Senses in the City

A new movement to preserve pleasure in our modern world

| March/April 2002

The sensuous life, for most Americans, is relegated to vacation idylls and weekends in the country. Day-to-day existence in the urban areas where most of us liveis usually seen as an assault on our senses. But does it have to be that way? Why shouldn’t city dwellers and suburbanites be able to stop and smell the roses, instead of auto exhaust?

This is the idea behind the Slow Cities League, which so far encompasses 73 Italian towns and one each in Germany and Croatia that have pledged to promote home-style food, a clean environment, quiet neighborhoods, urban charm, and the idea that the good life is an unhurried sensual experience. The league is an offshoot of Italy’s burgeoning Slow Food Movement, conceived as a protest against McDonald’s and other industrialized intrusions into cherished traditions of good food. (The Slow Food movement spread around the world and now includes more than 20 chapters in the United States; see "Slow Is Beautiful . . . and Delicious," Utne Reader, Nov./Dec. 2000.)

Slow Cities, according to The New Rules magazine (Fall 2000), published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, are dedicated to the following policies:

• Promoting good food by sponsoring farmers’ markets, preserving local culinary traditions, encouraging organic agriculture, and prohibiting genetically modified products.

• Curtailing noise pollution and visual blight by limiting car alarms, TV aerials, outdoor advertising, and unsightly signs.

• Restraining noisy traffic, air pollution, and ugly sprawl by creating pedestrian areas, building bicycle paths, and limiting automobile use.

• Greening the city by expanding parklands, planting trees, and boosting recycling.