Slow Cities

2009 November 9
by Grace Boyle

You’re sitting in an Italian piazza at a cafe. Your eyes are closed. The corner of your lips slightly turn up ruefully. Delightfully you sip your vino rosso. The aroma of oregano, warm marinara sauce and fresh baked bread wafts through the air. The vino is from the family vineyard up the road and your caprese ingredients are fresh from the local market and farmers. You aren’t rushed. You can sit at your quaint wooden table for hours without a single look of disdain or impatience.

This is slow food.

Created in Italy, in 1986 by Carlo Petrini to resist fast food, the Slow Food movement seeks to “preserve and promote local and traditional food products, along with their lore and preperation.” I’m beaming. I love it and it’s ethical implications (and no, it’s not just because I’m Italian and have lived there).

Slow Food To Slow Cities

Spinning off the idea of Slow Food, I recently stumbled across Slow Cities. Although the movement isn’t new (started in 1999, also in Italy) the supporters of Slow Cities are now spreading across Europe and into Asia. They are looking to develop liveable cities, banning cars from city centers and blocking McDonald’s branches and large supermarkets.

slow-cities-roundupPhoto Credit

Stefano Cimicchi, former mayor of Orvieto (a charming town, I grew to love) from 1991 to 2004 and also President for several years of Slow City has the Italian idealism in mind. “We are working, if you will, on the concept of the utopian city, in the same way as the writer Italo Calvino and the architect Renzo Piano have done.”

How do you become a Slow City?

There’s a 54-point Charter that outlines the goals of the movement. “To be eligible for membership, candidate cities must have no more than 50,000 residents and must pledge to work towards implementing a range of programs from the promotion of organic agriculture, the banning of genetically modified foods and organisms, urban revitalization and historic preservation, alternative energy systems, preservation of local tradition and heritage, signage and light regulations, to building awareness of the local citizenry for the Slow City goals.”

I love this idea, but I also am a forward thinker who embraces technology and modernism. How do the two connect? After some research I found that a Slow City will seek to preserve the ancient structures from medieval or Renaissance times, while also incorporating current ecology and sustainability practices. They even allow modern technology if it helps to meet a city’s goals (which most likely, it will).

Residents in current slow cities believe that, “concentrating on local products and industries can be a benefit, rather than a restriction. And lest they begin to seem like a bunch of ascetics, they make sure to hold wine festivals and riotous feasts on area farms.”

So European. Sounds like some events that happen in Boulder. Still, is it realistic in the United States?

Can you see slow cities spreading to the United States? Can you think of an appropriate town where this would work? We develop at such a rapid rate, it would have to be such a mind shift. I wonder if it’s possible here, I would like to think so. What do you think?

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  • vickikb

    I love this idea, but I don't know if it would ever be viable in the United States given how different the concept of time in the US from Europe and other parts of the world. Take even the first concept of slow eating: in the US a 1.5 hour lunch is considered suspicious by your boss, to the point where many eat at their desks so they can always be available through e-mail. In Israel, where I interned at a large bank, it's not much of a problem and everyone enjoys their food and the waiters at restaurants never try to rush you out the door (I'm sure it's similar in Italy.) Would it be great if we could all slow down and appreciate more? Yup. Does it make economic/cultural sense? Not so sure.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Vicki I think you're right. Maybe if we focused more on local, sustainability and also slowed down we could get close to the slow city ideal. I can't really see it happening in a city in the U.S. but like their Charter outlines, it has to be a small town and have certain parameters. Maybe little towns could adopt pieces of this because they're more 'slow' moving in general.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.nabeepchen.com/ Roxanne Nelson

    I enjoyed your article about slow cities and I've wondered the same thing myself. Is the US ready for this? I noticed that you live in Boulder, Co, which is roughly the same size as the town I live in–Bellingham, WA. Both are places surrounded by natural beauty and I think potential to be Slow-ish cities (both a little too large for the certified slowcities movement). I had heard of slow food, but never slow cities until today, when I read an article about it by chance, and then spent some time browsing the Internet for more info–which brought me to your blog post.

    I would like to do something in my town. The foundation for Slow-ness is already there. I really don't think it is fair to eliminate larger cities, because I think that is where the need for “slow” is strongest.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Roxanne I like your point that we shouldn't eliminate small cities. I think it's important to have cities co-existing with small towns (maybe who are 'slow') as well. Yes, Boulder has the potential because we're already environmentally friendly and largely a local, organic small city. Thanks for sharing, I would be happy to continue the conversation when you find out more or if you try to implement something in Bellingham!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Roxanne I like your point that we shouldn't eliminate small cities. I think it's important to have cities co-existing with small towns (maybe who are 'slow') as well. Yes, Boulder has the potential because we're already environmentally friendly and largely a local, organic small city. Thanks for sharing, I would be happy to continue the conversation when you find out more or if you try to implement something in Bellingham!

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