Cali, Colombia Ricardo Hincapié/Flickr

The city of Cali, Colombia, is the first in the region to put an official in charge of managing the city after dark.

This story originally appeared in Spanish on our sister site, CityLab Latino.

In a country once known for nighttime crime, the Colombian city of Cali is the first Latin American city to appoint a night mayor—a position that’s been tested in Europe in recent years and found to make cities safer and better regulated.

The economist Alejandro Vásquez Zawadzky was recently appointed Cali’s night mayor by Mayor Norman Maurice Armitage. He’ll be tasked with making Cali an around-the-clock urban area and helping to calm tensions between those seeking lively nighttime options and others craving peace and quiet. “We want nightlife sectors to be organized,” Vásquez says. “We need productive tourist areas and responsible partying.”

This new venture marks a strong shift in Colombia. In 1995, Bogotá’s then-mayor Antanas Mockus pushed for the so-called “Ley Zanahoria” (literally, the “Carrot Law”), which mandated that bars and other late-night establishments close by 1 a.m. in an effort to cut down on crime.

According to Vasquez, the law made people fear the night. “Such prohibitive measures have negative consequences, forcing nightlife establishments into the outskirts of the city and generating corruption,” Vasquez says.

It's a familiar situation across the region. In most Latin American cities, after-dark hours are associated with clubs, bars, and partygoers in the streets, but also with security concerns, crime, and pockets of empty and abandoned urban spaces. "There is a particularly negative view of the nighttime [in Latin America]," says Andreina Seijas, a researcher at the Inter-American Development Bank. "It’s associated with insecurity, crime, noise. And city mayors have been reluctant to pursue initiatives because of that."

But gradually, the region is changing course. The concept of “24-hour cities” is being adopted by municipal governments to boost economies and improve citizen security. This helps attract tourism and create jobs in safe, populated urban areas. In Cali, officials hope to create pockets for cultural activities and music, as well as zones for dancing—goals especially well-suited to the country’s “salsa capital.” Vasquez says the idea is to create jobs, increase security, attract tourists, and enhance Cali’s self-esteem as a city.

Salsa dancers perform at night in the Salsodromo parade in Cali. (REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga)

To date, the city has expanded hours at clubs and other nightspots, and has also identified the city’s five most dangerous areas, which will see increased police presence and community involvement. It also plans to launch a national program to promote nighttime cultural activities and to bring together business owners and citizens to compromise on issues like noise and parking. "The city needs both sides to understand—residents and businesses," says Vasquez. "The whole city will win."

Elsewhere in Latin America, other cities are taking similar steps. Since 2004, Buenos Aires has held an annual noche de museos, or “museum night,” offering free access to all of the city’s museums. In Asunción, Paraguay, businesses are still recovering from a prohibitive nighttime law even stricter than Colombia’s “Carrot Law”: Beginning in 2003, businesses that sold alcohol were forced to close at midnight from Sunday through Thursday, and at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. When the lights went out, people had 15 minutes to disperse before police arrived. The law was disastrous for the city’s historic center, forcing businesses to close and residents to move elsewhere.

In 2014, business owners in Asunción united to overturn the law and try to save the city’s center. They created the Association of Nighttime Movement in the Historic Center of Asunción (Asociación de la Movida Nocturna del Centro Histórico de Asunción), or AMCHA, and have managed to revitalize the area through a combination of cultural and recreational events, like a massive Oktoberfest and a museum night.

Last week, AMCHA met Cali’s new night mayor at the the "24 Hour Cali Forum,” an event designed to share ideas on how to manage the city after dark. Other participants included Sound Diplomacy, which promotes music as a tool for urban development; Chepecletas, a Costa Rican organization that organizes evening bike rides; and Mirik Milan, Amsterdam’s current night mayor.

Experts say this is just the beginning of a very positive change for the region’s urban spaces. "It's time people start thinking about the night as an option,” Seijas says, “because we’re wasting half the day.”

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