Preaching a Slow Approach

For most in America, the Slow movement is a culinary excursion. For Stefano Cimicchi, the Mayor of Orvieto and the president of Slow Cities, it is a social, economic, and civic philosophy.

| Mon May 5, 2003 2:00 AM EDT

Imagine a city with a call center for residents to express concerns about their quality of life. Now imagine it is New York. Stefano Cimicchi, mayor of Orvieto, founding member of Slow Cities movement and its current president, believes such a vision can be made a reality -- and so do 63 other mayors around the world.

Citta Slow, or the Slow City Association, is Slow Food's sister movement. What Slow Food means for the table, Slow Cities means for the town. Dedicated to the concept of considered living, a Slow City is judged by the quality of its physical and gastronomic environment. In order to be a Slow City, the community must be committed to ecological preservation, sustainable development, and among many other statutes and laws, a quality of life call center.

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Stefano Cimicchi has been at the vanguard of Citta Slow and speaks with Mother Jones about the future of Slow Cities and their unhurried migration across the Atlantic.

MotherJones.com: How did the Slow City movement emerge?

Stefano Ccimicchi: In 1998 Slow Food met with the mayors of the cities of Bra, Greve in Chianti, Orvieto, and Positano to create an international network of Slow Cities. I have been closely involved as the Mayor of Orvieto, one of the founding partners.

MJ: What are the goals of a Slow City and how do you achieve those goals?

SC: A Slow City is committed to improving the quality of life of its residents. We support traditional local foods, we try to make Orvieto a hospitable place for visitors, and we work hard to make the city a seamless part of the urban fabric. For example, Orvieto recently closed the historical town center to all car traffic. Two large parking lots outside the city center host all the visitors' cars and save the town from traffic, pollution, and noise.

MJ: Has there been any resistance to such measures?

SC: At first the shopkeepers were not happy. They were concerned their businesses would be hurt by the lack of car traffic. In fact, the reverse has happened and now they are proud to be part of a slow city.

MJ: How is a Slow City different from a fast one?

SC: We have different priorities. We're interested in technology that helps rather than hurts the environment. We are interested in safe-guarding the production of unique foods and wines that contribute to the character of this region. And primarily, we are focused on sustainable development.

MJ: Are there connections between food, lifestyle, and politics that exist in Europe but do not in America?

SC: In Italy, we take time to eat. We'll sit at the table at least once a day. The American way of life, in the eyes of Italian people, is too consumerist. Always buy, buy, buy! But there are some things you can't buy: tranquility, the beauty of your local landscape, friendship, kindness. Italians are conscious of this difference. Even look at our hospitals: In Orvieto, you can be treated even if you don't have enough money to pay the fees.

MJ: Does this mean American cities don't stand much chance of becoming Slow?

SC: No. Improving the quality of life must be the goal of every Mayor, whether in Europe or in America. It's very simple: healthy food makes happy citizens and that is good politics.

I believe Slow Cities will be very successful in the US. The movement is growing very fast. We almost can't keep up! There are already 63 Slow Cities around the world and we are preparing the entry of cities from the UK, Australia, Germany, Scandinavia, and the US into the Citta Slow organization.