City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

A third batch of Slowdown Papers

Written in


Afternoon walk, Enskede 15 May 2020

Dear readers —

Many thanks for subscribing to the Slowdown Papers. A few days ago I published a third batch of Papers, numbers 1941.

This third set was written over the last few months, starting in the long Swedish summer holiday through July. I then took a couple of months of refining, editing, organising and researching, knocking them into some sort of shape. As I note in the first paper, which reflects a little on the writing itself, at least some of this set is partly built out of the many essays and articles I’ve written elsewhere during this time, as well as the many speeches I’ve given (and thanks to all of you who asked me to write and speak—such things also force me to organise my thoughts. I quote Zadie Smith in the first paper, who said that “Writing is control”, and there is no doubt some of that happening here.)

I also discuss how difficult it is to write about something that changes in real time, and in ways that are not at all obvious. That also meant a few months was required, to sift some of the thoughts through a series of different frames, and finding a way of capturing things as they are happening. But my work, and therefore my writing, often concerns things that are ambiguous, incomplete, uncertain and subjective—so this is all of my own doing. Still. Three months.

This third batch makes more explicit the link between the pandemic and the intertwined grand challenges of the climate crisis, public health and social justice, making clear that COVID-19 is merely an expression of all three. I describe how this entangled interconnectedness, woven through our various infrastructures of everyday life, also presents an opportunity for action. That means this batch covers the way we make decisions about fundamental shared concerns, like policing and hospitals, and our broader questions of value, as well as the patterns, dynamics and qualities of streets, housing, infrastructure, neighbourhoods, and cities themselves, in which those values are articulated. In that, the batch explores the form and dynamics and tangible environment, or indeed mood, of what I call these emerging Slowdown Landscapes, as well as implications for the kind of design we do (for the few of you who are designers) as well as the broader patterns of policymaking or action.

The broad arc of this batch includes a few scene-setting pieces to start with. 19. The waters draw back, only to return and 20. Wait, what? are both overviews of what happened this year, with the former homing in on the apparent failure of the Anglo-American model as well as the idea of getting used to living with the virus, and the latter records related events to the pandemic, touching on bushfires and wildfires, as well as Black Lives Matter. 21: Clear skies, full parks, can’t lose (a punning title that will only make sense to Americans) is a long-form ‘casebook’ recording the emerging observations and research, whereas 22. Revisiting the Slowdown, and the end of the Great Acceleration, unpacks Danny Dorling’s idea of the Slowdown, which I discovered after writing the first batch for this series.

The next few cover the potential end of city centres, work, and the office as we knew it, following by the linked imperatives to retrofit the suburbs and to explore different models for housing and neighbourhoods that engender care and culture, as well as pursuing form and function.

The next chunk looks at the possibility of upstream thinking and practice, in building places and infrastructures that prevent crime or poor health or carbon (and other things of course) occurring in the first place, and how we might pursue that. Yet this is followed by a brief reflection of the 1973 Oil Crisis, noting that events in themselves are not enough to transform the mental models that prevent such common-sense ideas being put into practice.

So after this, we pick up the Slowdown Landscapes baton again into a broad sweep of the remaining papers which attempt to make tangible all these thoughts, through ideas and examples that suggest a theory about practice about these new kinds of places, infrastructures, technologies, and environments of everyday life.

A pivotal paper there would be 28. Slowdown landscapes: Small pieces, loosely joined, which looks at a pattern and dynamic for, well, most things: from farming to sewers, playgrounds to art galleries. 33. Mood-worlds of the Slowdown explores how these places might feel, whereas 31. Tilling the soil for slow-growth, and embracing uncertainty describes the broader cultures of decision-making—politics, policymaking, scientific advice, culture—that we may need to nurture and grow in order to deliver on these possible futures.

36. Slowdown landscapes: One-Minute City — Fifteen-Minute City describes some of my own work here in the Swedish government, with a model for retrofitting streets and more besides, following these patterns.

Watch this space. More here.

Ultimately, biodiversity, green infrastructures, gardens and meadows—and the necessary care dynamics they could engender—are a motif for the last few Papers, particularly inspired by Linda Tegg’s Infield installation at ArkDes, Ron Finley’s gardens in LA parking lots, and Derek Jarman’s garden.

The series ends with a clear direction: Slowdown is not something to wait for—a somehow inevitable rebalancing in which we all simultaneously learn to grow up—but something we will have to fight for, in order to cultivate a just transition: 41. The Slowdown is something to fight for, not to wait for.

Finally, I made a Spotify playlist for you to listen to whilst reading (or doing anything else, for that matter): Music for Slowdown. I may write some liner notes for that here soon, explaining my choices, but in the meantime, set to shuffle mode (essential) with crossfade set to max, and enjoy.

If you find something of value here, please do respond! By applauding on Medium so that others might find it, or posting about it on your socials. Or better, by writing your own reflections and thinking about your own practices. Or simply by writing back to let me know what you thought. Any thoughts or comments would be really welcome. Thanks again for your time and interest. Take care.

Dan Hill, Stockholm


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