Friday, 6 January 2012

Transition Towns -- the human process

"In Transition 2.0" film Trailer
Resilience – sometimes defined as “bouncebackability” -- is the watchword of the Transition Town movement. From a small beginning in Rob Hopkin's student permaculture project in 2003, it has expanded to over 1000 initiatives in 34 countries, TT is remarkable among environmental groups for its attention to human process, and neighborliness.(1) Unlike many community organizing methods, it avoids political cleavage and confrontation -- an approach may be particularly suitable to North America.(2) It seeks to bring together all those between the extremes of climate denial and alarmism, and as a first step, celebrates a “Great Unleashing” to celebrate the diversity of hopes, skills, and arts in the community. Here are some tips for its Unleashing organizers:
  • Invite a professional facilitator
  • Involve everybody... Avoid them and us
  • Create together clear written aims… and refer to them frequently.
  • Trust the process! Create a "buzz"... visioning an abundant future
  • Stay attached to outcome… let go of your own agendas
  • Some people will leave and others will join. Whoever turn up are the right people.
  • Each group should have a core of people… who meet regularly, but also be open to whoever else wants to come. Each group should be continually asking itself “who isn't here that should be here”, that is, always being open [to attract] new people with relevant skills.
  • In large cities, early adopters are encouraged to form neighbourhood groups, called Hubs. (3)
The Unleashing encourages all sides to focus on what they would have done “anyway”: relearning lost skills (preserving food, community gardens, building with local natural materials such as cob, use of hand tools, native plants), visioning through stories and the arts, ; conserving local beauty spots' biodiversity, soil, water and air; tree-planting, recycling, reducing carbon footprint by supporting local agriculture and business, and generally seeking to replace “quantity of stuff” by "quality of life". Another attractive part of the process is that the activists plan for their own "demise" as a group: any successful community is bound to change as it develops, enlisting both natural leaders and quite humble people (4) who have special traditional knowledge and stories to tell. The movement deliberately seeks involvement of hearts and hands, as well as heads.
Rob Hopkins puts it this way: "Life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable... It's better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise. Our communities lack the resilience to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil. We have to act collectively, and we have to act now. By unleashing the collective genius of those around us [to plan]... Our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and recognize the biological limits of our planet.” (5)
Some long-term aims include ending oil dependency by developing an oil-dependency audit, and local Energy Descent Plan -- in fact strengthening the community to meet any economic downturn – re-localizing the economy so it is less dependent on distant corporations, bankers, and governments. Unlike those institutions, TT emphasizes bottom-up planning, local entrepreneurs and social justice.
Here is the story of a 2011 start-up in Northfield MA
The flyer explained “Transition Northfield is a creative community-based response to economic instability, resource depletion (peak oil), and climate change. Its aim is to engage residents from all aspects of our community to work together in a positive practical process that increases local resilience and economic vitality. It is flexible and fun, encourages local creativity, and results in a stronger, more cohesive community.”

