Monday, March 23, 2009

Slow, or Failed, Cities?

From the Joongang: "In Italian, citta slow means a slow life." Other places have it translated as "slow city", which makes a little more sense to me.
What is a slow city? From the slowmovement website:
Fired by the success and support for Slow Food the Italians set about initiating the Slow Cities movement. Slow cities are characterised by a way of life that supports people to live slow. Traditions and traditional ways of doing things are valued. These cities stand up against the fast-lane, homogenised world so often seen in other cities throughout the world. Slow cities have less traffic, less noise, fewer crowds.
The slowmovement site is not entirely thrilled by this:
Towns in Italy have banded together to form an organization and call themselves the Slow Cities movement. In their zeal to help the world they have formed what amounts to a global organization that sets out to control which cities in the world can call themselves Slow Cities and which cannot. This is not a movement. Social movements are movements from the bottom from the community. The seachange movement, the organic movement, the vegetarian movement, the homeschooling movement, are examples of movements. No-one controls them. No-one assesses you to see if you are allowed to call yourself a seachanger or if you can say you are a vegetarian.
From the Joongang:
The Cittaslow Association selects a slow city after visiting candidate cities, which has to pass a total of 24 assessments.

For example, the population of a would-be slow city should be less than 50,000, and the natural environment should be well preserved.

The city should also have its own locally grown organic products, and the city should not have big-box chains or fast-food chains.

Any city that is selected must undergo reassessment once every four years to ensure standards are maintained.

Here is a bit of nationalism:
Korea has five slow cities, but China and Japan, two of Asia’s most-visited tourist attractions, don’t have any.

Twenty cities from these countries have applied for recognition from Cittaslow, but they all failed to make the grade, apparently.

The association said Japanese farming villages don’t have their own character because they are far too developed and organized.

Hooray! Korean farming villages aren't well organized.

Alright, that's enough of the easy insults.

The idea of a slow city needs a little explaining but once the basics are covered, it does sound like a nice place to live. Small town friendliness, cleanliness and, um, local cultureliness all sound great. I have been away from my hometown (Bracebridge, Ontario) for ten or so years and, in brief visits, I feel disappointed by the Walmart and other big boxes (A&P, by contrast, felt like a local store- only because it had been there in my childhood). I would like my hometown, especially if I return to stay, to be the way I remember it; a small town in which I knew most of the people I passed on the street.

The examples in the Joongang, however, include the island village of Cheongsan in South Jeolla (a little poaching, Bizarro Brian):
This is nothing but a poor fishing village. A total of 2,613 people reside on this island. Most of them are senior citizens,” said Park Eun-kyung, the head of the local council.

Elsewhere: Officials from Cittaslow said the island came close to the very spirit of slow life when they went there to evaluate its environment in 2007.

I think the movie Mapado publicized the way Island communities are fading; basically becoming "silver towns" (for the silver haired). I can accept a "city" of 2,613, but it seems moribound tradition is being celebrated here more than low-key comfort.

another region is Sinan County:
Sinan County, South Jeolla, became a slow city because of Jeung Island, where high quality sun-dried salt is produced. Workers labor all day under the blazing sun drying saltwater and raking the salt.

After witnessing the slow process of making salt, officials from the Cittaslow Association kept saying “wonderful.”
I do accept that these places, and other in the article, are preserving important part of Korean culture and tradition and are worth bringing attention to. On the other hand, there is no point being poor for the sake of being poor. As the saying goes, "There is no nobility in poverty".

I know how to work hard and respect people who do so. I don't think that is an end in itself. If salt production, for example, is best and more environmentaly friendly using human labour, fine. If the village is small because it is poor, that is not a great reason to celebrate it.

On a contrary note, at the end of the article, they describe slow food, which does seem productive, at least as marketing:
Along with slow fashion, the importance of slow food is surfacing. Among typical Korean slow foods, fermented soy sauce, red pepper paste, soybean paste and kimchi are gaining attention.

“You have to wait at least two or three years to get authentic soy sauce and soybean paste,” said Kim Jong-ok, a 55-year-old housewife.

Kim is a daughter-in-law in the Sun family in Boeun, North Chungcheong.

The family has been making traditional soy sauce, red pepper paste and soybean paste for the past 350 years.

At one food fair which was held in 2006 by Hyundai Department Store, a 1 liter bottle of Kim’s soy sauce was sold for 5 million won ($3,541).


Brian said...

Ugh, I was going to write about this later, and say the same thing. I'm seriously considering using curse words.

Your was the same reaction as mine when I read this article this morning. It'd be one thing if, say, Suncheon's citizens shifted their lifestyle over a number of years to reflect the ideals of the "Slow City" movement. But in the cases of rural Jeollanam-do, it's not like they actually CHOSE to be poor, agrarian, and slow . . . there are just no young people.

I lived in Gangjin county in 2006-2007, and people would go "어, 외국사람이다" when I walked by. I had just about the same reaction when I saw anybody between the ages of 18 and 35. Seriously, I saw one woman who fit the description as I walked to work, and two more at the gym that might have barely fit under that upper limit.

Anyway, I may pouch this article right back. And I'll try my best to use foul language.

kwandongbrian said...

That was fast. I posted this about ten minutes ago.