number and established in various spaces across the citystreets, public squares, quays, etc. The city demonstrates that it can be a space where we look and where we stroll, and that it offers a quantity of show-places’.

23Reims is part of this large movement. Like a number of cities, Reims hosts national events such as the Fête de la musique (World Music Day) on 21 June and the European Night of Museums. The city has also offered specific events, such as the Méli’Môme festival (dedicated to young audiences) since 1989, the Flâneries musicales (a classical music festival created in 1991) and the Reims Jazz Festival (launched in 1993). The creation of new events continued into the 2000s, with Electricity (an electric music festival launched in 2003), Reims Scènes d’Europe (an artistic European festival launched in 2009), and the sound and light show at the cathedral, inaugurated in 2011. All of these events aim to establish Reims as a metropolis at the national and European levels.

24The municipality’s objective is to make Reims a European cultural metropolis. Most of these events take place at night, transforming the urban night-time landscape. All of these actions have strengthened or created nightlife areas.

A new urban geography

25The actions that showcase the city at night reconfigure urban geography. Some public squares have been targeted by the municipality, such as the Place Drouet d’Erlon, which maintains its central role of festive square; some new festive areas have also been created. The Place du Forum is one of these new places.

26The Place du Forum emerged in the nightlife landscape because of several elements. The new lighting highlights the heritage of the site and the vegetation elements. The dynamic coloured lights illuminate the cryptoporticus (a Gallo-Roman vestige) and the fountain located in the centre of the square. The surrounding trees are illuminated in low-angle shot, which highlights their presence and rhythms the urban space. The square hosts regular events, such as photo exhibitions of works by the ESAD (School of Art and Design). In the summer, a temporary stage for various shows is installed in front of the cryptoporticus. In the winter, during the holiday season, the square houses an annex of the Christmas Market and an ice skating rink. Furthermore, restaurants and drinking establishments located in the Place du Forum have had permission to install terraces since the end of the 2000s. The intimate setting of the square beckons; its layout creates premises for small businesses, increasingly specialized in delicatessen, wine and Champagne bars, restaurants, small clothing stores, etc.

Map of public places listed in the article

Map of public places listed in the article

Concert at the Place du ForumSummer 2014

Concert at the Place du Forum—Summer 2014

Source: the authors, 2014

27The municipal council wants to extend the centre of the Place du Forum, as it is currently very limited. The overall strategy of the Reims 2020 project is to develop the Place du Forum, the Halles du Boulingrin and the Rives de Vesle. These three areas are very different, and each has its own identity. Their development means a diversification of the night-time landscape. Extending the Place du Forum is the main line of urban developmentThe second extension of the city centre towards the shores of the Vesle River is linked to the ‘Rives de Vesle’ project, which includes the creation of a shopping centre with a cinema, hotels and student accommodations. The aim of the project is to attract commerce and revitalise this central part of the city where stores are currently closing. The nocturnal topography of Reims is slowly evolving.

28Only one nocturnal area has appeared outside of the downtown core, with a night club, new music scene and national centre for musical creation. The night club opened in 2012 and is the largest in the city. The municipality has supported it through various initiatives, including the creation of ‘taxi tickets’ to help young people return home safely. The new music scene, called La Cartonnerie, is a 4,000 m. sq.-cultural centre that opened in 2005. It includes two concerts halls and many activities related to new music (exhibitions, bars, a sound-recording studio, many rehearsal studios, and a vocational training centre). The national centre for musical creation is called Césaré and opened in 2009. All of these elements were built in an abandoned industrial site in an area called Les Docks Rémois and were supported by public policies. Garden cities are also present in this area. There are many garden cities in Reims, a strong element in the urbanisation and identity of the city. By developing garden cities, the municipal council shows its desire to create both functional diversity and a new creative spirit in the area.

29All of these initiatives demonstrate that nightlife is developing in Reims, partly due to the willingness of the municipal council. However, the council’s actions are not especially coordinated; there is no overall strategy for the night-time city.

A selective night-time policy that cause problems

30To strengthen their attractiveness, various French cities have bet at least partially on developing night-time activities. In the case of Reims, this means cultural and festival development. But these policies exclude specific aspects like organisational framework, logistics and conflicts. These selective policies have consequences on the development practices and have generated conflicts.

A lack of overall strategy: selective policies ignore specific aspects

31The actions taken to develop the night-time city previously described in Reims are, in fact, isolated initiatives that are not part of a unified and coherent strategy working towards a clearly defined goal.

32From 2008 to 2014 (the year of the most recent municipal elections), a city counsellor was in charge of nightlife (and student life), but he had excessive difficulty motivating other elected representatives, as well as municipal technicians and engineers (as previously mentioned for the revegetation of Place Drouet d’Erlon), on issues relating to the city’s nightlife.

33The complexity of the issues linked to urban nightlife management in France, as in other European countries such as the Netherlands, for example, has led to the creation of a night-time city deputy mayor position in some cities. In 2014, several mayoral candidates in the Reims municipal elections promised to create this kind of position, which constituted a direct promise of their election campaign.

