Saturday, April 28, 2012

Considering the Transition Town Movement

There are currently a number of innovative models for the creation of sustainable communities, which prioritize community and environment over profit and growth and seek to relocalize all essential elements that a community needs to sustain itself and thrive. In 2006, the Transition Town movement was initiated by a Permaculture design teacher, Rob Hopkins, for the purpose of complementing global and national efforts to address social, economic, political and environmental challenges by making sure that the changes they demand in the way people live their day-to-day lives can actually be put into practice at ground level. While Permaculture primarily looks at how to design the physical environment to support human populations in harmony with the natural environment, the Transition Town movement builds on these principles and expands them to look at how to encourage a community to actually want to create this sort of compatibility with its environment. This model has quickly developed traction, as there are now over 250 transition communities in more than 35 countries around the world and those numbers are on the rise.
Underpinning the Transition model is a fundamental recognition that according to the laws of physics, infinite growth within a finite system (Earth) is not possible. Climate change and peak oil are understood to require urgent, collective action. Given that industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with energy shocks, a plan to prepare for the inevitability of life with fewer traditional energy sources is considered necessary. However, Transition advocates take a positive approach to these substantial undertakings, referring back to the phenomenal levels of ingenuity and intelligence that were demonstrated as we raced up the energy curve over the last 150 years and the ability to leverage those qualities to “negotiate our way down from the peak of the energy mountain” (Brangwyn & Hopkins, 2008). Rob Hopkins (2008) asserts that if we plan and act early enough, and use “our creativity and cooperation to unleash the genius within our local communities, then we can build a future that could be far more fulfilling and enriching, more connected and more gentle on the Earth than the lifestyles we have today.”
Transition Towns recognize that given the likely disruptions ahead resulting from peak oil and climate change, a resilient community - a community that is self-reliant for the greatest possible number of its needs - will be infinitely better prepared than existing communities with their total dependence on heavily globalised systems for food, energy, transportation, health services and housing. The Transition Town model consists of a loose set of practical principles and practices that have been aggregated over time though experimentation and observation of communities as they selectively move towards local resilience and reduced carbon emissions. In addition to numerous place-specific indicators, the universal primary indicators of community resilience identified by the Transition movement are:
  • percentage of food grown locally
  • percentage of energy produced locally
  • average commuting distances
  • proportion of essential goods being manufactured within the community or within a given distance
  • amount of local currency in circulation as a percentage of total money in circulation
  • number of locally owned businesses
Working with local businesses and all other community stakeholders, Transition Towns create formal energy plans that focus on reorienting their local economies by starting up local energy companies, social enterprises, and cooperative food businesses and implementing practical projects such as community supported agriculture (CSA), shared transport, local currencies, seed swaps, tool libraries, energy savings clubs, urban orchards, and reskilling classes.  
In Totnes, England, the first Transition Town, a great deal is being done to engage businesses including advocating for oil vulnerability auditing and business exchanges. Totnes is experimenting in complementary currency, with fifty local businesses having signed up to accept this currency in payment for goods and services. They have transformed car parks into vegetable gardens, and are now experimenting with other forms of food production including CSA, community gardens, and forest gardens.  Since 2007, a true social movement has emerged from this little Southern English town, which has connected thousands of local initiatives around the world in a common engagement towards local resilience and sustainability.
When considering the appropriate scale on which to develop a Transition movement the Transition Network website says that "Ultimately, the best scale to work on is the scale over which you feel you can have an influence. Single street? Perhaps not ambitious enough. Entire city? Possibly asking a bit much of yourselves. Choose somewhere in the middle that feels do-able and that feels like home." The scale of a Columbia village, with the Village Center at its core, might be just right. As a part of the community planning process, beyond what is dictated as a framework for redevelopment guidance, coming together as a community to plan for a sustainable and vibrant future is what I envision for Harper's Choice. The Transition movement seems like a positive, well considered, and practical approach.

For more information on the Transition Town movement visit:

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