The Slow Food movement was founded in 1986 in Italy by Carlo Petrini to fight the uniformity of tastes, low quality fast food as a product of globalization and the McDonald’s “culture.” That same year in Paris, the movement was officially recognized with the creation of a manifesto signed by delegates from 15 different countries.
Later, in 1999, the Slow movement broadened its scope to include the quality of life in cities and urban issues. The movement’s rallying cry praises living slowly, something which is often neglected nowadays, overshadowed by concepts such as efficiency, profitability and growth. The movement thus offers a new approach to cities. Instead of encouraging speed and strictly functional and most often commercial exchanges, a slow city would allow its inhabitants to take time to enjoy their living space, to create new spaces for human interaction, for reflection, for all different kinds of ideas and actions that cannot be pursued quickly or under time constraints and stress. The Slow movement, which started out as a concept for food, has spread not only to the city, but also to travelling, to education, culture and even sex!
The goal of this wide-ranging movement is to create a better quality of life for all and to (re)discover the idea of living well.
What is a Slow City?
The Cittaslow (slow city) Manifesto consists of seventy recommendations and obligations. Its main ideas are:
Enhancing the conservation of urban heritage by avoiding the construction of new buildings.
Reducing energy consumption.
Increasing the number of green areas and recreational space.
Keeping the city clean.
Prioritizing public transportation and other non-polluting forms of transportation.
Reducing garbage and developing recycling programs.
Increasing the number of pedestrian spaces.
Developing local businesses.
Developing collective infrastructure and facilities adapted for people of all ages and with physical disabilities.
Developing a genuine participatory democracy.
Preserving and developing local traditions and regional products.
Restricting GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
The central aspects of the manifesto demonstrate that, clearly, this movement is critical of the globalization of trade that has led to a growing global standardization of lifestyles and ways of thinking. However based on this observation and beyond criticism and the rejection of globalized, polluting cities that value speed above all else, the movement also proposes concrete solutions to create a new kind of city and a new way of living.
In order to achieve this, the Cittaslow movement’s work is based at local levels. To confront globalization, slow city activists focus their efforts on local development, whether at the political level by working with municipalities or at the economic level by giving preference to local products.
The idea is based on the aspiration to create ways to coexist, to share, and to revive the worn-out social fabric in cities where neighbours do not even know each other and where social activities are reduced to almost obligatory relationships with storekeepers. The goal of the Cittaslow movement is to allow cities to reestablish their own identity, so that they are distinguishable from the outside and are recognized and appreciated from the inside by their own citizens.
In more concrete terms, the cities that take part in the Cittaslow movement promote the use of environment-friendly technologies that improve the quality of the urban fabric and that protect the production of local food and wine to promote the local identity of the region. In addition, Cittaslow seeks to promote dialogue and communication between producers and consumers. It also encourages the production of natural foods and the use of processes which do not harm the environment. Membership with the Cittaslow network means concrete improvements to inhabitants’ quality of life, including the following examples:
• Environment: implementing air quality monitoring; environmental noise reduction programs; and new recycling technology.
• Infrastructure: developing green spaces; guaranteeing accessibility for people with disabilities; open access to public bathrooms; consistent hours of operation in city hall; developing bike paths.
• Urban Planning: renovation plans for historic buildings; using recyclable products; upgrading of historic urban centers.
• Supporting local products: creating “local product markets;” placing labels on food products that recognize the quality of its organic agriculture; improving the quality of food in school cafeterias; supporting traditional cultural events.
• Hospitality: installing internationally recognized road signs; guided city tours; improving availability of monitored parking lots close to downtown areas; controlling rates and prices charged by hotels and restaurants.
• Awareness: presence of the “Cittaslow” logo on all official documents; food taste education programs in schools; promoting programs such as recreational activities for families, or home visits to the elderly and the ill.
The following quote from the Cittaslow Manifesto summarizes the goals of the movement well: “We are looking for towns brought to life by people who make time to enjoy a quality of life. Towns blessed with quality public spaces, theatres, shops, cafes, inns, historic buildings and unspoiled landscapes. Towns where traditional craft skills are in daily use, and where the slow, beneficial succession of the seasons is reflected in the availability of local produce, in season. Towns where healthy eating, healthy living and enjoying life are central to the community.”
How to Become a Slow City
Cittaslow membership is open to cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants. In order to be a member, a city must achieve a score of at least 50 percent on a self-assessment of Cittaslow goals. If accepted, the city must pay an annual contribution and apply the principles of the Cittaslow Charter. The city can then proudly display the Cittaslow logo: a snail carrying a colorful city on its back. The intention of creating networks of the cities participating in the project corresponds to the need to verify that the commitments made are actually being fulfilled. The network employs a team of inspectors who carry out periodic monitoring of these obligations.
Currently, there are Cittaslow networks in the following countries: Austria, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, South Korea, Norway, Spain, Poland, New Zealand and of course Italy, with a total of sixty-two Italian cities and approximately twenty others around the world.
