What’s so good about speed? Slow down cities.

Sometimes, you find articles that have a certain twist of phrase or formula that you know you’ll use again and again. This short piece on the benefits of ‘slow cities’, by the authors of a book on the same topic, includes such a phrase.

Instead of “mobility” (how far you can go in a given time), the goal of the “slow city” is accessibility (how much you can get to in that time).

It’s an especially useful twist of phrase because a lot of talk around walking and cycling ends up talking about mobility, or even micromobility, and as good as that idea is, one has to wonder if it’s a good idea to re-use a word already associated with cars and making moving around town faster. This switch of framing from mobility to accessibility still fits perfectly with walking and cycling but also puts more focus on where you’re going and whether that time is well spent.

Sidenote: I tend to think it’s also good to start using the word “accessibility” for everyone, bringing the discussion of making things accessible to everyone, but it would be interesting to see how the community already working on these issues feels about this perspective.

Pontevedra in Spain demonstrates how slowing transport across an entire city benefits all types of health. After the city reduced speed limits to 30km/h, physical activity and social connection improved as more people walked. From 2011 to 2018, there was not a single traffic death.

This concept not only connects with something a lot of people are looking for, slowing down their lives, but also with adjacent concepts, like the 15-minute city, but also transit-oriented development (ici en français), and can even work in the suburbs. The article mentions Tokyo as an example of slow suburbs, and you can read a lot more in this excellent essay by Dan Hill.

As the authors mention at the very end, “if you want your city to be healthier, happier, safer, wealthier, less unequal and more child-friendly and resilient, just slow it down.” Child-friendliness is an essential part and reason for slow cities, so let’s close this post by also connecting with this one, on the child-friendly city.

Where 50 percent of American kids walked or cycled to school in 1959, fifty years later that was just 13 percent. […]

At a time when five to ten percent of children in the U.S. are diagnosed with depression, cities and towns can help them combat loneliness and inactivity by designing streets that allow our kids to feel more connected to their community.