If anything, then cittàslow

By Renard Teipelke

The sun is shining, old couples as well as young families with their children are strolling through the streets, the time stands still and everyone seems to enjoy this lovely summer day in Überlingen at Lake Constance. I am trying to find a hint but I cannot really figure out what makes Überlingen a cittàslow. Maybe, we have to turn to the official website of the cittaslow movement in order to understand why Überlingen qualifies as a cittàslow.

Founded in 1999 by a handful of Italian mayors, cittàslow stands for livable cities. Inspired by the corresponding slow food movement, the quality of urban life is the focal point: regional products, local heritage, cultural diversity, no Americanization through large fast food or cheap clothes franchise companies.

If we then look at the list of cittàslow members, we can recognize: they are rather towns than cities. With respect to its German members (such as Bad Schussenried, Blieskastel, Deidesheim, Hersbruck, Lüdinghausen, Marihn or Überlingen), I would sarcastically say: if anything, then cittàslow. The listed cities do rarely attract much attention by the media.

But does this downgrade the cittàslow brand? Not necessarily if the movement has the ‘right’ intention/agenda. So what does it want to achieve? What does a city has to do to successfully apply for the snail logo?

  • An environmental policy that is sustainable in fostering regional identity and healthy urban feeling (with a focus on recycling and alternative energy systems)
  • An infrastructure policy that achieves accessibility and safety
  • A land use policy that values the open green space
  • Production and consumption patterns that favor ‘bio/organic’ and regional traditions (also with respect to culture and heritage)
  • Urban quality through – amongst others – an open exchange between all stakeholders (businesses, politicians, citizens)
  • Hospitality in accordance with the local community’s needs (also the fostering of town twinning)
  • An advancement of the cittàslow ideas through education, active participation, and marketing

My first idea would be that every ‘good’ city should strive for these objectives. Even though the movement describes the criteria in detail on their website, it is hard to imagine that cittàslow criteria are Unique Selling Points.

On second thought, I realize that the next McDonald’s is 15 minutes outside of Überlingen at the highway, thus there are probably no large franchise companies in town. It is noteworthy that cittàslow cities do something special by developing or preserving their individual character and local identity next to or despite globalization impacts. Cittàslow does not stand for slow cities but actually for cities that are able to slow down. And that is definitely an achievement, especially for a tourist city like Überlingen.

But I still feel not comfortable with the cittàslow brand. Maybe it is because there are several cities at Lake Constance that meet the cittàslow criteria, but it is only Überlingen that is a cittàslow. Does it help Überlingen to brand itself as a cittàslow? Does it improve policy making in this city? Is a disadvantage for neighboring cities not to be a cittàslow? In conclusion: Has cittàslow a positive influence on its member cities?

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