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April 14, 2009


Slow Down London gives city time to relax






Commuters walk across London Bridge on their way to work in the City
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With its impatient motorists, crowded Tube trains, barging pedestrians — and the stress of financial turmoil — London is perhaps ready for a break from the frenetic. The Go Slow movement is coming to the capital.


This month a ten-day festival, Slow Down London , will offer residents a rare opportunity: the chance to relax and take stock. From strolling across the Thames to meditation classes to workshops on timekeeping, the campaign aims to show people how to “live life in real time”.


If it is successful, organisers plan to expand their campaign to other British cities and conduct events throughout the year.


Tessa Watt, who organised the event with two friends who wanted a more balanced life, told The Times: “There’s a sense in a city like London that we do tend to run around like mad rabbits in a hutch. We get angry with someone ambling slowly on the pavement, and we want to throttle someone if they haven’t got their Oyster card out at the gate of the Tube. Things are a little bit out of hand.”





She said that the festival, supported by cultural institutions including the Southbank Centre and the British Museum, would offer a range of events aimed at inspiring people to “improve their lives by slowing down to do things well, rather than as fast as possible”.


A walk across Waterloo Bridge, which would take most commuters a couple of minutes, will take participants in an organised stroll up to an hour. A workshop will seek to revive the lost art of letter writing, while another will offer suggestions for better organisation of the working day.


During the event, which begins on April 24, organisers will sporadically hand out “speeding tickets” to pedestrians who they deem are walking too quickly.


Ms Watt said: “We’re not saying that people should be going slowly all the time, but stress and speed are major issues for most people in big cities. This is an opportunity to highlight the issue and help people create a little bit of space in their lives. It can be as simple as taking a lunch break — al fresco, not al desko. Or leaving time between appointments so that you can walk a bit slower and enjoy the environment around you.”


The concept of “slow living” originated in the late Nineties in Italian towns where residents feared that their traditional way of life was being eroded. Since then, several movements have sprung up across Europe — from slow food (producing food by more traditional means) to slow cities, which seek to enhance the quality of life, for instance by planting flowers in the street.


Several British towns have joined up to the Cittaslow programme, including Ludlow in Shropshire, Aylsham and Diss in Norfolk, Mold in North Wales, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Cockermouth in the North, and Perth and Linlithgow in Scotland. Membership is limited to towns with a population of less than 50,000.


Ms Watt said: “People associate slowing down with having to go outside the city, and they think you can only having a feeling of calm in rural life. We’re out to show that you can achieve that in the city.”


GO SLOW BEGAN TO PRESERVE ‘LA DOLCE VITA


Luca Di Gesu, a baker at Altamura in Apulia, southern Italy, is a local hero. When a McDonald’s appeared in the town eight years ago, he opened a shop next door selling delicious local pastries and bread — and was so successful that he forced it out of business (Richard Owen writes).


Mr Di Gesu, who is celebrated in a new film, Focaccia Blues, is a global hero, too, for Slow Food and Slow City campaigners. “Food, like life, is to be enjoyed slowly,” Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, said.


In a sense Italy has never lost the art of la dolce vita: that is why millions of tourists go there every year, to discover (or rediscover) the leisurely lunch and the contemplation of beauty.


But Mr Petrini, who founded Slow Food in 1986 as a reaction to the arrival of McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome, began his campaign out of fear that the Mediterranean way of life was being eroded by alien habits, such as a sandwich at the desk instead of lunch.


“We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, invades the privacy of our homes, and forces us to eat Fast Foods,” he wrote.


Many people agreed, and not only in the Mediterranean — which is why Slow Food went international, in 1989, and became the Slow City (Cittaslow) movement a decade ago.


For the Slow campaigners, real food goes hand in hand with walking or cycling, and the banning of traffic in ancient town centres, not to mention sustainable energy, recycling, environmentally friendly building materials, green spaces and local products. Oh yes, and a ban on those car alarms that go off when someone brushes the vehicle.


The first Cittaslow was Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, followed by Bra, Positano and Orviet. There are 42 slow cities in Italy, and more in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Poland and Norway.


When a town wishes to join, Slow City inspectors ensure that it deserves the Cittaslow snail logo. “Fast life”, the scheme’s manifesto says, “diminishes our opportunities for conversation, communion, quiet reflection and sensuous pleasure, thus short-changing the hungers of the soul.”




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