Possible Implementation of Cittaslow to Urban Centres of the World

Weekly market in Greve in Chianti, a founding city of the Cittaslow movement © A Road Retraveled (Flickr)

INTRODUCTION

The industrialisation of urban landscapes have damaged the identities of many towns and cities, while the desire of many residents to move to larger cities or suburbs has caused urban shrinkage in many smaller urban centres (Matta & Caballero, 2016). In a move to counteract such trends, leaders of small and medium sized towns pledged to improve and maintain a high quality of life for their inhabitants through joining the International Network of Cities where living is good (Cittaslow 2015). This became known as the Cittaslow movement. Today, over 200 towns around the world are promoting and spreading the culture of good living through the Cittaslow philosophy. The association and its members advocate the application of ecogastronomic practices to everyday life while seeking unique and sustainable solutions for their individual town planning schemes.  By taking the time to understand, appreciate and promote the unique characteristics of urban areas, surrounding landscape as well as their history and traditions, many small towns around the world are working to preserve and enhance their urban identities which had been threatened by a fast-paced and globalised world. Currently, the average Cittaslow town has a resident population of about 10,500 inhabitants, mainly located in the hills or inland plains. Many of these towns can be found in Italy but the network is spreading to the rest of Europe, Australia, South Korea, China and the USA. This article looks at the origins of the Cittaslow movement and its possible application to bigger urban areas. It questions the possibility of slowing down urban areas that are faster paced due to urban development and increasing urban migration.

 

THE FORMATION OF CITTASLOW

Cittaslow (or Slow City) is the “International Network of Cities Where Living is Easy”. It was established in 1999 in response to the loss of the urban and natural landscapes as well as agricultural and cultural traditions that had defined small Italian towns for many centuries (Matta & Caballero, 2016). The homogenisation, standardisation and degradation of Italy’s towns and cities impelled four Italian mayors and the president of the Slow Food movement to take action to preserve the unique identities of small towns throughout the world. As Slow Food was aimed to “defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life” (Slow Food, 2016), Cittaslow would like to counteract the “McDonaldisation” of society (Ritzer in Mayer and Knox 2009:23) through adapting ecogastronomic practices to establish an alternative method of urban planning and return to a simpler way of life. The term ecogastronomy is defined as the art and appreciation of preparing and eating good food which is linked with agriculture, the environment, and the social, political, economic, and ethical issues associated with food production (University of Hampshire, 2016).   Slow Cities also aim to increase residents’ awareness of their local environments and local cuisine which allows the enjoyment of individual life and providing conditions of “better living” for it people (Turkmen, 2015).

The association’s mission to foster links between technology, local resources and culture, landscape, and gastronomy through an alternative approach to urban development has distinguished Cittaslow as a reputable alternative model of development which successfully incorporates the three E’s of sustainability: equity, economy and ecology (Mayer and Knox 2006:321). As proposed by the association, the Cittaslow philosophy should be applied in the following areas and policies: energy and environmental policies, infrastructure policies, quality of urban life policies, agricultural, touristic, and artisan policies, policies for hospitality, awareness and training, social cohesion, and partnerships (Cittaslow 2014). These seven areas constitute the association’s core “Requirements for Excellence”, which form the basis of the Quality of Life Indicator System, an assessment scheme used to evaluate a town’s commitment to the Slow City philosophy through their establishment of concrete action plans that adhere to the aforementioned themes and policies. By choosing to develop slowly, towns take a step back to understand and utilise the best of past, present and future technologies. At the same time, residents are encouraged to live more consciously, thus boosting individual health benefits, creating a cleaner environment, enhancing well-being and ultimately, improving quality of life. As the Secretary General of Cittaslow International, Pier Giorgio Oliveti, explained in a personal interview (2015), Cittaslow is an economic project that puts together “what you have and what you are”. Oliveti adds that such effort to keep the city alive is difficult, but it stops the city in becoming a demographic desert (ibid).

Since Cittaslow’s establishment, Slow Cities around the world have created projects aimed to improve the natural and urban environment through forming policies that enhance the physical, economic and social infrastructure. This encourages citizens and local business owners to embrace a slower way of life. Many Slow Cities have manifested the slow philosophy through developing and implementing projects that improve pedestrian safety and traffic management, reduce light, visual and air pollution, as well as encourage the production and consumption of local and organic gastronomic products. In the Slow Cities of Hersbruck and Waldkirch, local businesses found a structure to bring products from local farmers directly to consumers and restaurants. This created an increasing sense of belonging among residents and it reduced the unemployment rates. The towns have developed a sustainable business industry that was based on local produce and consumption, which ultimately affects the life quality of the town (Turkmen, 2015).

levanto

Levanto skyline © Lorenzo Schiavi (Flickr)

In another example at the Slow City of Levanto in Italy, a new public lighting scheme was planned in order to preserve the unique character of the Slow City while reducing light pollution and conserving energy (Mayer and Knox 2011:31). As the Councillor for Public Works, Luca Del Bello, pronounced, “the philosophy behind the our interventions (…) is one that combines functionality with beauty, energy saving with respect for the environment. Every place has its own vocation and a right choice of street furniture enhances the best” (Comune di Levanto 2015).