34The complexity of managing urban nightlife has also led French public authorities in Lyon, Rennes and Poitiers to create ‘time offices’ related to time-use pattern policies. Time offices were born in the mid-1980s in Italy and developed in several western European countries. The goal of these offices is better coordination between the different time periods of daily life. They try to promote the idea of a ‘right to time’ by concerning themselves with the difficulties of synchronization that some populations experience. Their main actions are related to the business hours of public servicesmaking an inventory, informing people, and adapting and coordinating the opening hours.

35But public policy-makers in Reims are highly ambivalent on the subject of night-time city development. Night-time is highlighted by the new lighting, cultural activities and events, but the accompanying urban nightlife policy is weak.

36Services remain poorly developed in Rheims. This is the case for public transit. In recent years, numerous cities have implemented or improved their night-time transit system (Gwiazdzinski 2007).

37Generally, the frequency of public transit services and the number of accessible stops have increased. In Reims, the network has been expanded from five to eight bus lines and two tram lines between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.; however, at 12:30 a.m., public transit services stop for the night.

38Partygoers and the various actors in the night-time city see this lack of offerings as a negative element. Bars and night clubs are generally allowed to remain opening after the end of public transit service. Some small measures to support nightlife do exist in terms of transportation. As we mentioned previously, taxi tickets were created in 2012 for students under the age of 26 going out to the biggest night club in the city, but these kinds of actions are unusual and are not coordinated. Furthermore, there is very little communication on urban night-time activities or on night-time service offerings, though this is not the case in other French cities. In Lyon, for example, night-time services are listed by the time office and some maps of the night-time city were completed and released.

39In fact, night is often seen as a marginal time involving a minority of people. Decision-makers do not consider night-time to be a subject of real concern and do not pay it much attention. However, the development of the night-time city has some major implications. It reconfigures urban geography and has consequences for residents, storekeepers and night workers. As a result, night-time conflicts increase, but public policies are not coordinated towards the same goal.

An intensification of conflicts and outstanding problems

40Night-time is at the core of some conflicts. Numerous stakeholders fight for control of night-time (residents who argue that they have a right to sleep, partygoers who argue that they have a right to leisure, stores and consumers asking for freedom of consumption, etc.), and it remains difficult to reconcile apparently antagonistic demands. In order to cope with these concerns, urban policies have attempted to arbitrate the issues. However, they are struggling and have difficulty positioning their actions and establishing guidelines.

A misunderstanding of the existing measures

41In order to respond to antagonistic demands, decision-makers sometimes implement radical solutions, such as closing drinking establishments by a prefectoral order. However, there is also a rise of other solutions in French cities. Some propose conciliation and mediation-based solutions. This is the case for ‘night-time charters’ and the ‘local codes of conduct’ aimed at easing tensions. As conciliation tools, these charters attempt to regulate the coexistence of local residents, service users, storeowners and various other stakeholders, but these documents do not impose any mandatory regulations, aiming only to ease pre-existing tensions. No comprehensive management of time exists in cities even today. Charters imply a form of public debate, commitments on all sides and regular reporting (usually once a year). Charters have been signed in numerous French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg, Rennes and Reims. The first charter was signed in Lille in 2004. A charter of nightlife was drawn up in Reims in 2011, and the various stakeholders had high expectations. The charter had two main objectives. The first was a fresh energy and a new wave of activity in the night-time city. Reims is often seen as a city where there is nothing to do at night. The second main objective was to mediate the conflicts between the various stakeholders, in particular those involved in night-time activities in Place Drouet d’Erlon. Many actors are involved, including but not limited to the police, sub-prefectures, shopkeepers, owners of drinking establishments, hotels operators and local residents. Tensions were very high, amplified by the administrative closure of drinking establishments taken in the past and considered unfair by the owners of night-time businesses. The first consultations for the charter took place in La Cartonnerie, which can be seen as a symbol of the shared commitment of the municipality to the development of urban nightlife.

42However, four years after the signing of the charter, our surveys showed that the municipality did not value the work that was done. Few people were aware of the charter. People who work in night-time businesses have often heard of it but do not know of its contents. Students know little about the taxi tickets implemented after the signing of the charter. Local residents are still affected and continue to protest against night-time nuisances.

A heavy police presence at night at Place d'Erlon

A heavy police presence at night at Place d'Erlon

Source: the authors, 2014

43The city counsellor in charge of nightlife is infrequently called upon by other elected representatives, professionals who work for night-time businesses or local residents to solve conflicts or to start a process of consultation. One of this counsellor’s objectives was to create a ‘one stop shop’ for information on nightlife, business permits and licenses. The administrative process for alcohol licenses is long and extensive. There is no office of night-time for professionals; there questions are currently handled by the municipality’s hygiene office. Alcohol licenses are obtained in the prefecture or sub-prefecture. Since 2008, licenses have required a valid operator’s permit issued by a trade union such as the UMIH (Industry and Hotel Industry Trade). But the one stop shop was not created, as there was not enough political support to undertake real work to change night-time in Reims.

