by Bob Leonard
Many people around the world are aware that our current growth economies and consumer societies are not working – they are the root causes of our climate crisis and many other societal woes. A few years ago thirty-three Italian towns banded together to protect their human-paced way of life from our turbocharged capitalist economic model. They have prohibited McDonald’s and Starbucks from setting up franchises in their cities. Some have enacted strict limits on electromagnetic emissions from mobile phone towers; others have banned car alarms and garish neon signs.
The Citta Lente movement began in 1999 when these Italian towns started to apply the ideas of Slow Food to urban planning. Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, and to counteract the global rise of fast food. Slow Food combats people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how our food choices affect the world around us.
Biodiversity is not confined to plants and animals, it belongs to languages, cultures and histories too. Slow Food and Citta Lente are working to give a voice back to those who have been rendered voiceless by factory farms and chain restaurants – the indigenous peoples who have lost their cultivation techniques and their seeds, and the small farmers who are the real scientists in the field and represent a commitment to improving the soil and the quality of local food.
It opens a new way to produce, to trade, and to consume. Citta Lente educates the community on shared social responsibility to be key players in measurable projects to improve the quality of life and social justice. Slow Food believes food is tied to many other aspects of life, including culture, politics, agriculture and the environment. Through our food choices we can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced and distributed, and change the world as a result.
In these Citta Lente (Slow Cities) Italians sit in the piazzas and linger over lunch. They refuse to accept the notion that a life with time for nothing but work represents progress. Many Americans consider such attitudes quaint, yet (ironically) they often choose Citta Lente for their vacations, never imagining that it is possible to enjoy this healthy lifestyle on a full time basis.
Working towards sustainability, defending the environment and reducing our excessive ecological footprint means committing ourselves to rediscover traditional know-how and to make the most of our resources through recycling and reuse, and applying new technologies where appropriate. The final objective is sustainable development (not synonymous with growth) and community.
The criteria to become a Citta Lente includes a unique quality-of-life indicator system that addresses issues of environmental protection and sustainable urban development, urban design and form, the support of local products, and educational awareness. The Citta Lente charter forms the philosophical basis for a set of action-oriented indicators. Member towns are obliged to pursue local projects that protect local traditions and cultures, contribute to a relaxed pace of life, create conviviality and hospitality, and promote a unique sense of place and local distinctiveness.
At present, living and managing a Slow City is just a way of carrying on an ordinary lifestyle, rather than one filled with stress and hurry. It is more human, environmentally correct and sensible for current and future generations. Slow Cities are rich with theaters, squares, cafes, craftsman workshops, restaurants, green landscapes and houses of worship. Cars are limited in urban centers. There are more walkways for pedestrians and bike paths for bicyclists.
Since 1999, the movement has expanded to 100 towns and 10 countries all over the world, connecting administrators, citizens and Slow Food partners. The Citta Lente movement promotes the use of technology oriented to improving the quality of the environment and of the urban fabric, and to safeguard the production of unique foods and wines that contribute to the character of a region.
Citta Lente seek to promote dialogue and communication between local producers and consumers. With the overarching ideas of environmental conservation, the promotion of sustainable development, and the improvement of urban life, Slow Cities provide incentives for food production using natural and environmentally-friendly techniques. Most food is produced locally, precluding the need to burn fossil fuels to transport food over long distances.
Citta Lente aligns well with a Finite Earth Economy. Both promote quality over quantity. Both replace the relentless pursuit of profit with the relentless pursuit of human well-being and the well-being of nature.