It’s late at night – or early in the morning? – and you’re still up and about. You’ve left the club and feel like rounding off the evening at a nearby bar. But where to go to for a beer nowadays after 3 a.m. – in the country’s greatest port city? By 2 a.m., most places have already pulled down the shutters; the Municipality’s restrictive after-hours policy means they don’t have a permit to stay open any later.
You aren’t the only one affected by the steady decline of Rotterdam’s night-time offer. There’s a heated debate going on in the city’s municipal council about the failure of the city’s current after-hours policy. A lot of parties – from D66 to Leefbaar Rotterdam and from SP to VVD – believe it’s time to cut local nightlife some much-needed slack. Councillor Elene Walgenbach (D66) recently warned in a council meeting that in due time Rotterdam risked becoming a ‘Meppel on the Maas’.
Casper Jongeling (24) is chairman of the Jonge Democraten Rotterdam and studied Law and Psychology at the EUR. Jelrik Westra (18) is a second-year student of Public Administration and a member of the Political Board of the Jonge Democraten Rotterdam.
Over the years, local government has adopted numerous proposals intended to stimulate Rotterdam’s nightlife. Examples include the appointment of a special night-time council and scoping good locations for new and existing clubs in the port area. So far, Mayor Aboutaleb (PvdA) has been less than sensitive to our representatives’ pleas. While the Mayor claims he isn’t opposed to after-hours entertainment, his actions speak to the contrary.
This has everything to do with the policy being implemented by the present Executive. Clubs keep closing down – but the Municipality isn’t issuing new permits. This is making it harder and harder for entrepreneurs to start or maintain a venue in Rotterdam. The Municipal Executive justifies this policy by claiming that it doesn’t have enough police capacity to maintain order, or that local noise levels would exceed the set limit. In many cases, these arguments aren’t backed up with factual data.
Over the past five years, the Municipality hasn’t honoured a single application for a new
permit– even though 20 existing entrepreneurs have handed in their 24-hour permits. As a result, nowadays there are only 35 venues left in the city centre where you can have a drink after 2 a.m. on a Friday night, according to a survey conducted by Vers Beton.
The situation is particularly dire for students – who after all are bulk consumers of nightlife attractions. As the cradle of the ‘gabber’ hardcore scene, in recent decades Rotterdam was still known as an innovative centre of after-hours delights. This status has been severely weakened by municipal policies – meaning that in the longer term, the city may be a fine place to live and work, but will go dead after sundown. This transformation of the city as a centre of entertainment is particularly bad news for the local student scene. Many potential first-year students will be put off by a student town that doesn’t offer a decent nightlife – particularly with far more appealing cities like Utrecht, Leiden and Amsterdam nearby. And a lower student intake will only reduce the demand for entertainment options even further. Making it all the more remarkable that the debate regarding Rotterdam’s nightlife so far has been dominated by the politicians and officials on Coolsingel. This development will have major consequences for every student in Rotterdam. Students are inadvertently becoming hemmed in by a city that is increasingly falling asleep.
Time to do something about this. Rotterdam’s students deserve a seat at the table in the ongoing debate about the future of the city’s nightlife. That is why we call on local student associations to use their stature and influence to put pressure on the Municipal Executive to change its present after-hours policy. If anyone stands to gain from a flourishing local nightlife, it’s the associations – who stood at the cradle of Rotterdam’s student scene. We call on the University Council to think along regarding Erasmus University’s position in this debate. After all, a healthy university needs a vibrant local nightlife. And we also call on EUR’s study associations to draw attention to this issue via informal lectures and symposia. Students deserve to know what’s going in with their town after dark and to have an opportunity to have their say.
And there are a number of ways in which individual students who care about a decent nightlife can add their two cents. Demand to be heard. Attend Council meetings, swamp the inboxes of the Municipal Executive with e-mails and call for the revival of the so-called ‘Night Mayor’, a role so memorably fulfilled for the first time in Rotterdam – and the Netherlands in general – by the legendary Jules Deelder. Together, students can take a stand against the severe shortcomings of the Municipal Executive’s current policy. For sake of our student scene, but above all for sake of the lively and raw nightlife that ‘Manhattan on the Maas’ once knew – and still deserves.