Different temporalities for different actors

44The opening hours of drinking establishments are problematic and also reveal a lack of dialogue. The surveys we conducted showed that neither the clients or the employees were satisfied with the current opening hours. Some of them, particularly the clients, wanted longer opening hours, but there was also conflict between the various actors. Noise pollution was the most frequent cause of conflict, but the survey indicated that few people complained about noise.

45The municipal council has several choices to make, depending on which populations it wants to satisfy first. In Place Drouet d'Erlon, the terraces outside the bars have been causing problems for a long time. The bars and the cafés didn’t have the right to draw a divvied line outside for safety reasons. As a consequence, when local residents lodged complaints against bars because of the problems caused by customers, the bar owners did not consider themselves responsible, since the problems did not occur inside their establishments but in the street. In the absence of demarcation, dispute arbitration was difficult: to what extend were bars responsible for their clients? Now bars are permitted to have a light terrace demarcation to simplify conflict arbitration linked to disturbances at night. Moreover, a municipal order was made for drinking alcohol in public spaces after 8:00 p.m. to stop pubs from distributing plastic cups, which were then discarded in public spaces.

46Generally, conflicts related to the night-time city can, at their worst, cause neighbourhood mutations (Comelli 2010)either the drinking establishments or the residents move. But unlike in other cities such as Lyon, this phenomenon has not occurred in Reims. However, urban nightlife generates an increasing number of conflicts, which can be categorised as time conflicts. Time conflicts can be defined as ‘conflicts arising from simultaneous and antagonistic uses of the same space’ (Mallet, 2014). Time conflicts are supposed to escalate: ‘They are the direct result of the intensification of urban polychronie, related to the diversity of rhythms experienced by urban spaces and their ability to generate plural uses at the same time’ (Mallet, 2014). In other words, the growing continuity of urban time creates the conditions for more time conflicts. Night-time represents a specific moment for time conflicts and will probably generate even more conflicts in the future due to the increase in night work, diversification of leisure activities during the night-time, and the geographical spread of night-time activities in urban spaces’. Yet ‘the working city, the sleeping city and the partying city do not always coexist peacefully’ (Gwiazdzinski 2005: 132). Injustice is often felt by different groups of people, each thinking they are the victim. As a consequence, an overall review on urban rhythms and cross-cutting policies, taking into account the plurality of those rhythms, seems necessary in order to build peaceful cities. Entrepreneurialism facilitates the integration of new stakeholders (economics, citizens, etc.) in the decision-making process. Consequently, negotiation is initiated for the territories between stakeholders. In this negotiation for the shared night area, relationships are unbalanced as some stakeholders acquired greater leverage in the negotiation, skewing decision-making processes and fostering conflicts.


47As this paper shows, the process of metropolisation directly reorganises urban temporalities, particularly night-time, not only in the biggest cities but also in intermediate cities. Though the case study of Reims, we understand that the development of night-time activities is not only due to spontaneous development, but also due to public policies. The field of action for night-time public policy is broad: street lighting and illumination, cultural activities, urban events, public transit, public services, etc. But the research shows that public policy-makers can struggle and have difficulty positioning their actions and establishing guidelines. As a result, we find characteristics of other French metropolises such as Paris, Bordeaux (Comelli, 2015), or Strasbourg (Gwiazdzinski, 2005) that have been studied by other researchers in the intermediate city of Reims: a rise in public actions during night-time, a development of nightlife, and a development of conflict and difficulty finding appropriate solutions.

48‘Negotiated territories’ can be observed in the difficulty of reconciling the interests of all stakeholders when night areas are negotiated. This process affects the shared space, considering that all stakeholder have difficulties positioning themselves in unbalanced power relationships. In our study case, urban policies did not succeed in defining clear objectives, because night is seen by the various actors as both an attractive element and a marginal period. This situation leads to contradictory measures, new time conflicts, and a lack of urban services supporting nightlife development. It hinders innovation in either the local strategy and coordination of public policy or in the actions themselves.

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1 As written on the flyers presenting the Reims 2020 project to the general public.

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List of illustrations

Title Place d'Erlon: Subé Fountain and Les Colonnes bar
Credits Source: the authors, 2014
File image/png, 5.5M
Title Map of public places listed in the article
File image/jpeg, 376k
Title Concert at the Place du Forum—Summer 2014
Credits Source: the authors, 2014
File image/png, 3.1M
Title A heavy police presence at night at Place d'Erlon
Credits Source: the authors, 2014
File image/png, 6.2M
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Electronic reference

Sandra Mallet and Céline Burger, « What is the Place of Night-time in the Urban Policy of a French Intermediate City? », Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 11 | 2015, Online since 17 November 2016, connection on 26 March 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/articulo.3042

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About the authors

Sandra Mallet

Sandra Mallet is an associate professor of urban planning at Reims University, IATEUR, EA2076 Habiter. Her research focuses on the evolution of urban temporalities and how they are taken into account for public policies and urban projects. Email:

Céline Burger

Céline Burger is a doctor of urban planning. She attempts to understand the interaction between public policy and sustainable development. Her PhD research focuses on renewable energy, particularly wind power, and how institutional arrangements affect the connection between knowledge, innovation and action in the field of sustainability. She uses these concepts to understand attractiveness policies in intermediate cities. Email:

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