“People are nicer to each other when they move more slowly and have time to make eye contact.” How to create a happy city.
Is this the end of strolling at a leisurely pace through London? Say hello to Fast and Slow lanes for pedestrians.
Remember when we used to have a day of rest? In Christian countries, it was Sunday. Work stopped, stores closed, the sound and fury of the city subsided.
But that’s all a distant memory now. Sunday has become just like any other day of the week: we work, shop, surf the Net, sit fuming in traffic jams.
This is folly. Most cultures have some kind of Sabbath tradition for one simple reason: we all need a break.
It’s probably too late to turn back the clock to make Sunday an official day of rest. The genie is out of the bottle and the world is too complex and multicultural to accept an enforced Sabbath.
But we can still set aside a day to relax, reflect and spend time with the people that are important to us.
One way to do that is to take part in the Slow Sunday Campaign. It is the brainchild of Resurgence, a wonderful British magazine that espouses a Slow view of the world. One Sunday a month, its readers are invited “to take part in simple actions that symbolize a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change.”
One Sunday it was baking bread. Last time it was planting something.
I love this idea. We’re all so busy and frenetic that we almost need a campaign to remind us that it’s okay to ease off one day a week.
My own Sundays are already pretty slow. In the morning I play soccer with my son, his friends and few other dads. Then we usually cook, eat a leisurely lunch and maybe go for a walk.
Come to think of it, our Saturdays are kinda slow, too.
If the Resurgence campaign catches fire, the next step might be to start crusading for Slow Weekends…
It’s finally here.
The first Slow Down London festival kicked off on Friday with, among other things, a very slow walk across Waterloo Bridge. Over the next 10 days, one of the world’s fastest cities will be exploring the benefits of putting on the brakes with a heaving smorgasbord of talks, activities, workshops and media coverage.
This is hugely exciting. If you’d said to me five years ago, when In Praise of Slow came out, that London would be holding a big Slow Down festival in 2009 I would have written you off as a dreamer. Or a loon. It shows how far the Slow revolution has come – and how fast.
Of course, skeptics say it’s impossible to slow down in London. But they are wrong. You don’t have to move to the country to decelerate. You can be slow anywhere because slow is a state of mind. It’s about how you use time.
Slow Down London does not aim turn this magnificent city into a Mediterranean holiday resort or a painting by John Constable. The energy and dynamism of London are wonderful The problem is that we get caught up in the frenzy and it backfires on us. We can get so much more out of London by slowing down a bit.
So if you live in or near London, I urge you to take part in some of the festival events. If you live somewhere else, why not start planning a Slow Down festival in your own town?
Tonight, I will be speaking at the Southbank centre about the Slow movement. On Monday, I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion about what the Slow movement means for crafts and the art of making things. And on Wednesday, I’m chairing a discussion about Slow travel.
In other words, it won’t be a very slow week for me…
I’m in Amsterdam now – one of my favourite cities. I love the art, the energy, the architecture, the sense of humour. Small wonder the Dutch capital has inspired legions of painters. Bathed in spring sunshine, the canals, flanked by rows of tall, narrow brick houses and willow trees swaying lazily in the breeze, are achingly beautiful. I always feel like I could happily live here.
Amsterdam could teach the rest of the world a thing or two about being a Slow city. It mixes the dynamism and swagger of a major metropolis with the approachability of a smaller town. Much of that comes from the way its citizens get around. Amsterdam is not in hock to the car. The streets are a buzzing ecosystem of trams, pedestrians and cyclists – and the car is kept firmly in its place.
It’s the cycling that really makes Amsterdam stand out. The city has dedicated paths and traffic lights for cyclists all over the place. The locals bike everywhere. You see businessmen in smart suits pedalling home from work. Or elegant women in high-heels cycling off to meet friends for lunch. Even bad weather doesn’t put them off.
If only the rest of the world would follow suit. Imagine if you could cycle round London or New York or Buenos Aires without fear of being squashed by a bus or an SUV.
No one in Amsterdam wears a cycling helmet, by the way. Apart from the tourists.
Chatting with John Brown, the man behind the Slow Homes movement.
Talk about climate change. Britain is grappling with the largest snowfall in nearly 20 years. London is buried under seven inches of the white stuff – and there are still flurries blowing around outside my window. The country has ground to a halt. In London, there are nobuses, no Tube, no school, nothing.
This is a huge inconvenience for many, but there is also a silver lining. To begin with, children are over the moon to have the day off school. Mine dashed outside in just their pajamas and boots this morning before breakfast. My son declared it the “best day of his life.”
Many Londoners know how he feels. The absence of traffic has changed the whole mood and feel of the city. Streets normally clogged with cars and buses are now full of children (and adults) building snowmen, throwing snowballs and even tobogganing. Neighbours who usually avoid eye-contact are stopping to chat about the weather. This is hardly surprising:Studies around the world show a direct correlation between cars and community: the less traffic that flows through an area (and the more slowly it flows) the more social contact among the residents.
I do not mean to demonize cars. I drive one myself. The trouble is that driving has gained too much ascendancy over walking. For decades, urban life has been haunted by the words of Georges Pompidou, a former president of France: We must adapt the city to the car, and not the other way round.
How wrong can someone be? The city of the future – a truly Slow city – must take a different tack. It must adapt not to the car but to the citizen, to the pedestrian, to human beings. And it shouldn’t wait around for a snowstorm to do so.
By coincidence, this snowfall has hit Britain on the day that alandmark studyon the statechildhood hit the headlines. The report sounds fascinating and flawed, and I will blog on it later once I’ve actually read it. But a quick comment now.
On the BBC this morning, one of the report’s authors blamed the unhappiness of modern British children on career-obsessed parents, competitive schooling, broken families, excessive consumerism etc. But he failed to mention our collective reluctance to let them run around and play outside on their own. If we want happy, healthy kids, then we need to redesign and rethink our cities so that they have plenty of outdoor space for play. And surely reclaiming the streets from traffic must be a first step to achieving that.
I’ve just arrived in Lisbon to give a talk to a group of business people. My hotel is in the Bairro Alto, the old quarter where narrow, cobbled streets trickle live rivulets of water down the hill to the sea. It is hard to get anywhere in a hurry, and you wouldn’t want to anyway because the architecture is so beautiful. It’s all a million miles from so much of North America, where the roads are laid out so that cars can hurtle through, and the functional, disposable buildings offer nothing to arrest the eye or make you want to linger. When it comes to slowing down, Europeans, with their wonderful, old cities, definitely have an advantage…Now I’d better hurry up and rehearse my speech….