GULPEN-WITTEM (NL) CITTASLOW: "THE CITTASLOW BEER" FROM THE GULPENER BIERBROUWERIJ LOCAL CITTASLOW SUPPORTER
South Limburg has something unique in the world. It is the only place with three contiguous municipalities that can bear the Cittaslow quality mark: Eijsden-Margraten, Vaals and Gulpen-Wittem. Where the human measure is leading.
When Nicole Ramaekers became mayor of Gulpen-Wittem in 2017 and noticed that two of the neighboring municipalities had Cittaslow status, she thought: if they can, we can too. A year later, her municipality also received the stamp of approval.
Cittaslow is the international quality mark for municipalities that, as Ramaekers summarizes it, are aware of their living environment and treat it with care.
Cittaslow, "the easy living towns Network"
Worldwide, Cittaslow has more than 220 municipalities in thirty countries, municipalities "where life is good" according to the website cittaslow.org. The movement was initiated in 1999 by Paolo Saturnini, former mayor of Greve in the Italian region of Chianti. His idea that the quality of life should form the basis for the development of municipalities caught on. Cittaslow's main goal was, and still is more than twenty years later, the broadening of the slow food philosophy to local communities: fair, sustainable and affordable food production, with respect for the environment, landscape and culture.
That philosophy suits her municipality and the region, says Ramaekers. It is no coincidence that five of the eleven Dutch Cittaslow municipalities are located in Limburg. "The fact that we are unique with three contiguous municipalities indicates that this is a special area. A beautiful landscape, with local traditions and small villages with a sense of community and togetherness, and of course with very beautiful products and the link with sustainability. In the supermarket I can buy blueberries all year round, but they come from Peru. While there is just a blueberry grower here in Wahlwiller. Or take the potatoes. Farmers have to build huge barns here, which we don't really want in this landscape, to store their potatoes until there is scarcity and the price goes up a bit. And in the supermarket there are potatoes from Israel. We try to make our residents a little aware of this. "
But that beautiful landscape also has its limitations. "There is a field cross on every corner, there are many protected landscape elements. Farmers have to maneuver around it. That is very different from the Flevopolder or Friesland, where you can literally roll out modern techniques across the country. It is a challenge here to earn a living on a small scale, with respect for the landscape, in a world of large-scale mass production. "
The tranquility, the landscape, that does something to your upstairs room
Every policy proposal that is discussed in Gulpen-Wittem must be provided with a Cittaslow paragraph before it goes to the college or the municipal council: how does this contribute to a better living environment? "If that is not the case, then you must have very good reasons to make that decision anyway. It forces us every time to go back to basics, to the living environment of our residents and our visitors. "
In Gulpen-Wittem, nine local companies are now officially Cittaslow ambassadors, because they actually propagate the philosophy. The most famous of these is the Gulpener Bierbrouwerij, which makes beer with marl-purified water from its own sources, environmentally friendly hops from its own garden and barley, wheat, rye and spelled from local farmers. But also a Bed & Breakfast in Eys that only uses local products and a sheepfold in Epen that works with sustainable grazing.
According to Ramaekers, the corona crisis has made residents more aware of their own environment. "People have lived in a five-star landscape for years and now come to places they have never been before, because they walk or cycle much more often. The tranquility, the landscape, that does something to your upstairs room. And we do groceries at the corner shop to support that small business owner. "
The symbol of Cittaslow is a snail with a symbolic congregation on its house. The snail does not stand still, but carries all achievements with it, slowly. Snails are not in the rat race of the 24-hour economy, they are moving forward at a pace that anyone can keep up. Cittaslow municipalities are not open-air museums where nothing ever changes. The mayor gives the militia as an example. Civic guards, with their centuries-old traditions, form the core and identity of a Limburg village. But by being open to change, such as appointing an archer queen instead of the traditional archer king, they remain living associations. "That is the crux: do not stand still, but continue to develop thoughtfully and carefully."
Source: VNG Magazine number 4, March 5, 2021
Text: Leo Mudde | Picture: Municipality of Gulpen-Wittem