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Tony's Eye

We live on a road that has a 20-mile- per-hour speed restriction. So it puzzles (annoys) me that when I keep to the prescribed limit I invariably get a self-righteous hoot from a following car. Now, I understand that we all live busy lives and are anxious to get to our various destinations in double quick time, be it for work, meeting a friend for coffee, fixing the plumbing, collecting the kids from school or an urgent community meeting; they all have a priority that is uppermost in our minds.

Modern cars are built for speed, designers use new materials for lightness to increase acceleration, so it is a temptation when we reach a stretch of road clear of road bumps to step on the accelerator and feel the surge of speed. Many cars are actually designed to break the speed limit. The contradiction is, of course, the faster we all drive the later we arrive at our destination. Research demonstrates that fast traffic encourages bunching and is the main cause of hold ups and, if we drive at a slower pace, traffic keeps moving and encourages a spirit of co-operation.

The Italians have come up with a revolutionary idea; Slow Towns. I say revolutionary because the culture in most major towns is to speed things up, such as the one-way system in Kingston, which sometimes has the feeling of a racetrack rather than the sleepy market town that was the original Kingston. The Slow Town movement, Cittaslow (the Italian name for Slow Town) doesn’t stop at traffic movement. It includes a balanced approach to town planning; the built environment is at the heart of the urban development. Any development that keeps the local town friendly should have a priority, including restaurants and cafes that advertise slow eating (much better for health we have recently been told) and recommends that all day- to-day facilities are included in the overall planning. This includes a wide range of services and incorporates health centres, care homes, a pharmacy centre, schools with adequate play space and within easy reach of the centre.

We have to make our city centres a more pedestrian- friendly experience. Making a safe crossing with a buggy is a hazardous and life-threatening experience that most mums and dads experience every time they venture out shopping with the kids. A small town policy is at the heart of various Wimbledon and Putney action groups who are campaigning for considered development when CrossRail 2 arrives and threatens to turn Wimbledon into a major transport hub.

Crossrail 2 has gone on the back burner for a while due to financial re-appraisal. This creates an opportunity for developing a town based on the Slow Town principles initiated in Italy. These ideas have begun to take route locally and reflect the need of a town where we feel at ease with ourselves, where we can cross the road without fear of sudden death and have access to the facilities that make life comfortable and fulfilling.