Principal 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions


As we continue to explore how the Permaculture design system can contribute to the ‘Cool Clon’ conversation, it seems fitting to me that this month we’re delving into principal number nine ‘Use Small and Slow Solutions’.

In 2011, Clonakilty won a prestigious international award and was named a ‘Cittaslow’ destination. This slow-city award and the values it encompasses celebrate this Permaculture principle exactly. Small businesses, quality fresh food, and the enhanced quality of life that residents and visitors enjoy through a slower pace and celebration of tradition, are sometimes taken for granted in Clon. This feeling of slowing-down when you get to West Cork is why so many of us have come to visit, and is also why so many choose to stay and live here. Our market, our festivals, so many of our shops, pubs and restaurants emanate this palpable quality of slow-ness and the small-ness is why we love our high streets, we can easily walk them from end-to-end, we know shop keepers by name, can pop in to grab meat from the butcher in less than three minutes and are happy to stop and chat in the street with friends and strangers alike. So how should this appreciation of the smaller and slower things in life translate into how we continue to design our lives and towns?

The principle ‘Use Small and Slow Solutions’ asks us to apply this same slow ethic to our work, home, garden and equally to how we develop our towns and cities. The permaculture design system asks that we choose solutions that are often the smaller, less news-worthy, and celebrates simple design as well as adaptability, taking one small step at a time ensures you can change course at any moment. Another advantage of working slowly is that you often can save money and other resources by using what is available, perhaps even taking the time to source free or second hand materials. Small and slow solutions tend to also to save resources by eliminating the need to replace inappropriate or inadequate solutions installed without sufficient thought or consultation.

The 10,000 tree project in Clonakilty seems to be one that started small, growing from a group of friends wanting to plant more trees around Clonakilty seven years ago, and is slowly and continuously growing with more plantings and ambitious plans each year. With such projects starting small and slowly gives community and council stakeholders time to fully understand and come on board, increasing the chances of longevity and success. The trees will also grow slowly and continue to benefit their communities for years to come.

This principal also makes me think about the national ‘Love 30’ campaign which focuses on asking for a simple, inexpensive solution to make roads safer for all road users, with all ages and abilities in mind, by lowering speed limits built up areas to 30km/hr. It also makes me think of the signposted cycle routes we were promised in Clonakilty at the end of 2019 but were never delivered, simple, inexpensive signs to help cyclists navigate the boreens from our town to the nearby beaches. 

To continue on a transport theme, this July, a new Active Travel Stimulus Package was announced by the government to fund projects that would encourage more walking and cycling in our towns and cities – slow and small solutions to major environmental and transport problems. Unfortunately they also gave a deadline that the projects must be completed within a few months, by the end of November. This was hardly enough time to do all the consultations required to ensure the best spend of 88 million in public funds. Though some of the projects should indeed be celebrated, much of the stimulus is being spent with no overarching plan nor design standard, such as ‘greyways’ a new term used to describe what sounds like repurposing hard shoulders into bike lanes simply by painting lines; something that has been shown to be both dangerous and unattractive for cyclists. This kind of major spend with insufficient planning, strategy, consultation and testing is exactly what this principle aims to avoid. 

We are in a time of reconnecting with the slow. Everything that has happened in the six months, from lockdown to present, has left us knowing that we must now accept that small and slow steps forward are the only options in the reopening of our town centres and favourite haunts. Up until March many of us were living much faster paced lives, moving in much larger circles, seeking quick fixes and the fastest possible ways to achieve everything we could each day, but this is no longer possible. We have all been asked to slow down and stay local, and this not only benefits the health of those around us and our environment, but has the potential to transform the way we navigate the world in future, offering new depths and rewards. 

So this month I invite you to be inspired by the tortoise, not the hare, slow and steady is something to celebrate.

Allison Roberts

Allison Roberts is the Founder and Head Chocolatier at Clonakilty Chocolate.

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