The so-called ‘Città Slow’, or Slow Cities, movement is the brainchild of Slow Food in conjunction with four small Italian provincial towns: Greve in Chianti, Orvieto, Bra and Positano. Over the last few years, interest in the initiative has grown incredibly and numbeous other Italian and foreign towns and cities have asked to join.
Like all great ideas the one behind Slow Cities is deceptively simple. It places the emphasis on the concept of good living seen in terms of the quality of the local environment and gastronomic resources and the use of new technologies for collective well-being.
The movement even has a statute and a set of regulations which establish what a place must be like for it to be pleasant to live, work and spend leisure time there.
The idea has attracted a great deal of attention in the foreign press and is envied by administrators the world over.
In Italy, 18 towns and cities presently comply with the prerequisites envisaged in the statute and have thus been certified as ‘Città Slow’, many others are in the process of being certified and more still are waiting to be taken into consideration.
Following the last congress of the movement held in Positano on January 26, Stefano Cimicchi, mayor of Orvieto, was elected to succeed Paolo Saturnini, mayor of Greve in Chianti, as president of the movement.
Mayor Cimicchi, Orvieto was one of the founders of the Slow City Association and now you’ve become president. What are the guidelines of your mandate?
Let’s kick off with the most ambitious goal. We want the association to become a player at European level to make sure that the Constitution currently being drawn up takes into account the reality of small towns and cities. Scholars, town planners and sociologists have recognized that the most human dimension to live in is that of the small agglomerates of no more than 50,000 inhabitants. The model for the ideal city is the late-medieval and Renaissance one, with the piazza functioning as a center of social aggregation. Europe has to remember its roots and acknowledge the historical role its cities have played in the construction of its identity.
You mean a sort of return to the ‘Age of the Communes’?
Not exactly, but when Stasbourg gets round to defining roles, it’s important to remember this specific feature of the old continent, of the socio-cultural role of towns and cities and the enormous contribution that they can potentially give to a new model of good living.
Here we come to the heart of the matter. Tangibly speaking, why do Slow Cities define themselves as towns and cities of ‘good living’?
Because the association is made up of the public administrations of places that have pledged to work tangibly to improve the quality of the life of their citizens. To become Slow Cities, they have to meet a number of basic parameters relating to environmental policy, infrastructure, the level of local produce and crafts, services and accommodation facilities. Plus, membership of the association implies constant commitment to developing projects to improve these parameters.
Tell us about your home town, Orvieto.
In 1999, Orvieto was one of the founders of the association. The cue came from the enthusiasm of Carlo Petrini and Slow Food, which held its World Congress here in 1997 – though the whole of Umbria was of course already ‘slow’.
The citizens of Orvieto immediately demanded coherence. We directed our attention towards collective catering, eliminating standardized menus from canteens and introducing traditional dishes. Then we extended the pedestrian precinct in the city center to improve the quality of the air and give people more traffic-free space to walk in. We are now developing an interdisciplinary Health and Sustainability scheme to improve public health, services and the environment
What about the other Slow cities?
Through a Coordination Committee we are undertaking a series of joint initiatives: courses of food education, projects to protect local produce and crafts, the expansion of pedestrian precincts, controls on the quality of air, the setting up of offices for eco-compatible building, the regulation of construction techniques, the standardization of electromagnetic aerial installations and so on.
Being ‘slow’ doesn’t mean arriving late On the contrary, it means using new technologies to make towns and cities ideal places to live in.
Since the Slow City movement came into being, it has aroused enormous interest, especially abroad. It was the cover story on Newsweek a few months ago, and dozens of articles have appeared in the most important foreign newspapers and magazines. Do you intend to export the Slow Cities concept outside of Italy?
We’re very proud to be attracting all this attention in countries such as Germany, the UK, the USA and others still. Ours is a dynamic movement and we do have plans for expansion abroad. We want to start by establishing a coordination network of with Germany, the country with which we have the closest contacts.. Our meeting in Positano in January was attended by a delegation from the German town of Hersbruck in Franconia. I’ve also spoken to Giuliano Amato, vice-president of the EU’s new Convention on the future of Europe, asking him to include rules to safeguard small towns and cities in the future EU Constitutional Charter. Last but not least, we are planning to stage a congress abroad to launch Slow Cities internationally.
Alessandra Abbona e Paola Nano work at the Slow Food Press Office.
Additional research by Giancarlo Gariglio
Adapted from the Italian by John Irving