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Life In The Slow Lane

By Allan Eastman

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Slow and the City

Busy Street in Hong Kong China

Speed is in fact, an addiction. It has given primacy to the automoblie in our urban environments.

©iStockphoto.com/Sze Kit Poon

One of the consequences of the culture of Speed in our societies has been to give primacy to the automobile in our urban environments. There’s a funny essay about an Alien race coming to observe Earth who assume that the cars are the dominant species of the planet and humans are their slaves because of the way cars dominate the cities and the way that humans pamper them and defer to them.

Cars are the ultimate symbol of consumerism for humans and over the 20th century, it does seem like cities were redesigned to accommodate the needs of the vehicle and not the people. Freeways slice through the hearts of cities in rivers of concrete, parked cars choke the streets and pedestrians dive for cover as time stressed drivers careen through crosswalks. Like our Titanic example of getting things wrong, cars were envisioned as a form of efficient personal transport that would enrich our lives and provide us with more leisure time but the result has become people who spend huge portions of their day in a crawling commute, living spaces fouled by exhaust pollution and 100’s of 1000’s of traffic deaths each year.

Neurological tests prove that Speed is in fact, an addiction. Moving fast releases epinephrine and other chemicals which stimulate our brains, rather like the effects of sex on our nervous systems. It makes us feel good. So in some ways it’s natural that people want to drive fast but Speed is also the cause of most road deaths, both for the occupants of the car and for the unwary pedestrian. There is a curious psychological self-justification that seems to happen to the speeding driver where he or she feels uniquely entitled to go fast and when the opportunity is denied them – by traffic congestion or by a too slow pedestrian in a crosswalk – the result is often road rage, which usually just makes things even more dangerous.

Studies in England have shown that a neighborhood street jammed with parked cars actually inhibits a sense of community amongst the people that live there. It creates barriers between them. When the parked cars are removed to an off-site location, then the neighbors start to talk to one another, start to share experience and create a better place to live.

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So, one of the Slow City movement’s main objectives is to separate the human living spaces from the automobile. Cars are put away out of sight in back areas in the neighborhoods and are banned outright from the public spaces around the community centers which are exclusively pedestrian only zones. The results in those places which have embraced the Slow City concept have been an impressive rise in the sense of shared life with their neighbors. People walk everywhere, stop to talk, get more involved in the life of the community. Strong friendships are shaped when you know your neighbor. People there say that this style of life is much more fulfilling then the car-centric existence they lived before and it has proved to be a boon for business with many local enterprises which cater to the particular community flourishing.

Again, the effect of this movement is to slow down Time, with the result of feeling better about life.

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