 

CITTASLOW MOVEMENT IN BIGGER CITIES

Although the Cittaslow network was initially created for late-medieval and Renaissance towns in Italy with unique and strong cultural identity and regional ecologies, the network’s philosophy and principles quickly evolved to guide diverse cities and towns in Europe and later throughout the world (Turkmen, 2015). At present, towns that are designated as Slow Cities are those with populations less than 50,000 inhabitants, yet plans to adapt the slow city philosophy to vast metropolises such as Barcelona, Rome and Brussels have emerged in recent years. The application of Cittaslow to bigger cities has been termed as “Cittaslow Metropole” (Cittaslow 2014).

Creating slow cities in big metropolitan areas seems to be a contradiction.  With current trends of migration and urban development, it is predicted that by 2030, most of the world population will be living in highly urbanised areas and 41 megacities will be formed (UN-DESA, 2014) Cittaslow’s aim is to preserve a quality of life that integrates a city’s sense of place, while creating living environments that are unique and grounded on local character (Radstrom 2011). It also wants to support individuality, traditional handicrafts, as well as local history and traditions (Turkmen, 2015) However, as big urban areas are becoming more culturally diverse, with people emigrating from different localities, what becomes the basis of defining local character? Who is defined as local and what becomes defined as a local practice?

busan

Busan aerial view © Alex Hurst (Flickr)

Perhaps complying with the full requirements set by Cittaslow to its network is something constricting for bigger cities. The Cittaslow model excels in small towns because of their geographic locations, being that they are generally surrounded by countryside, strong identities and traditions, and their capacity to facilitate communication between members of the society. Currently, big cities can take part in the movement by becoming a “Cittaslow Supporter”, adhering to the general ethos of the slow cities.  One such supporter is Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, which aims to adopt Cittaslow’s values and goals through promoting slow food, slow tourism and slow transportation. Similarly, residents from the major port and industrial city of Wenzhou, in China have expressed interest in adopting the Cittaslow philosophy in order to combat the negative effects of fast-paced life while helping to preserve China’s cultural heritage (McKay 2015).

Connecting Zones

By focusing on enriching city quarters and peripheries, it is anticipated that Cittaslow can greatly abet a city’s historic quarter or centre through its promotion of alternative transportation, preservation of traditions, both cultural and architectural and slow tourism. This can also be used to help develop and connect a city’s outlying areas. In Rome, for example, it has been discussed to establish Cittaslow “oases” in the city’s peripheral areas. Rome aims to redevelop these areas through Cittaslow principles, thus connecting them to the city while promoting and encouraging the production of local food, wine and other artisanal products (L’aGone 2014). Additionally, through encouraging residents to consider slow transportation, such as walking or biking and by developing transportation in marginal zones cities can experience a reduction of traffic, energy use as well as noise and air pollution.

Improving Aesthetics and Quality of Life

Urban farming becomes an essential component in applying Cittaslow in big cities. Not only does innovative agricultural practices provide fresh local produce for local residents, it also provides food security and promotes sustainable development in urban areas (Brito & Caballero, 2015). The prevalence of urban gardens in larger cities also demonstrates the potential for ecogastronomoic practices to permeate in diverse metropolises and their peripheries. In addition to providing provisions of local and healthy food, urban gardens enrich the physical and sensual aesthetics of a place. In Glasgow, Scotland’s most populated city, inspiration was taken from Cittaslow to revive gaps and abandoned spaces which are now “venues for activities promoting culture, health and well-being” including playgrounds, open-air exercise zones, exhibition and art installation spaces, urban beaches, neighbourhood gardens and community workshops (publicspace.org 2013). Cities can also look to the Slow City of Perth, for example, which has made “plans to plant sweet smelling environment-enhancing plants in public and private gardens” (Perth & Kinross Council 2008). Pleasant, clean and quiet spaces will enhance citizens’ wellbeing through serving as refuge from the chaotic city streets, encouraging people to step away from their screens, slow down and positively connect with the surrounding environment.

