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In light of the rapid expansion of technology and urban development, many “fast” cities are actually looking to “slow” down. While new technologies are evolving, human interactions are less direct, causing some to call for mindful pauses to promote meaningful engagement.

Urban centers move at a pace so swift that the sense of community is drifting. The slow city movement is calling people back to tradition, focusing on sustainable living. But what is a slow city, and how can we adapt the slow city movement to the workplace?

History of Slow Cities

The concept of a “slow city” started in Italy in 1986, when the intended opening of a McDonald’s on the Spanish steps of Rome was widely protested. The movement was then named ‘the slow food movement,’ with a call to preserve food production and consumption in its cultural roots rather than being overtaken by commercial motives. The slow food movement gained momentum and morphed into ‘the cittaslow movement’—literally, “slow city,” committed to maintaining local character and community connections.

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

The theory at the heart of fast and slow cities dates back to 1887. German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies formulated two theories of social organizationgemeinschaft and gesellschaft — when he began seeing a shift in society, from agrarian to industrialization.

Gemeinschaft translates to “community.” In traditionally agrarian societies, community and interpersonal relationships thrive. Tönnies believed that interactions in gemeinschaft societies, comparable to slow cities, are driven by emotions and sentiments, or wesenwille.

Gesellschaft, on the other hand, translates to “society.” In modern and industrialized societies, or fast cities, interactions become less direct and more efficient. In the modern era, these impersonal interactions are often conducted via phone, email and text, and driven by efficiency, practicality, and economic and political self-interests.

Gesellschaft carries over into the workplace as we know it today, where communication is often times overpowered by technology. We increasingly spend more time at the office interacting with computer screens than we do with other people face-to-face. Theoretically this would increase productivity, but in the past we’ve explored how efficiency isn’t always the most productive means of working. Attention and motivation are key factors in a successful workday, and human interaction and components of a gemeinschaft community could help contribute to overall productivity.

A Balancing Act

Like all philosophical concepts, gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are ideals, and the reality of society is much more complex and harder to put into any one box. In today’s workplace, it’s safe to say that taking the best of both gesellschaft and gemeinschaft brings the most authentic, engaging worklife experience. After all, while we may live in a fast city, we still have the option to move slow. Making time to read, grabbing a lunchtime workout and meeting with your coworkers face-to-face are tangible actions. Irvine Company Chicago hosts event series to help you connect with other members in the building communities when you’re looking for an extra dose of gemeinschaft.

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