As I have mentioned once before, a visit to another major world city always gets me thinking about London's unique urban characteristics. Why is it less glamourous than Paris? Why is it more freeform and natural-looking than Berlin? And why is it so much less exciting than New York? How can London even compare itself to a non-stop city like New York, when it shuts up shop while the night is yet young?
For an international city, London is surprisingly unsympathetic to visitors from foreign timezones and even its own citizens. Anyone with a standard 9am til 5.30pm job even struggles to get to the bank, as most branches close before the end of the working day. Shops in the most central of areas may just about manage to keep their doors, and tills, open until 7pm, but for the busy working Londoner this is not much of an allowance. Weekends, when one is usually not chained to one's desk, opening hours are even more minimal. Sometimes even obtaining a takeaway before the pubs have closed can be challenge. And late night travel across the city becomes a logistical nightmare after about half 11 at night, curtailing many an evening of revelry just when it is only just beginning.
Even building works continue through the night in New York City - no knocking off at 3pm there!
Who knows why this is? There is no doubt a complicated, and possibly outdated, legal reason, related to hours of trading. When a city is competing on today's global urban stage however it needs to make more of an effort. 24-hour establishments abound across South-East Asia, one can shop until one quite literally drops in numerous American cities. New cities in South America and Central Asia are springing up like all-night mushrooms.
As the Accidental Uncle, himself a citizen of New York - from which London might learn a thing or two - summed it up perfectly; "It's as if London likes the idea of being a proper 24 hour city that never sleeps but as the evening progresses, it glances at its watch and says 'Bloody hell, is that the time?' and goes to bed." When night comes there are few endless lights in buildings (at least we're probably our bit for carbon consumption!), little tearing traffic, and in the earliest hours scant inhabitants on the streets - they'll all safely tucked up in bed. If New York is the city that never sleeps, London is the city which believes in getting an early night...