People are social creatures and we depend on our relationships with others for our well being. While we can individually make efforts toward Slow Living, ultimately we need the support and community of others to be successful. Slow Cities addresses this need by advocating that communities enhance their unique quality of life and protect the natural environment for residents, visitors, and future generations.
Like Slow Food, the Slow Cities movement started in Italy. The organization is known throughout the world as Cittaslow. (Pronounced "chée-tah-slo", "citta" means "city" in Italian.) Since 1999 it has spread to over 20 other countries throughout the world. Currently there are three Cittaslow cities in the U.S., all of them located in Northern California. They include Sonoma Valley, Sebastopol, and Fairfax. In addition to being the first Cittaslow in the United States, Sonoma is the headquarters for Cittaslow USA which is overseeing the expansion of the movement nationally. New Cittaslow towns across the United States are expected to be added beginning in 2011. Official membership in Cittaslow is limited to municipalities with under 50,000 people, but larger cities like London and Amsterdam are adopting some of the same principles and applying them to neighborhood initiatives.
Cittaslow has identified 54 goals and principles to encourage community development that enhances human and environmental well being. It supports communities as they preserve and build upon their unique qualities reflecting their historical roots as well as their aspirations for the future. This is not about nostalgia and dogged adherence to tradition; rather it is a call to resist the forces of homogeneity that result in every place looking and feeling like every other place. Slow Cities asks that we balance globalization with nurturing the integrity of our local human and natural systems.
Inherent in Slow Cities is the idea that our well being is in part dependent upon a healthy connection to the people and place where we live. This calls on us to become actively involved in shaping what happens in our communities. One of the many ways we can do this is by supporting local businesses and services. (For more information, visit BALLE, a national organization with many local networks in the U.S., advocating for healthy local economies.) Another way is to get involved in the wide array of local groups and organizations that are working toward improving the well being of the local residents and the environment. Alternatively, as Wes "Scoop" Nisker says, "If you don't like the news...go out and make some of your own." By gathering together with other like-minded people, we can embark on new projects to creatively enhance the quality of life in our neighborhoods. The growing Sunday Parkways movement is just one great example of an activity that combines many of the well being goals for cities in a fun, healthy, and family–oriented way. The Cittaslow website is designed as a place where ideas like these can be explored and exchanged.
Slow Cities is not just about improving the quality of life of its residents; it also encourages communities to develop their hospitality venues so that visitors can experience what is distinctive and special about the region. As slow travelers, on the other hand, we can seek out the qualities unique to any places we visit and experience what is truly local, be it events, points of interest, or businesses and institutions. How can we experience what it means to live in another place and experience the quality of life it has to offer? Slow Cities invites us to slow down so that we can see and connect with the rich diversity of the world where we live as well as the diversity of the world around us.