by Hans Pul
In his recent post, Ares introduced the Cittaslow initiative in general, as well as Cittaslow Trani, Italy. Here I will elaborate on Cittaslow in the Netherlands. Currently, there are 4 Cittaslows in the country: Midden-Delfland, Borger-Odoorn, Alphen-Chaam and Vaals. Similar to Reinard’s observation about Cittaslows in Germany, Dutch Cittaslows are small towns and rural municipalities rather than cities. To get a bit of an impression: Midden-Delfland is a rural municipality located in the middle of the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam The Hague, while Alphen-Chaam is a small rural municipality near the Belgium border. Both other municipalities are well-known tourist destinations within the Netherlands: Vaals is known for the highest “mountain” in the Netherlands with its respectable 323 metres of height, which is also the tripoint with Belgium and Germany. Borger-Odoorn is known for its “Hunebedden”, megalithical structures from 3000-4000BC.
As Ares mentioned, Cittaslows have high ambitions regarding aspects of Environmental Policy. However, since the Cittaslow initiative started in 1999, a lot has changed in the field of environmental policy, renewable energy and infrastructure policy. Although there is still a lot to be done, environmental policy has gone mainstream, awareness of climate change problems has increased and the industry offering environmentally friendly solutions professionalised. The experimental phase, in which exemplary local initiatives play an important role, seems to be over. All these developments make me wonder if the Cittaslow movement is still relevant in this field. Personally, I think Cittaslow has a more distinguishing aspect, which has to do with local identity and regional products. I will come back to this later on.
So what are the reasons for municipalities to apply as an Cittaslow? The following quotation from Cittaslow Vaals includes several:
“The experience of other Cittaslow municipalities shows that the Cittaslow-trademark has a positive effect on brand awareness. More importantly, it stimulates the awareness of inhabitants of the quality of their local environment. This awareness, which stimulates feelings of proud, stimulates inhabitants to commit themselves to conserve the quality of their environment.”
One thing is for sure: Cittaslow is a brand that can be and is being used in tourism marketing. One of the Dutch Cittaslow-cities open-heartedly states that being a Cittaslow attracts tourists from the Dutch and the international Cittaslow community. The following “promotion video” (sic) of Alphen-Chaam illustrates how Cittaslow can be used for tourism purposes:
Does the Cittaslow initiative really add value, lead to new sustainable measures and reinforce local identity? I think that the most distinguishing feature of Cittaslow is the fact that it focusses on local (culinary) traditions, regional products and local heritage. An increased awareness of the value of these local qualities can be of great importance. It can increase the consciousness about what sets the local apart, about its uniqueness. Or in other words, its local identity.
Cittaslow in the Netherlands are highly focussed on this aspect. The distribution of regional products is highly linked to tourism facilities. Regional products of Midden-Delfland, for example, can be bought in a museum shop. Potentially reaching a global public (this is not a paradox…), Vaals sells a regional cookbook in its webshop. The same holds true for the website www.streekproducten-uit-limburg.nl (“regional products from Limburg”), which offers more than 100 different regional products from the region in which Cittaslow Vaals in located.
Judging from my own experience as a tourist, I know how difficult it can be to find local dishes and products in many small towns. I recall many instances in which I asked myself: “how is this village different from any other?”. If the Cittaslow movement can achieve small cities and towns to increase, preserve and maybe even develop local traditions, it can be valuable. Both for tourists and local inhabitants.
Cittaslow: progressive local initiative or plain cultural conservatism? I’m still in doubt…