Cittaslow: a Concrete Application of the Right to the City
One of the main actions that characterize a Slow City is the participation of its inhabitants. Each person is invited and expected to take part in the project in a spirit of openness and mutual tolerance. Of course this must be done while respecting the pace required for sharing ideas and collectively creating projects and new proposals — in other words, slowly. In this way, activists of the movement believe that both democracy and education just like collective decision-making require a slower tempo. Moreover, the environment, respect for nature and the relationship between human beings and nature are on a different scale than that of individual human beings. Therefore, valuing slowness also means allowing the indispensible time for reflection and deliberation. The fact that participation is an essential part of the creation of slow cities is a very interesting point in understanding the link between Cittaslow and the right to the city.
The Cittaslow movement may be understood as a successful experience of the right to the city. Participation, as we have seen in the Cittaslow Charter, is also one of the fundamental points in the World Charter of the Right to the City. It asserts that citizens must revitalize and re-conquer the city and not leave it in the hands of big companies, cars, polluting factories, and big housing companies. It proposes a different vision of the city; one that is shared, welcoming and full of public places where people can meet. Participation is not the only aspect of the right to the city that the Cittaslow network has developed and adopted: the desire to create an identity; to be happy and proud of the place where you live; and to have a feeling of belonging to a place are also very strong aspects of the right to the city.
Degrowth as Applied to the City
It is important here to show the relationship between the Cittaslow movement, the right to the city and degrowth. Degrowth, if it is possible to define this paradigm-movement-art of living in a few words, calls for immediate action to fight against the numerous harmful effects caused by the capitalist system, neoliberalism and economic growth. First of all, it challenges the dominant myth of the intellectual orthodoxy that aims to make growth, progress, development, and their concrete consequences inevitable certainties in our lives, excluding all alternatives. Alternatives do exist, as the right to the city also demonstrates. Degrowth is also a call to action, to assert that other North-South relations, another economy, other social relations, other relationships between humans and the environment, and other cities are all possible! It is therefore important, with these kinds of experiences already in place, to be able to take them even further and to expand their reach by increasing demands and by adopting the concept and motto of the right to the city, which will allow a comparison between these experiences and others in different areas, such as Latin America for example.
Although the Cittaslow movement is unmistakably the work of its activists and certain political figures sensitive to environmental and social issues, it is interesting to note the apparent effort of the current president of the United States, Barack Obama, to discontinue urban expansion. The new government has asserted that urban growth is not the alternative to remedy the social and economic problems of cities in deep financial crisis. A new method of urban planning has therefore been put into place with the slogan “Shrink to Survive.” One of those in charge of this project is Dan Kildee, treasurer of Flint, Michigan, one of the poorest cities in the country. He has applied the new system in Flint, demolishing housing in residential neighborhoods and industrial sites left abandoned due to the crisis. This new vision for urban planning aims to promote smaller cities in order to assign more resources to social development, by, for example saving on other expenses such as daily waste removal services to less populated areas (often, people would travel several miles without encountering a single garbage can). The Obama administration is currently planning to implement this system in 50 other cities in the country, in former industrial areas that have been particularly affected by various crises and where there are neighborhoods that have been completely abandoned. The plan is to replace these deserted neighborhoods with public parks and forests.
While these diverse experiences are very interesting and a source of hope for sprawling cities plagued by poverty and inequality, it is nonetheless essential to be careful not to create a showcase city that does not allow all of its inhabitants to express themselves. In fact, the Cittaslow movement warns that a slow city must not retreat into its shell, but that it works to create new solidarity between districts and neighborhoods, cities and their outskirts, urban and rural areas, and of course between nations and continents. As advised by Paolo Saturnini, former mayor of Greve and member of Cittaslow International, cities should be prevented from excessive growth through a new urban planning policy guided by principles to control new building construction and most importantly to reuse and designate new functions for existing buildings.
This last point is where the Obama administration’s “shrink city” policy could be criticized. The viewpoint and the actions that result in, for example, the destruction of unoccupied houses, must not overshadow the tragedy of these abandoned neighborhoods. These were peripheral neighborhoods where middle class families had bought homes, indebting themselves for many years, and because of an employment crisis they were not able to continue making payments. As a result, they were obliged to watch as their houses were sold or mortgaged in order to pay off their debts. This is a real social tragedy caused by the capitalist system which led to the crisis, and this must not be forgotten when politicians present their projects for creating green spaces on the same land. Rather than demolishing houses, it is most pressing to rethink our conceptions of the city and more generally about the system we live in, in order to finally build a more just society.
Cittaslow Charter: www.cittaslow.org.uk/images/Download/cittaslow_charter.pdf.
Cittaslow Movement: www.cittaslow.net.
Habitat International Coalition. “El crecimiento no es la opción: hay que achicar las ciudades!”, 2009. www.hic-net.org/articles.php?pid=3124.
Habitat International Coalition. “Des villes lentes, vite!”. Le Journal de la Décroissance, no. 47. March 2008. Décroissance et villes lentes: www.hic-net.org/news.php?pid=3146.
Habitat International Coalition. “La ville lente c’est possible ici et maintenant”. Le Journal de la Décroissance, no. 47. March 2008. www.hic-net.org/news.php?pid=3147.
Habitat International Coalition. “CittaSlow contre Ecopolis”. Le Journal de la Décroissance, no. 47. March 2008. www.hic-net.org/news.php?pid=3148.
Leonard, Tom. “US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive”. Telegraph.co.uk. June 12, 2009. www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/5516536/US-cities-may-have-to-be-bulldozed-in-order-to-survive.html.