Renovation & Design

Slow city

�ñº From the folks who brought you slow food, it's...

The Society for the Deceleration of Time, the World Institute of Slowness, the International Institute for Not Doing Much. Though all of these may sound like farcical organizations, and the last one perhaps is, the global "Slow" Movement is not only quite real, it is picking up momentum.

Rooted in the Slow Food movement that started in Italy, the trend has evolved to encompass everything from Slow Cities and Slow Design to Slow Reading and Slow Sex. In 2005, Carl Honore, a Canadian living in London, brought widespread attention to the movement with a book, In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.

This September, Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island is hoping to announce it is the first town in North America to be inducted into Cittaslow (or Slow City), an internationally recognized network of towns committed to putting quality of life first.

Cittaslow was founded in 1999 by four towns in Italy -- Bra, Orvieto, Greve-in-Chianti, and Positano -- that believed the principles of Slow Food could be applied to the environment to make towns better places for residents and visitors.

Today, the organization's manifesto sounds very similar to many of the guides on sustainable design and development. Its 55 criteria are grouped into six categories: environmental policy, infrastructure, quality of urban fabric, encouragement of local produce and products, hospitality and community and Cittaslow awareness. While city planners, development specialists and urban residents across North America debate and struggle over how to make cities more sustainable, almost 120 municipalities across Europe have pledged to transform their cities into havens of slowness.

"Slow is just a new word to understand old problems," Honore writes. "It's a refreshening of ideas that have been there since time immemorial. But there's a new appeal about the word slow. It's pithy, it's countercultural."

Although Slow Cities aim to preserve and promote local traditions -- architecture, crafts, cuisine, etc. -- the campaign is far from Luddite in nature. "Being slow does not mean being torpid, backward or technophobic," Honore writes.

Mara Jernigan, of Fairburn Farm in the Cowichan Valley and president of Slow Food Canada, describes the Cittaslow movement as a tool for protecting local communities. "If people moving into brand-new houses are not aware of the history and the biodiversity of a region, they don't value it."

For those looking at adding a slice or two of Slow to their daily sandwich of urban fervour, a growing number of designers, including the founders of SlowLab, in New York, are creating objects to operate like speed bumps for those who may be living life too fast. Thorunn Arnadottir, an Icelandic designer, made a clock using a string of beads draped over a notched metal disc. One bead drops every five minutes, marking time in a way that seems to slow it down.

Closer to home, John Brown, a Calgary architect and University of Calgary professor, is urging people to just say no to cookie-cutter houses in new developments. Likening such design to fast food -- a supersized hamburger and fries -- Brown feels that people are being undernourished by awkward spaces and huge houses.

In 2006, he launched in an effort to educate people on how to create deeper and more intimate relationships with their homes.


-- CanWest News Service


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