Sunday, February 7, 2010

Take It Slow

Living in the fastest-paced city in America, I have no hope of this ever amounting to anything around here. However, living in the fastest-paced city in America, I have to admit that this all sounds enormously tempting:

If you go to this brief Wikipedia explanation, you'll note that America only currently sports one such "Slow City" and it hardly constitutes a "city" in any meaningful sense of the word, as it is more of a smattering of villages grouped in a general location than a cohesive urban unit. It also happens to be one of me & my wife's favorite places on earth. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

I'm not certain whether it is a lack of ambition on the part of American cities to make it onto the list or a prejudice against American cities by the people who arbitrate the list which keeps out the good ol' U.S. of A., but I expect the most likely reason is our nationwide reliance on far-flung resources of food production, processing and distribution to all be stitched together with petroleum-intensive technologies. As a nation, we made a series of very bad bets in the 1950's, 60's & 70's on how to assemble our living-arrangements, bets we now live with every single day in the form of urban sprawl, traffic and pollution, to say nothing of the warped foreign-policy agenda needed to underwrite those bets and support those lifestyle choices. Which is to say nothing about how all of that feeds back into our bitter, divisive domestic politics.

People all across this country have a vested interest in the status-quo, from the humble farmer's gas-powered tractor all the way up to the financial titans on Wall Street making ungodly amounts of money hedging the petroleum market, and every suburban home-owner surrounded by an acre of grass and only connected to the outside world via a subdivision feeder road leading to a freeway in-between. Each, in his or her own way, has multiple lifetimes of resources vested in the maintenance of the existing arrangement -- from mortgages to infrastructure. It is simply easier to hope things will just work out somehow than to cut losses and start-over, especially on a nationwide scale.

I don't know if my living arrangements are any better, though as gasoline climbs to $10 or $20 or $50 a gallon as the oil fields run dry across the globe, I figure I'm at least slightly better-positioned with my little European-style street and miles of greenspace adjacent to a river,
currently in the form of public city parks. The fact is that nowhere in America qualifies (except Sonoma Valley) because most of the other places on the list pre-date the advent of landscape-warping petroleum technologies. Either they inherited from their ancestors living arrangements made centuries before the magic black goop oozing out of the earth's crust made it physically possible to separate the scut-work of producing food from the shiny, candle-lit enjoyment of it, or their current citizenry is informed enough (with actual facts, unsullied by FOX News acting as the media wing of one political party's agenda) to collectively choose to live the right way. Admitting that the current arrangement will likely prove to be a mistake is the first step to correcting it.

I hope we're able to make the hard choices, though I feel more confident that those lifestyle changes will be forced upon us and cease to be a choice.