The fast, the slow, & the stable

The fast, the slow, & the stable

The fast, the slow, & the stable

Imagine escaping nine-to-five drudgery. Imagine not having to participate in the daily mad dash against the clock to get to work.

And imagine not having to pay the endless rising bills and cope with all the other often unnecessary stresses that come with modern life. More and more people are aspiring to escape the rat race and, at the very least, are learning to adopt a more leisurely pace.

It was Italian Carlo Petrini, who, in the 1980s, began a ‘slow food’ campaign out of which the slow living movement was eventually born. Fast food is food that is grown quickly, eaten quickly and prepared quickly. It is convenience food of dubious nutritional quality that fits in with the belief that ‘good life’ equates with fast living. Fast food is indeed an integral part of the rat race.

Slow food implies food that is produced locally, and with minimal chemical inputs. It rests on sourcing local foods that are ideally sold by neighbourhood farms and stores, not by giant retailers that are integral to the fast food industry. Slow food also involves more nourishing food that places less strain on water resources and soil, and does not destroy the environment. Slow food has become a metaphor for ‘slow living’, the antithesis of the rat race.

In its ultimate form, slow living can be best achieved by decentralised communities that are more self-sustaining in terms of food production/consumption, energy use/production via renewables, eco-friendly house building and low environmental impact cottage industries. To achieve this, appropriate urban planning is required where the concept of ‘the local’ becomes key. Less need for cars if work, school or healthcare facilities are close by. No need for ugly flyovers or six-lane highways that rip up communities in their path.

When emphasis is placed on localisation, getting from A to B would not require a race against the clock on the highway that cuts through a series of localities that are never to be visited, never to be regarded as anything but an inconvenience to be passed through on route to big-mac nirvana, multiplex overload or shopping mall hedonism.

Instead, how about a leisurely walk or cycle ride through an urban environment free from traffic pollution or noise, where the pedestrian is not regarded as an obstacle to be honked at with horn, where the cyclist is not regarded as an inconvenience to be driven off the road or where ‘neighbourhood’ has been stripped of its intimacy, of its local ‘mom and pop’ stores, of its local theatres?

The desire to escape the rat race, or at least attempt to slow it down, has been around in different guises for many decades. Whether it is environmentalism, anti-consumerism, the organic movement, ‘green’ energy’ or decentralisation, these concepts and the movements that sprang up around them have offered various options for overcoming the rat race, or at least ameliorating the impact it has on our lives.

 In Copenhagen during the 1960s, a rebellion by young people who were disillusioned with consumerism took hold. Student protests broke out on the university campus and squatters occupied vacant buildings around the city.

This culminated in 1971 when protesters tore down the fence of an abandoned military camp and occupied the site. They called the settlement Christiania. Today, this ‘alternative community’ houses around 900 residents.
Self-governing, the community still adheres in principle and practice to the original ethos. Christiania is a living, breathing community of dedicated individuals who reject the mainstream and try as much as possible to offer the possibility for living differently and escaping the rat race.

If Christiana seems a world unto itself, the same cannot be said of the many ‘transition communities’ that are springing up across the world. These communities have started up projects in various areas, including food, transport, energy, education, housing, waste and arts in response to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship and shrinking supplies of cheap energy.

These small-scale responses based on self-help at the community level are intended to help show the way forward for governments, business, and the rest of us to move away from the current model of high environmental impact living and ‘transitioning’ towards more localised, low-impact and ‘slower’ lifestyles.

Such a philosophy appears to somewhat dovetail with what the Navdanya organisation in India is doing. While campaigning against the destruction of biodiversity and traditional farming practices, a radical critique of consumerism and the corporate influence on farming and rural economies is presented. The views of Vandana Shiva, Navdanya’s founder, are well-documented.

She advocates a major shift of course from the one the world (and India) is currently on. Navdanya has even opened a slow food Café in Delhi. 

If the likes of Christiana or Navdanya are not to your taste or appear too radical, on a more general level, we may choose to improve the quality of life by travelling by bicycle or public transport instead of a motorised vehicle. Or, we may try to shop more eco-friendly by purchasing those products that have a low environmental impact.

In terms of urban planning, for example, pedestrianising urban spaces and restricting motorised traffic can have a major impact on the quality of life. In many European cities, cycling is encouraged by offering the public the free use of bicycles. Visit any Dutch city to see that cycling is a predominant mode of transport, which certainly makes a positive contribution to the easy-going ambience.

But, why wait for municipal authorities to act on your behalf. You could be waiting for a very long time indeed! Your own neighbourhood is where you can have the quickest and greatest impact. When authorities see what communities can do in terms of transitioning towards something better, it will be easier for them to make decisions that support this work.

At the very least, if the rat race cannot be escaped from totally, it can be made to resemble less of a fast-paced scramble and more a leisurely walk.

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