- New Slow City by William Powers
- Format: Paperback
It is not easy, with the sheer pace of life today, to find the opportunity to relax and take a little time out to discover who we are as individuals.
Those of us who also seek to follow a spiritual life can find this particularly challenging with the pressures of work, family responsibilities and social obligations.
William and Melissa Powers are a young American couple who decided to change all this and to take a year off from their hectic professional lives to experience life at a much slower and more considered pace.
They decide to reduce, or down-size, their ever-expanding lives and for William to place his professional life on hold while they explore alternatives to the hectic life-style into which they had both been drawn.
They disposed of a great deal of their personal possessions as a precursor to moving somewhere that was more sustainable within terms of their new life-style choices as well as somewhere that was decidedly less noisy than their current house which was on a major airline flight path!
The couple decide to rent a small micro-apartment on the fifth storey of a 19th century building in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, where they intended to base their explorations into the alternative political and social movements that proliferated the area.
In his book, New Slow City, William Powers describes the process that they undertook in making this significant transition in their lives.
He explains their goal for William to work a maximum of just two hours per week, leaving time to engage with similar people in the area also pursuing a slower and more eco-friendly lifestyle.
The story begins with the author describing the apartment that they moved into—one that was significantly smaller than they first imagined. Early on, major adjustments in their living arrangements had to be made to cope with their cramped surroundings.
Once they were moved i,n William’s first exploration of the vicinity included a visit to Washington Square Park, where he encounter a profusion of musicians and musical acts each performing a variety of musical styles. From there, the area threw up a succession of experiences of a diverse community engaging in non-traditional pursuits of many kinds.
Those early months continued to prove difficult for the couple living in their cramped home but, following the discovery that there was access to their own roof top via a small door, they were at last able to enjoy fresh air and sunlight on a daily basis.
This eased things considerably and they started to feel more comfortable with their surroundings.
Over time, William continued to explore the variety of alternative social projects and support local groups.
He then finds work at Brooklyn Grange—the world’s largest rooftop soil farm. This ground breaking horticultural scheme was started in 2009 with a ten year lease from the buildings owners Acumen Capital Partners and grew to the point where they now supply fresh food to many Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurants.
Powers then describes how he met the organizers of several social projects, each of which were focused upon providing incentives to people to live a slower and more socially-cantered lifestyle. These include projects as diverse as the non-for-profit organization ‘Take Back Your Time’ and a group that was offering free kayaking as a form of transportation around the area from a location known as ‘Pier 40’.
Slowly, Powers fell into a daily routine of regular yoga practice, visiting farmers markets, frequenting local coffee shops and hanging out in local parks.
Then, circumstances changed for William as he is offered a new job at New York University, teaching sustainable development. He accepted the position and, in the autumn of that same year, he began his preparations for the many presentations that he was expected to make to his students. At the same time, Melussa, his partner, fell pregnant with the couple’s first child.
Following an invitation to talk about global warming to delegates at a conference in Morocco, William decides to remain in the country to get a better taste of what going slower really means.
The story then comes to completion with the birth of their child and a difficult decision that the couple have to make regarding their future for themselves and their family.
On the face of it, I approached this book expecting great things from it. Sadly, it failed to deliver on several levels.
Firstly, I found the author’s writing style to be plain irritating throughout. On occasions, he came over as intellectually arrogant and with an air of superiority. At times, his use of descriptive phrasing was pointless and, on other occasions, he simply failed to deliver a clear understanding of the nature of the work done by the various groups that he visited.
This was frustrating for I felt the book lost a golden opportunity to offer its reader a valuable insight into the various methods available to live an alternative and eco-friendly lifestyle.
The story pretty well ambles along over several hundred pages with little in the way of entertainment with which to engage the reader.
At one stage, we are treated to the revelation that, whilst they had, as a couple, worked so hard to ‘down-size’ their lives, Powers suddenly remembers that, just before leaving for their new cosmopolitan lives, he had applied for a job at the University for a position teaching—a decision that only could have resulted in a return to the 9-5 rat race that he was apparently so keen to leave.
In the end, he ends up traveling the World by plane (what of that carbon foot-print) and finally decides to buy property in Bolivia. The experiment in idle-curiosity over how the ‘other half’ lives is very firmly and resolutely over.
New Slow City offers an excellent example of why saving this planet from socio-economic and ecological disaster should NOT be left to members of the cozy, middle-class, intelligentsia!