Saturday, January 29, 2005

Building it up, slowing it down

In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honoré

I had an interesting conversation the other day with René Campbell, director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau. She's interested in the "Slow Cities" movement. Begun in Italy and spreading (slowly) across western Europe, it hasn't made much of an impact yet in the United States--unlike the related "Slow Food" movement, which has. Both are responses to globalization, which "proposes median models which belong to no one and inevitably generate mediocrity." Quoting further from the Slow Cities charter: cities are asked to

1- implement an environmental policy designed to maintain and develop the characteristics of their surrounding area and urban fabric, placing the onus on recovery and reuse techniques
2- implement an infrastructural policy which is functional for the improvement, not the occupation, of the land
3- promote the use of technologies to improve the quality of the environment and the urban fabric
4- encourage the production and use of foodstuffs produced using natural, eco-compatible techniques, excluding transgenic products, and setting up, where necessary, presidia to safeguard and develop typical products currently in difficulty, in close collaboration with the Slow Food Ark project and wine and food Presidia
5- safeguard autocthonous production, rooted in culture and tradition, which contributes to the typification of an area, maintaining its modes and mores and promoting preferential occasions and spaces for direct contacts between consumers and quality producers and purveyors
6- promote the quality of hospitality as a real bond with the local community and its specific features, removing the physical and cultural obstacles which may jeopardize the complete, widespread use of a city's resources
7- promote awareness among all citizens, and not only among inside operators, that they live in a Slow City, with special attention to the of young people and schools through the systematic introduction of taste education.

Like the Green Cities movement, the Slow Cities movement emphasizes environmental sustainability.

Could Chapel Hill be a Slow City? We share many of the goals, at least when it comes to the environment. These are important goals to keep in mind as we move forward with the development of Parking Lots 2 and 5 and the Wallace Parking Deck. We're planning for a phased mixed-use development to the tune of $82 million. An "improvement," or an "occupation" of our downtown? I think it can be a genuine improvement if we are careful.

We're trying to be careful with the architecture, particularly the design of the public space. On February 10--timed to be before we go through our first round of evaluation of potential developers--the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Chapel Hill are hosting a session with Ronald Lee Fleming of the Townscape Institute. We will want his help in identifying what kinds of design work best to get people to slow down and interact, "to promote the quality of hospitality."

The odds are against slow cities, as I've suggested before. Wish us luck.

UPDATE on Ronald Lee Fleming's visit here.

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