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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.

Now the idea is moving on to what is being called the "slow cities" movement, and British towns are being invited to join more than 30 Italian communities who have taken up the challenge of resisting the frenetic, ever-quickening pace of living and trying to improve quality of life.

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."

 

SLOW FOR A BETTER LIFE

Cittaslow's logo is an image of a snail. Under the heading Slow for a better life its website says:

We are looking for towns where men are still curious of the old times, towns rich of theatres, squares, cafes, workshops, restaurants and spiritual places, towns with untouched landscapes and charming craftsman where people are still able to recognize the slow course of the Seasons and their genuine products respecting tastes, health and spontaneous customs....

For this reason Slow Food has always sought the quality of life and made those things the main source of its success and of its worldwide expansion; Slow Food, together with those cities which mirror themselves in its ideals, have built the Cittaslow international network.

In times of "fast", of production and of pressing velocity, carrying on such a goal seems to be an utopia; many majors coming from different towns have joined together and as well as with Slow Food in order to create the Cittaslow's huge common project.

The movement has expanded to 100 towns and 10 countries all over the world since 1999, connecting administrators, citizens and Slow Food partners. The common goal is to have mutual experiences focusing on gourmet food, incoming, services qualities and on the environment.

"Good living" means having the opportunity of enjoying solutions and services that allow citizens to live their town in an easy and pleasant way.

"Living slow" means being slowly hasty; "festina lente" latins used to say, seeking everyday the "modern times counterpart" in other words looking for the best of the knowledge of the past and enjoying it thanks to the best possibilities of the present and of the future.

All of this will result in technological opportunities, modern solutions in communication, transportation, incoming, production and selling. At present living and managing a Slowcity is just a particular way of carrying on an ordinary life-style rather than today's trends.

Of course this way is meant to be less frantic, yielding and fast; but there is no doubt that it will be more human, environmentally correct and sensible for the present and future generations; the project will respect small realities in a more and more global connected world.

 

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Story first posted November 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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