A Timid Network of Towns: Cittaslow

Trani at sunset

by Ares Kalandides

I have only been to Trani once. That was about five years ago during a trip around Puglia, which I still consider to be one of the most beautiful Italian provinces. Trani is a small port of approx. 50,000 inhabitants on the Adriatic Sea. For a tourist there are no spectacular sites: there is a cathedral and a fortress, a pretty harbour and some picturesque narrow streets.  But does that matter? Is that all we look for when we travel? I don’t think so. There is probably something much more than that: the sense of place, that complex feeling, that a place is unique. Trani belongs to an international network of small towns called cittaslow whose declared goal is to enhance quality of life and local identity. Here is what it’s about and I would love to hear about your experiences with it.

An archway in Trani

Based on the SlowFood movement, the network was founded in 1999 to focus upon issues such as “quality of life”, “authenticity” and a “respect of traditions through the joy of a slow and quiet living”. By now there are 150 towns in 25 countries that belong to the network. The organizational structure of Cittaslow movement includes a co-ordinating committee with decision-making tasks, a scientific committee which indicates guidelines for the movement besides being an control organ and a secretariat which deals with all the operational part of activities, both on the National territory and within the International network. The Cittaslow movement promotes the use of technology for the protection and improvement of the environment and of the urban fabric. Just like SlowFood, it aims at protecting local culinary traditions and unique agricultural produces.   The idea is to use the designation “Cittaslow ” as a mark of quality for smaller communities, under 50,000 residents, not capitals or seats of regional governments.

It is rather astonishing that many Cittaslow towns still have no websites dedicated to the network and nor do they mention it in their own homepages. For the outside viewer, this shows a lack of dynamism and points at a very common mistake among municipalities: they think that a certification is the end of the road – where it should just be the beginning.

Herbruck – the first German slow city

But I also have a more conceptual issue. The central web site (www.cittaslow.org) reads: “Municipalities which join the association… where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons , respectful of citizens’ health , the authenticity of products and good food, rich in fascinating craft traditions of valuable works of art, squares, theatres, shops, cafés, restaurants, places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes, characterized by spontaneity of religious rites, respect of traditions through the joy of a slow and quiet living.” As usual, the big enemy is globalization and the homogenization of places that this often entails. And though I am sympathetic to many of these ideas, I must admit that I feel slightly uncomfortable with some growing “localisms” that have a strange claustrophobic feeling about them. Traditions are not always good (women should stay at home), religious rites are rarely spontaneous and authenticity is extremely hard to define. Places are the loci of convergence of very diverse trajectories that come in many shapes and colours – some of them close and some very far away. I believe it is very limiting to pick out just the former ones. The local is shaped by the global and vice-versa.

I think that the members of the Cittaslow network need to sit down and reconsider what they are, where they want to go and what they want to achieve. In the following weeks, we will be looking at some national networks and try to look closer at what they are doing.


The following 5 criteria groups have to be met with for a successful candidature:

1. Environmental Policy

  • System for the quality check of air and publication
  • Programme to encourage and to spread new technologies concerning composting; encouragement of composting in single households
  • Encouragement to use alternative and regenerative energy sources within community; lasting, decentralised, municipal supply of energy due to renewable resources
  • Prohibition of gene technology in agriculture in the community area.
  • Protection of drinking water
  • Wastewater disposal
  • Encouragement to use rainwater and/or leaching
  • Program against the negative influence e.g. of advertising and boards (rules of design) on the view of the city
  • Control systems and measures to minimize electro smog
  • Noise protection and measures for noise reduction
  • Program against health problems caused by lighting (including counter-measures)
  • Certification of environment (EMAS, ISO 9001, SA 8000, ISO 14000)
  • Carrying out of the municipal agenda 21

2. Infrastructure Policy

  • Redevelopment of the city and preservation of historical monuments.
  • Concept to minimize private use of motor vehicles
  • Pedestrian-friendly measures and encouragement of alternatives (cycle paths, public transportation, traffic limitations)
  • Barrier-free city
  • Barrier-free access in public buildings and other public facilities
  • Family-friendliness
  • Supply and support of social services to guarantee communication within the city for all social classes
  • Establishment of enough public parks within the community.
  • Control of delivery vehicles
  • System of customer-oriented opening hours for shops
  • Citizen-friendly opening hours of the town council
  • Information centre for Cittaslow

3. Urban Quality

  • Existing measures to sensitise construction projects according to ecological principles
  • Public relations and advice
  • Encouragement to use return systems within public facilities and events
  • Waste separation and fixed fetch times
  • Inconspicuous design of collection stations and waste containers
  • Encouragement and support of typical planting of the region on public and private places. Registration and protection of trees. Tree preservation by-laws and open space plans
  • Offer of an online-service-program in the city council (homepage, virtual town hall, e-government)
  • Public relations concerning this topic

4. Revaluation of local production

  • Program to encourage biological agriculture and certification of the products.
  • Refusal of genetically modified products.
  • Protection and support of historically traditional methods of production and products.
  • Implementation of a concept to use products produced in the region and typical for the region within the local gastronomy (incl. cafeterias and canteens).
  • Projects concerning taste schooling and food education in cooperation with Slow Food
  • Slow Food Project to protect products typical for the region and traditional methods of production from the area „gastronomy“ which run the risk of disappearing.
  • Annual choice of products typical for the region (cataloguing).
  • Creation of possibilities to market products typical for the region (regional markets, supply possibilities, etc.)
  • Protection programs for traditional products and products of the city.
  • Programs to encourage and save traditional, local and cultural events.

5. Consciousness

  • Education and further education of the employees of the tourist information and city council concerning Cittaslow
  • Existing system to verify if the promises given in the brochures are met.
  • Program for international signposting
  • Effective design concept of the signposting/signposted tours for tourists with description
  • Policy of conviviality
  • Good accessibility for guests during large events
  • Guarded parking places near the centre
  • Cittaslow – Information material
  • Slow-tours through the city
  • Homepage


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4 Responses to A Timid Network of Towns: Cittaslow

  1. Daniel Zimet says:

    I have to admit, it is for the first time that I encounter the terminology Cittaslow….. it reminds me in a way of another “Romantic” phenomenon,related to the mid 20th.Century, namely the Israeli Kibbutz, based on a communal agri-system, that used to be the antithesis to the globalized world around us.
    Unfortunately, the Kibbutz revolution has mostly faded away and one should wonder if the Cittaslow philosopy is not doomed to perish in the hectic world of the 21st. Century ?

  2. Ares says:

    Here is also a short piece by Andrew Stephens: http://knowplace.net/2012/01/17/first/

  3. Ersin Aksoy says:

    As you underlined one important aspect,  certification is not end of the road. İt’s just the beginning. On the other hand, İ think “cittaslow” might be used as certification marks just like “CE” sign. Just an idea!  

  4. Pingback: Cittaslow in the Netherlands | Place Management & Branding

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