Large cities can also benefit from the movement’s aim to improve aesthetics and walkability through the implementation of storefront and signage policies. Such policies have often been emphasised in historic centres such as Edinburgh in order to preserve the character of a place and improve accessibility (Edinburgh World Heritage 2016) Citizens of the Slow City of Perth have also petitioned that their Council, “in the interests of providing a fully accessible environment for all the Region’s citizens and its many visitors, commit to making Perth and Kinross a centre of excellence that places the wellbeing of its people before the interests of its Commerce” (Perth & Kinross Council 2010).

 

A CITY FOR ALL

Questions have been raised as to whether Cittaslow, as a “quality” based project, is elitist in that it only benefits a certain class of citizens or certain types of localities (Hoeschele 2010; Bjelland, 2010). Mayer & Knox (2006) believe that small communities, having local tangible and intangible heritage features, relatively affluent residents and located close to larger cities are best suited to achieve the Cittaslow ideals. Furthermore, Semmens & Freeman (2012) found out in their study in the application of Cittaslow in New Zealand that the adherence to the Network’s regulation can be a source of conflict as a consequence of predetermined cultural practices that are difficult to modify. It can be argued that Slow Cities are patterned to the cultural traditions, community cohesion, heritage and climate of Italian towns may be difficult to achieve for cultures that do not imbibe the European ideals (Bjelland 2010).

Intrinsically, major cities are hubs of commerce, technology, politics, and media wherein the global forces are constantly at play. It will be challenging for specific districts in a city to stop itself from the constant transformation happening within its vicinity. The principle of having a people-friendly city, having a calmer life due to low crime rate, sufficient recreational opportunities and inducing living in harmony with nature (Grzelak-Kostulska et al, 2011) are desires of all neighbourhoods in big cities. Cittaslow Metropole or becoming a Cittaslow Supporter should promote living a good quality of life not only for specific affluent districts in the city. Benefits should be spread to the larger community, providing strategies for resilience and promoting small-scale enterprises to thrive amidst the presence of global players.

Creating globally competitive yet locally focused cites seems to be quite contradictory. Further research is required, looking at how the Cittaslow Network can be true to its aspirations while providing the good quality of life it advocates for major cites. Moving away from specific definitions of quality of life but still providing sensory experience that are unique, empowering local initiatives should be advocated. Such efforts are best when they provide equity for economically and socio-culturally diverse communities with different priorities and values.

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From the 20th to the 22nd of April 2016, the International Federation of Landscape Architects will have its 53rd World Congress in Turin, Italy. This year’s congress is entitled, “Tasting the Landscape”, which will discuss landscapes that are expressions of a greater consciousness of the transformation that improve the places where people live in. The idea of “tasting” refers to the sensory experience of places, much like what is advocated in the Cittaslow movement. Four main themes will be discussed. First is “Sharing Landscapes”, which seeks to investigate every aspects of the food production in urban and peri-urban environments. Second is “Connected Landscapes”, which looks at sustainable connections between the different variables between conservation and development. Third is “Layered Landscape”, seeking the overlay of memories, uses, cultural, biological and temporal diversity of spaces. Lastly is “Inspiring Landscapes”, which looks at the social function of landscape architecture in creating creative imagination and poetic spaces.

Part of the discussions about Cittaslow movement that the authors have been explained above will be included in the proceedings of the 53rd IFLA World Congress. For more information about the events and topics that will be covered in the congress, please check the website at http://www.ifla2016.com/.

 

About the Authors

Ellyn Matta, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Media Studies and minors in Art History with a focus on history of architecture, Italian Studies and International Studies from the Pennsylvania State University in the United States. In 2015, she earned her Masters Degree in World Heritage Studies in Germany. She has gained experience in the management, promotion and nomination of World Heritage Cities in Edinburgh, Scotland, Hellerau, Germany, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her masters thesis concentrated on improving quality of life for citizens through realizing the values of sense of place and its application in urban planning. She conducted primary research in Assisi, Italy, where she analyzed the current situation and offered suggestions to help alleviate the focus on tourism and loss of the local population. You can get in touch with her through her email: eam5091@gmail.com

Gabriel Caballero is a landscape architect from the Philippines, who has worked for leading landscape design practices in Asia for the last decade. Gabriel came back to Asia in 2015, following two years of graduate studies in Germany focused on providing strategies for diverse issues of World Heritage Sites. He has worked on a variety of projects, including a design competition for the revitalization of the National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens; an architectural and landscape conservation strategy of the historic settlement of Hellerau in Germany and a masterplanning for a sustainable leisure destination in Hamilo Coast in the Philippines.

Gabriel Caballero

 

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