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Can Boston ever be a 24-hour city?

Posted by Dante Ramos  February 26, 2013 12:59 PM

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Sometimes, you just want to get a burger, or go shopping, or work out late at night — especially if you've got the kind of job that keeps you at your desk into the wee hours. But Boston is famous, or infamous, for closing down early. Maybe it's our Puritan heritage. Maybe it's the memories of the seedy old Combat Zone. Whatever the reason, it's an inconvenience to a small but potentially significant slice of the workforce.

On the Globe editorial page this week, we've been talking about ways to make Boston more welcoming to people who aren't from here — most obviously, the kind of people who come to the area for college and are tempted to decamp right after graduation. Accommodating people who stay up late is an obvious one. But while the rules vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, businesses that want to stay open into the wee hours tend to need special permission.

We're not talking only — or even primarily — about keeping bars open later. (Don't get me started on that subject.) The Globe's editorial Tuesday leads with an unsuccessful effort to keep the Boston Sports Club on Boylston Street open all night. Even though neighbors didn't object — which is noteworthy in the Back Bay, where people keep a wary eye on anything that might even conceivably disturb the peace — the idea still fell short at the city's Zoning Board of Appeals. As our editorial noted, this is totally out of whack with what a globally competitive 21st-century city needs:

...just because a need doesn’t register with the board of appeals — a seven-member group appointed by the mayor — or with the city’s elected leadership doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. When stores and restaurants shut down at night, life gets difficult for people who work long hours, or odd hours. Among the pillars of Boston’s economy are institutions where 9-to-5 hours are rare — hospitals with overnight shifts; financial firms whose employees make deals in faraway time zones; and law firms whose billable-hour requirements keep attorneys at their desks deep into the night. Boston’s recent play for more tech firms, which abound with entrepreneurs who work late, only adds to the need for spots to shop, exercise, and get a bite to eat after 11 p.m.

The big question, though, is what it'll take to keep Boston open later. The people who are most likely to vote and speak up at public meetings are change-averse; the city's elected leaders know that — and most of those officials probably weren't night owls to begin with. So can this situation get any better?

Twitter: @danteramos

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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