Slow Food and Slow Urbanism, by Thomas E. Low : Essays : Terrain.


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by Thomas E. Low Is there a correlation between the Slow Food Movement and people’s general concern about the loss of quality of life associated with rampant development that threatens the character of their community? The Slow Food Movement started in Europe as a reaction to the onslaught of American fast food chains opening in historic towns and cities. These chains disrupted the tradition of restaurants and cafés that worked within a local and regional network of farm to market to table. In the past ten years the popularity of the Slow Food Movement has greatly expanded internationally, with local Slow Food “Convivia”—small local chapters—established all over the world. The Snail is their symbol "of slow motion, to educate us that being fast makes man inconsiderate and foolish.” The Slow Food Manifesto states: “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.” If a convivium is spawned to encourage the slow pleasure of eating, could a like movement envelope other quality-of-life issues? In Italy, a network of “Slow Cities” Has already been formed In regions of the U.S., where Smart Growth principles have been embraced, there is still growing interest in slowing down rampant growth. Huntersville, North Carolina, has been supporting Smart Growth—locally called “New Urbanism”—for the last half-dozen years to control the rapid growth sprawling out from Charlotte. It is following the New Urbanist belief that the development and restoration of compact, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly neighborhoods are the best building blocks for a livable region. These strategies, many believe, are also key to revitalizing our inner cities and helping to mitigate the effects of suburban sprawl. But people in Huntersville are not happy about the kind of development that is resulting even from a New Urbanist approach. This may be due to the way it being interpreted locally. Even though the development codes promote New Urbanism for new development, in developing

New Urbanism is a quality of life calling for better communities and more livable regions. The Goals of New Urbanism are to: • Ensure that our cities, suburbs and towns are healthy and vibrant. • Improve the quality of our natural and built environments. • Provide people with choices about how and where to live. The focus of New Urbanism is on the creation of neighborhoods for people. Every neighborhood should have: • A range of housing choices from family homes to affordable apartments. • Shops, parks, schools, services and work places within walking distance of homes. • Quality transportation options for those that cannot or do not drive. • Public places that help foster a sense of community and nurture civic culture.
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” Our motto will be “Make Haste Slowly. But New Urbanism is not at fault. Mixed-use is missing—people still drive for miles just to spend a nickel. • A respect for our natural environment and built heritage. several very successful New Urbanist developers and planners have concluded through experience that successful and better projects can be more profitable by going slower. 12/29/11 10:34 PM areas of Huntersville the New Urbanist design stops at the border of each individual development. there is no overall study of the impact of development on existing infrastructure and development—hence. Low : Essays : Terrain. loss of water quality. For every “good” neighborhood planning project there are dozens of massive subdivisions where course grain clumps of cookie-cutter houses (even though they do include front porches. Highvolume production builders are taking advantage of the categories by following only the minimum letter of the law. A moratorium was enacted for several months to give the town time to create greater restrictions on where development should go in hopes of curbing these negatively received hybrids. But until the principles of New Urbanism are applied to the town of Huntersville as a whole. and between new development and its surrounding context. Sidewalks abruptly end at high-speed streets across from suburban-style schools only accessible by car. I have begun to realize the only effective approach may be for everyone to slow down just enough to think about the kind of development they are trying to do. alas. Neighborhoods designed for people are the building blocks of the villages. towns and cities that make up healthy metropolitan regions. Fortunately Huntersville leaders are addressing the problem. yet with ill-defined private yards) sit separately. including hybrid categories of zoning.terrain. Part of the reason for this local hybrid New Urbanism is that the well-intentioned revisions to the Huntersville zoning ordinance offer too much flexibility. In this ever-growing degradation of our quality of life. including connectivity between developments. has helped slow that degradation. to celebrate local community building traditions.Slow Food and Slow Urbanism.htm Page 2 of 4 . by Thomas E. even to a small extent. In fact. the continued increase in traffic woes. it will continue to see the "New Urbanism on steroids" type of development—or a kind of fast-food version of Smart Growth. There is little thought given to neighborhood form. Public transit does not function in this kind of contrived environment. some people put the blame on New Urbanism. albeit too shallow for rocking chairs) and townhouses (even though they do include rear alleys for all the garages. Additionally. The newly passed rural and transitional zoning focusing more intense development towards transit is a big step in the right direction. and to take time—this is the important (and fun part) -to enjoy community life with family and friends. But will growth boundaries alone improve the kind of development people associate with quality of life? There is still.” civic culture. So what would Huntersville’s development be like if the current zoning ordinance and planning policy was modified using elements of the Slow Food treatise and transforming some its guiding principles into a slowed-down version of New Urbanism—say Slow Urbanism? A Slow Urbanism Treatise might sound something like this: “Slow Urbanism encourages people to create whole http://www. school shortages. The adoption of New Urbanism. Connectivity is weak and mostly limited to internal circulation. plenty of room inside the boundaries to wreak havoc.

” We’ll form a subcommittee for eco-urbanists and proclaim. marketing people. In Slow Urbanism the small scale builders and designers will be the heroes. Unlike mass production development. Low : Essays : Terrain. in a grouping of rocking chairs. Slow Urbanism development will create places with a fine-grain and mixed variety. Anyone interested in joining? I’ll be the first to sign up! Click above for larger image. restaurateurs. town planners. parks. Realtors. Slow Urbanism will be the antithesis to new urbanism on steroids. environmentalists. We’ll meet on week-ends in various neighborhoods—or future sites for neighborhoods—for “Slow Urbanism Socials. What better way to make a political statement than by living in a well-designed and well-built supportive neighborhood? A neighborhood gathering of the Slow Urbanism Convivium would seem a world away from suburban sprawl zones and the boomtown pile-ups. coffee houses.” We’ll support local trades and suppliers. shop owners. There won’t be any Jack-in-the-Boxes. Our meetings will be held over a pleasurable meal and drinks. politicians. Most importantly. and municipal officials. landscape architects. or Wal-Marts glaring at us across parking lots. Tom Low practices architecture and town planning in the Carolinas—slowly but surely. It could be real joy! Nurturing authentic and meaningful community as the core idea of the Slow Urbanism mission will make the movement appealing to everyone. musicians.Slow Food and Slow Urbanism. builders. house designers. and squares. Old Navies. Our Slow Urbanism Convivium will take field trips to visit great towns and neighborhoods for intellectual study and to have some fun away from the sprawl zones. During meetings we’ll take leisurely strolls along pedestrian friendly streets and get to know our neighbors.terrain. the conviviums will include just plain folk.htm Page 3 of 4 . “You can’t have ecology without urbanism and you can’t have urbanism without ecology!” And that “in order to grow a community well. by Thomas E. and (even) developers. front porches. gardeners. architects. Print : Blog : Next http://www. Slow Urbanism will be for real people who want to live in meaningful neighborhoods. low-tech methods—putting local building traditions at center stage. you need authentic local sustainable models based on tradition. in neighborhood cafes. Friday’s. Building neighborhoods using 12/29/11 10:34 PM We’ll start Slow Urbanism Conviviums (or Clubs for the less pretentious) composed of distinguished citizens. interior designers. It’s possible some people might even experience community life for the first time.

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