Why Life Is Sweeter in the Slow Lane ; It's Something We've All Suspected: The Modern World, with Its Fast Food and Stressful Habits, Is Getting Us Down. Now Four Italian Cities Are Doing Something about It. Frances Kennedy Reports
Kennedy, Frances, The Independent (London, England)
From a distance, Orvieto looks like an immense slab of rock surging out of the green Umbrian countryside. As you draw closer, you can make out the towers and walls that kept invaders at bay for centuries. To penetrate modern-day Orvieto, with its labyrinth of medieval streets, you need to jump aboard one of the pert electric buses that potter round the centre, or stroll up the steep cobbled lanes on foot. Aromas of cheese, olives and amaretti biscuits float out through the doors of inviting food shops and the windows of apartments. Elderly women stop to greet their neighbours in the lanes, and young businessmen stroll arm-in-arm, engrossed in discussion.
Orvieto is not, however, just another charming destination where visitors sigh, vow to sign up for an Italian course, and discuss which quaint house they would buy if they won the Lotto. It is one of Italy's four fully- fledged "Slow Cities", and at the cutting- edge of a movement that wants to revolutionise the way people live.
The "slow" label does not just mean long lunches and even longer siestas, nor a Luddite philosophy, nor nostalgia. Instead, it's nothing less than a third-millennium challenge, a strategy to reduce the destructive rhythms of modern life, resist the global homogenisation process, and put the "human" back into human beings.
The Slow Cities movement is an offshoot of Slow Food, a group that has grown from a club of Italian gourmets keen to save local traditions to a powerful environmental-gastronomic lobby whose philosophies are getting increasing play worldwide. Slow Food was founded by journalist Carlo Petrini in 1986 because he was enraged at the opening of a McDonald's in Rome; now it has more than 70,000 members in 45 countries. Petrini and his disciples claim that the ingredients, production, preparation and consumption of food reflect individual cultures and personal pleasure. Fast food, they claim, embodies the frenzied pace of modern life, allows no time for reflection, denies the social pleasure of eating together and kills diversity.
As food scares, stress-related illnesses, allergies, and biotech nightmares have raised more and more questions about just why it is that we are rushing, slowing down is becoming an attractive alternative. It was probably inevitable that the Slow philosophy would move beyond the family dinner -table and the local trattoria to include wider issues of how we live.
"This is a logical extension of our opposition to the homogenisation of tastes and traditions," says Silvio Barbero, national vice-president of Slow Food. "Just as we don't want teenagers the world over consuming Coca-Cola and hamburgers, neither do we want cities to erase or pillage their pasts. If the local butcher is replaced by a jeans shop, or the local farmers' market folds because there is a hypermarket in the next town, towns start looking sadly similar," said Barbero.
The four original members of the Slow Cities movement were Orvieto; Greve in Chianti, nestled among vine-clad hills in Tuscany; Bra, the headquarters of Slow Food in Piedmont; and Positano, on the Amalfi coast. Since then, another 40 Italian cities have jumped on the slow train - though they are still waiting for the final stamp of approval.
At their founding meeting in Orvieto in October 1999, the four mayors committed themselves to a series of measures that included increasing pedestrian zones; reducing traffic; cutting down noise pollution; encouraging restaurants that offer local products; supporting farmers who produce these delicacies; prohibiting genetically modified foods; conserving the local aesthetic traditions; and working to create more green space in their areas.
They also pledged to use technology to create a healthier environment, to make citizens aware of the value of a leisurely approach to life, and, most importantly, to share their experience in seeking administrative solutions for better living. …