I just read a fascinating article by the Italian professor Luigi Fusco Girard. One of his main points is that sustainable conservation and renewable energy usage should go hand-in-hand.
“Conservation of urban heritage can be genuinely sustainable to the extent that it revitalizes communities by creating a dynamic, growth-oriented mix of new functions that regenerate economic and social life, while at the same time reducing energy consumption and increasing the use of renewable resources.”
Somehow the new “telecommunications-based” economy needs to valorize the cultural identity of the historic urban core, by connecting with traditional “old economy” activities. Also, beauty is key to quality of life, and this is one of the most important factors to attract economic activities that produce wealth.
“Beauty is linked not only to the existing order in a territory. It reflects the harmony existing among its different elements. It transmits a sense of completeness rising from the perception that some attributes are satisfied at their maximum level. Beauty is the synthesis of different dimensions: it is the perception that every element is mutually interconnected, and fosters a sense of connection between community, capital, and assets.”
There are many examples of European cities that are investing in green technologies to reduce their carbon footprint. Local Agenda 21 are urban movements to implement solar cities and sustainable initiatives throughout Europe. This decreases the dangers to human health that naturally arise from living in a city, and contribute to the attractiveness of a place. Our surroundings have a significant effect on our health and well-being, and more integrated surroundings inspire us to feel a greater sense of community and social integration. Girard does a really good job of capturing in words what is important about cultural preservation:
“Intrinsic value reflects this sense of cultural belonging, resulting from the unified integration of many diverse components that all combine together to express the ‘spirit’ of the place…The roots of these intrinsic values are in cultural traditions, in the history of a community that reflects itself in the whole of the physical signs, symbols, and spiritual values that inspire it…places represent living embodiments of the collective memory of vital historic events that help determines a sense of co-belonging, of deep unity between people and nature and between individuals, families, and larger communities; of mutual interdependence that connects all of us together as a fundamental characteristic of humanity.”
Specifically for me, community is important because I’ve never had a strong one, and I’d like to be a part of a group of interacting, supportive citizens. People help one another in an ideal community, with practical things (like sharing tools and babysitting) but also for companionship (especially in old age).
Also, preservation of culture is key because if the world all of a sudden became completely homogenized then there are fewer ideas and perspectives, Coming from a different perspective (and learning from others) in one of the most valuable learning experiences in life, and can lead to better problem solving. A different cultural perspective can solve a problem such as how to live a better life, or how to lose weight, how to make your baby sleep better, how to cook chicken curry, etc.
My grandparents and great-grandparents took great pains to Americanize themselves once they arrived in New York, at the loss of language and customs. They tried so hard to fit in that they lost their original voice. Luckily my grandma passed down her many great recipes for traditional Italian meals that her mother taught her, and I will always have their stories. In the interest of retaining the original voice of a community, one must learn their different inherent wisdoms and stories. Story-telling is a vital form of cultural preservation.
Cittaslow is a movement growing from Italy throughout the globe. It takes the main principles of the Slow Food movement and applies them to the city infrastructure.
“We are looking for towns where people are still curious about times past, towns rich in theatres, squares, cafes, workshops, restaurants and spiritual places, towns with untouched landscapes and fascinating craftsmen, where people are still aware of the slow passing of the seasons, marked by genuine products, respecting tastes, health and spontaneous customs….” Original Cittaslow Manifesto
There are 50 goals and principles that each Cittaslow town works to achieve, and a rigorous application process to become designated as a Cittaslow town. The only town in the United States so far is Sonoma Valley, California (according to Wikipedia). The main aims of the movement are to improve quality of life, resist homogenization, and protect the environment. Gosh, I would love to live in one of these towns.