Faculty of Law, School of Government and Victoria Business School, 2018
There is a well-known Māori proverb that asks He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? Its response? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata; it is the people, it is the people, it is the people. In Cittaslow, or Slow Cities too—an international organisation and network researched by Dr Eerang Park, lecturer in Tourism Management—people “are always in the centre”.
Cittaslow is about slowing down and living well. An alternative tourism model, it’s a reactionary movement against the ‘McDonaldisation’ of globalisation: standardisation, consumerism, doing more and feeling less. At its heart is the desire to improve the quality of life of residents in Cittaslow cities and towns and to champion ‘local distinctiveness’ through the active prioritisation of culture, heritage, food, local businesses and community.
Born in Italy in 1999 out of the Slow Food Movement, Cittaslow has since proliferated to 236 cities in 30 different countries. To become Cittaslow-accredited and enjoy its international community and branding, localities are limited to 50,000 people and must meet an exhaustive list of criteria. The criteria span seven key themes that all reflect the ‘three E’s of sustainable development: equity, environment and economy.’
Sustainability is a fundamental aspect of Cittaslow and draws significant parallels to mātauranga Māori—the Māori world view. Eerang’s research demonstrates the potential that Cittaslow has for sustainable tourism development, specifically through ‘local community empowerment’—a connection academics have left largely untouched despite the fact that local communities are an ‘essential ingredient’ in any tourism product. They play an important role in ensuring that local culture maintains its authenticity in the process of what Eerang calls “tourismification”: the selling of culture as part of a commercial product.
Goolwa, Australia, is a Cittaslow entrepreneur. It’s the first non-European Cittaslow- accredited town and Eerang’s case study on Goolwa is one of the few pieces of robust Cittaslow research independent of a European context. She found that collective buy-in to Cittaslow required central and local authorities to share power in the decision-making process about local tourism planning and development with its community. As a result, communication lines and a sense of fraternity flourished, which helped to diminish the enduring friction felt between community groups with conflicting priorities.
I think Eerang’s conclusions from the Goolwa case study are an important counterpoint to the University of Otago’s previous, more critical research into the three feasible New Zealand case studies, who all generally felt that Cittaslow was a superfluous exercise. To me, the successful ‘collaboration in governing the natural and cultural resources of Goolwa’ through Cittaslow is an interpretation of biculturalism specific and practicable to the tourism industry with the potential for significant inroads in tino rangatiratanga: self-determination for Māori.
Cittaslow, in my opinion, has a potential role to play in revitalising the regions in New Zealand and restoring a sense of mana to the small communities that continue to suffer from persistent urban diaspora and loss of economic prosperity. Yet implementing Cittaslow requires a baseline level of affluence that’s out of scope for much of regional and provincial New Zealand. With financial assistance and strong leadership, however, Cittaslow could offer a way for small-town New Zealand to take part in our much heralded tourism economy.