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When Critical Mass forces motorists to slow down it’s deemed by many to be a lefty, political act of anti-progress vandalism.
When truckers hold up motorists - as they did yesterday in London - it’s deemed by many to be a legitimate and much needed protest against rising fuel prices.
Being forced to go slow is ‘bad’ in one case, ‘good’ in the other.
Yet, as any dispassionate observer can see, forcing motorists to cut their speed is a way of civilising a city.
The creation of so-called ’slow cities’ is going to happen with or without intervention. Unrestrained, motorists will clog up cities whether we like it or not. Restrained, at least the motorists could be channeled into long streams of micro-moving queues.
It’s this second approach that most cities will eventually adopt. As a recent AA/Populis survey found, rising fuel prices aren’t forcing people out of their cars, they just spend less on other things. Petrol is thought to be an ‘essential’ not a ‘luxury’ for many city dwellers.
Given that motorists won’t easily or willingly change their behaviour - heck, it’s a free society, they opine, as they gas-guzzle over the rights of other members of society - the only real solution is design. Cities need to stop designing for cars and start designing for people.
This is a central premise of the ’slow cities’ movement. At last week’s Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle upon Tyne I attended a number of thought-provoking talks but the one that chimed most with me was the one given by Carl Honoré, a Canadian now living - slowly - in London.
He’s the author of the bestseller In Praise of Slow. He didn’t start the ’slow movement’, but his writings are getting the message to a wider audience. The ’slow food’ movement - started in Italy by a gastronome - was perhaps the first of the ’slow’ ideas to gain a mainstream foothold, but others are now growing in importance, including ’slow cities.’
Honoré touched on this topic in his talk, although ’slow sex’ got the most interest from the audience, some of them twittering his highlights, not a very ’slow friendly’ thing to do.
Honoré describes the slow movement as:
It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.
Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to the rise of Slow Travel. The fast approach to travel and tourism is taking a heavy toll. The environmental damage caused by our penchant for air travel is well documented, but it is just the start. When we travel in roadrunner mode, we miss the small details that make each place thrilling and unique. We lose the joy of the journey. And at the end of it all, when every box on our To Do list has been checked, we return home even more exhausted than when we left. That is why Slow Travel is gaining ground.
Slow Travel is about savouring the journey (traveling by train or barge or bicycle or foot rather than crammed into an airplane); taking time to engage and learn about the local culture; finding moments to switch off and relax; showing an interest in the effect our visit has on the locals and on the environment. Obviously we don’t live in an ideal world so sometimes we have to travel faster than we want or should. But at least we should seek wherever possible to take a Slow approach to travel. It will deliver more pleasure, stronger memories and more sustainability.”
The whole of his talk from Thinking Digital can be watched below. He starts off by saying he nearly got knocked down in Newcastle by a ‘yummy mummy’ in an SUV talking on a cellphone, taking a bend too fast.