Almost every aspect of urban life has been curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Philadelphia and other big cities, the arts, culture, and nightlife sectors have taken a particularly painful hit. Museums and arts spaces have gone dark. Music venues have been kept from hosting concerts for much of the last year. And when they haven’t been closed entirely, bars and nightclubs have run at limited capacity, during shortened hours.
But even before the pandemic, says Michael Fichman, a researcher at PennPraxis and lecturer in the Master of Urban Spatial Analytics program, Philadelphia often failed to nurture the businesses and communities that thrive at night. The city’s official position toward after-hours activities was often either hands-off or outright hostile, says Fichman, who worked as a DJ and musician for years before joining PennPraxis.
“The civic dysfunction related to nightlife, the general prohibition-oriented attitude and negligence towards arts and culture, is pretty obvious when you’re inside of it,” he says. “There’s kind of a culture of ‘no.’ There’s bad transportation. It’s kind of an afterthought.”
In 2017, Fichman founded 24HrPHL, a civic engagement project meant to “provide community support and articulate a vision for a better, more progressive Philly nightlife.” Last year, along with Design Fellow Jia Yuan, Fichman led PennPraxis’s work on the Global Nighttime Recovery Plan, a collaborative, international effort to support nightlife during and after the pandemic. After Mayor Jim Kenney proposed a complete elimination of the city’s arts and culture budget last spring, the city council convened an Arts and Culture Task force to sort through the threats to the city’s creative economy and make recommendations for how the city’s approach could be improved. The Task Force released its findings in March, incorporating a proposal, authored by Fichman, which calls for the creation of a Nighttime Economy Office within the city’s Department of Commerce.
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