Slow islands

Last week I traveled to the US Virgin Islands.  Door to door it took 12 hours – by car, plane, foot, ferry, and car again.  A long day of travel turned into a long day of contemplation, which caused me to think about the relationship between the slow cities movement and sustainable islands.

Photo: fensterbme

Slow cities – or Citta Slow – were born from the slow food movement in Italy.  Its advocates argue for the preservation of traditional structures in not only food sources, but also in infrastructure, culture, environmental policy, and sustainable energy.  

What is a slow city?

The emphasis of a slow city is to improve the quality of life by emphasizing the local traditions, culture, architecture, and environmental attributes that make it unique.  By doing so the local population is supported economically and socially.

Some feel that slow cities are an over-reaction to the deleterious effects of globalization, in essence insulating and isolating them from the modern world of ever-faster communication, commerce, and life.

The counter-argument is that rather than holding off globalization, slow cities use the many benefits of a more connected society while celebrating what makes each locality unique and special in the first place.  In other words, enjoying the best of the past while taking advantage of all the possibilities offered by the present and the future.

A good example of how this philosophy has been acted upon without going through a long and costly certification process is St. Lucia’s embrace of village tourism.

Former Minister of Tourism Allen Chastanet worked tirelessly to promote small, family owned hotels and restaurants as a counterpoint to the island’s large foreign-owned resorts.

As a result, not only have employment opportunities expanded, but with local ownership the wealth of islanders increases, as does their environmental and economic stewardship.  The effort has been so successful that heritage and creative industries has been added to the Minister’s portfolio.

In fact, similar efforts are expanding rapidly throughout the Caribbean.  Heritage tourism, for example, seeks to preserve and take advantage of those cultural, historical, and architectural attributes that help to define a particular place.  In addition to St. Lucia, the Dominican Republic, St. Kitts, and St. Croix are placing increasing emphasis on their unique cultural and architectural heritage.

Slow cities and islands

So what do slow cities, village tourism, and a long journey have in common?  Simply this – as we search for ways to sustainably develop island nations and territories, rather than force development through artificial incentives or importing industries, why not take advantage of that which comes naturally or has already been created?

Islands are famous for their slow pace and quality of life.  As beautiful as Italy is, these are things that weren’t necessarily invented there.  Many regions of the world celebrate a love of family, local cuisines and crafts, as well as a desire for responsible development and environmental stewardship.

It seems to me that the slow city movement is a natural fit for islands searching for sustainable solutions to their development needs.

What examples do you have of islands that have successfully adopted elements of the slow movement?  Are the people of your island, and your government, amenable to this approach?


One Comment on “Slow islands

  1. Duncan I love the fact there are slow cities, I live in Australia near a small rural town that lies on the belt of the dairy farm industry. There is a war going on, people who want the giant global business of Macdonalds in the town and people who don’t. I am surprised that most people don’t want it. There are still people out there who prefer the small communities which is a good thing.

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