Slow Cities say it's the way to go
We've heard of small towns in Australia and America where the most exciting thing you can do is watch wet paint dry in the sun, but none of those places wants to be proclaimed a Slow City.
Yet dozens of towns in Italy and others in Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden. Japan and Brazil are seeking that honour. Naturally, it's a slow process, applicants often taking several years to qualify.
The Cittaslow (pronounced CHIT-a-slo, Italian for slow town) movement was founded in Italy, in a valiant bid to promote a better way of life, to improve the environment, and to resist the intrusion of large franchise stores.
Cittaslow was a spinoff from the now worldwide Slow Food movement. Writing in The Guardian (London) nearly three years ago, Chris Arnot outlined its history:
It was the entry of McDonald's into Rome in 1986 which sparked off the "slow food movement" - a tongue-in-cheek reaction against fast food by a journalist who felt the need to celebrate meals prepared with love and consumed at leisure. Fifteen years on, the organisation spans 50 countries with a membership of over 70,000 people.Each town applying for membership is assessed on 55 criteria, grouped into six categories: environmental policy (dealing with pollution, waste and recycling), infrastructure (open space, seating, public conveniences, access), quality of urban fabric (historic buildings, gardens/parks), encouragement of local produce and products (local producers/suppliers of food and crafts, healthy eating; the arts), hospitality and community (facilities for tourists/visitors, community life) and Cittaslow awareness (communications, local involvement).
Ludlow, in Shropshire, was the first British town to qualify for official certification as a Slow Town. Aylsham, in Norfolk, is about to become the second.
"We're in!" said a local website. "Aylsham has been accepted into Cittaslow the second town in England to join this growing international network. There are Cittaslow towns across Europe (and beyond) where 'the living is good'. They are places where people care about their town, enjoy living or working there and value the things that make it special.
"Walk through Aylsham, especially on a Monday morning, and Cittaslow is all around. People walking and talking, using local cafes and facilities and able to buy good quality local produce in family owned shops.
"Historic buildings being protected and conserved. A lively community life. And a clear vision as to how the town will develop in the future. Aylsham is a living town not just a showcase for historic buildings or a dormitory serving the city. It has held on to its traditional role as a working market town, serving the rural area round it.
"Aylsham people show very strong support for their town. The award of Cittaslow status rightly celebrates their commitment to this distinctive, living and thriving place."
Ludlow's mayor, Graeme Kidd, told us in an email last week, "Ludlow is still the only UK Cittaslow. Aylsham's application has been 'approved' by Ludlow and Slow Food UK, and has been passed on to the Italian organisation for final ratification. Aylsham will certainly be the second UK town in Cittaslow. Diss, another town in Norfolk, has also completed its application which is likely to be approved in short order too."
Catherne Hill Bay, a picturesque former coalmining town 74 miles (119 km) north of Sydney, may qualify as Australia's first official Slow City. Residents are appalled by a developer's plan to build a five-storey block of 96 units, sporting complex and club on an adjacent headland.
Brian Cogan, secretary of the local Progress Association, said, "Some places should stay small and slow. You have heard of slow food? My long-term idea is I'd like it to become a slow town."