When we talk about large cities like Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris or London, I get the impression that the pace of daily life in cities — made up of work, lunch breaks grabbed on the run, hectic rushing about and all the rest — has become disproportionately counterproductive. I know we are all keen to enjoy their wide range of cultural and gastronomic opportunities, but if we stop and ask ourselves how healthy and balanced everyday living is, it is not a straightforward issue.
The great challenge facing these cities in coming decades is how they can become more human — maybe starting by creating more green areas and recognizing the value of those they already have. Why not set up schools with a minimum garden area? A space where children and their teachers could play, have a proper break, appreciate nature, try growing food and learn about the products we find on the table every day.
The same reasoning could be extended to the whole city. Abandoned areas could be recovered and vegetable gardens created, obviously subject to what is possible. There are all too few examples of cities that have the good fortune to be perfectly integrated with their natural surroundings, such as Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast. Vancouver has certainly been endowed with wonderful resources: a massive chain of mountains behind and the sea in front mean that early in the morning you can be walking in the mountains and half an hour later be in the office. In the lunch break you can cycle round the magnificent Stanley Park, the most beautiful city park you could imagine. Or enjoy pristine green nature before going for a sail in the enormous bay. This is not a dream but a reality: houses are still harmoniously immersed in nature, with enormous areas of evergreen surrounding them. It conveys the impression of a healthy life with a less frenzied pace.
There is a second incredible thing, and that is its integrated multicultural population — almost half is of Asian origin (Japan, Korea, China) and there is a small and prolific Italian and European community. You can see it in the extraordinary range of restaurants Vancouver can offer. And here nature once again gives a hand: for example, the Japanese restaurants in Vancouver are said to be the best in the world because of the quality of the fresh fish they can serve.
Less fortunate places might have to make a virtue of necessity but that doesn’t mean they have to give up at the outset.
First published in la Stampa on June 12 2004
Carlo Petrini is the president of Slow Food
Adapted by Ronnie Richards