An American Ecologist in New Zealand Part V: What is a Cittaslow?
Have you ever heard of a “Cittaslow”? Cittaslow are towns that are known as “slow towns.” This weekend I had a chance to visit one. Matakana, the first slow town in New Zealand, is located an hour north of downtown Auckland. On my way there, I learned what qualifies a place as a “slow town.’ In order to become registered as Cittaslow, a town must have:
- a population of less than 50,000
- an established environmental policy that deals with pollution, recycling and waste
- an infrastructure plan that accommodates public access and area
- active support of local produce and products
- facilities for community life
The idea is to create a community that is focused on quality of life and the sustainable use of natural resources. Value is placed on the local environment, cultural traditions are preserved, and pollution is reduced.
In an effort to preserve the existing way of life and natural resources in Matakana, two of its residents pushed forward the goal of becoming a Cittaslow community in 2007. One way they meet this goal is to have public structures that are multipurposed.
For example, the public toilets are located at the headwaters of an estuary in the center of town. Designed to be works of art, the toilets resemble fish heads, with the eye of the fish as a window that allows natural light in during daylight hours.
Matakana is becoming well known for its excellent farmers market, which showcases local products. (The chocolate was excellent!) Matakana has also worked with Auckland Metro Council to create a Sustainable Development Plan which recognizes the interdependence between the natural environment, farming and tourism.
We also visited Tawharanui Regional Park which is outside Matakana. To get into the park you have to go through a double entry, 2.5 kilometre long, predator-proof fence. Inside the fence is the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, 350 hectares of coastal lowland forest and 90 hectares of wetlands. These are ideal conditions for native plants and animals. The park has a very ambitious ecological program; they have banished rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, feral cats and possums and are working on eliminating hedgehogs, rabbits and mice. The recovery of bush and wetland plants has been spectacular, and has provided plenty of food to support the many birds that live here now. These birds include the North Island brown kiwi, bellbirds, North Island robins, brown teal, kakariki, whiteheads, spotless crake, New Zealand dotterels bitterns and fernbirds. This was my first chance to go through native bush, with large kuari (Agathis australis), pukate (Laurelia novae-zelandiae),and wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa). I’ll never forget it!