Retired minister Alex Stewart shared his knowledge of Northfield history, house painter Cliff Phillips produced sandwich board signs to announce upcoming events, ... Joan Stoia shared her substantial business world savvy and produced a speaker’s series. Sam Richardson, a former math teacher, launched NorthfieldNeighborhoodNews, a website for interaction between neighbors and the sharing of news, current events, reports, photos and documents. Massage therapist Melanie Phillips’ shared cookies, optimism and energy... while Emily Koester, social worker and mother of three school age children spear-headed projects, facilitated meetings and churned out articles and press releases. Local foods maven John Cevasco provided consistency, commitment and healthy snacks, while research consultant Shirley Keech showed steadfastness, willingness to work the details and encouragement. Local jewelry maker Shay Wood kept information flowing to the non-wired community, calling and connecting with interested people and organizations by phone to make sure they weren’t left out-of-the-loop. Full time professor Walter Jaworski shared what he learned in Transition training with the group and planned a film series Looking Back to the Future – Envisioning Our Communities in 2030. Veteran volunteer Don Campbell made us believe in the possibility of accomplishing resiliency one person at a time.
Judy Phillips, who recruited the original group... [kept us] connected with other email universes, cranking out beautiful flyers and posters, devising creative ways to manifest the Transition Town principles and organizing an amazing multi-generational Film Project that encouraged young and old to dream about a transformed and positive future. The goal of all this learning, communicating and information sharing was the launching, scheduled over three days, of projects that will bring those dreams to fruition.
The second event, author Ben Hewitt’s talk (“The Town that Food Saved”) set the stage for two days of activities... to come together (as family/friends/ neighbors/residents of Northfield) to rebuild trust, collaboration and interdependence as the real pre-condition for community vitality, economic prosperity and overall well-being.  Many in the SRO crowd of 47 attendees left that evening seeing clearly that we are all connected and we can do this....The final day of Celebrate Northfield saw the coming together of Northfielders interested in this theme: “How can we as a community prepare for the uncertainties of the future?” The day was an extraordinary experience. Based on the First Principle of such Transition events, “Whoever comes are the right people”, the assembled community of nearly 40 people created 14 working groups to help meet those uncertainties. The responses may surprise you, and we are not finished yet, for this was just the beginning. The Working Groups (WG) will continue to work and to meet during the weeks and months to come. And there will be more groups forming as ideas come forward.
  1. The transition approach draws on sources as varied as the classic Permaculture books by Bill Mollison (1988) and David Holmgren (2003), the AA 12 step program, psychologists' and therapists' exercises, Joanna Macy's Work that Reconnects, World Cafe, the Schumacher Society, and the peace movement; concepts from the New Economics Foundation, and
  2. For example, Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals (1971). Confrontation is a self-defeating strategy in the present political climate, argue George Lakoff, Columbia University's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), The Psychology of Climate Change Communication (2009), and the Transition Handbook, p. 135. TTowns prefers to work inclusively with all members of the community; however, the movement does not exclude eco-villages or "intentional" communities from joining.
  3. Summarized from the Transition Handbook, p.125, 148, 222. The process is largely modeled on the Open Space of Harrison Owen.
  4. For example -- create a “Comments Wall" where each person puts up Post-it notes OST: (pink) one thing I can do, (yellow) one thing my town can do, (orange) one thing the government can do, (green) one other thought. Transition Handbook pp. 154-5 – a classic Open Space process.
  5. Transition Handbook, p.134-5.
Selected resources
Websites: Wikipedia on TransitionTowns, TT world directory and training dates for US and Canada, stories from TT Boulder CO, US Transition Voice blog; stories from Britain and Eire, Rob Hopkins' blog, LindsayCurren's blog. For Canada: Transition Halifax, Montreal's Urban Ecology Centre / Centre d'écologie urbaine, Toronto's Food Policy Council, Ottawa's SloWest, Village Vancouver, Transition Victoria.

Films/videos: of TT founder Rob Hopkins, Powerdown, In Transition 1.0 (the new version released Jan 2012  In Transition 2.0 adds stories from Portugal, India), Annie Leonard's animation The Story of Stuff , Joanna Macy's The Great Turning, Peter Victor, "Managing Without Growth" video part 1 and part 2)

David Korten, The Great Turning, and his Yes! magazine. See also Post Carbon Institute.
Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook (2008) (download); updated in The Transition Companion:Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times (2011) 
New Economics Foundation, Other Worlds are Possible (download 2009) with 28 case studies
Peter Victor, Managing Without Growth (2008) Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability website
Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume, Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living (2011); online resource list
Carolyn Baker, Navigating the Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition (2011); see also Joanna Macy's Coming Back to Life (1998) and website The Work That Reconnects.

Quakers and TT:
Britain YM's Good Lives blog, Quakernomics bulletin, Living Witness and QPSW's Sustainability Toolkit (Nov 2011), Bamford intentional community. For the USA - New England YM and Ruah Swennerfelt's Transition Vision blog. 

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