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The “Transition Town”

“Transition builds a positive vision. It’s about people coming together as a community and supporting each other in the changes that we have to make, and not feeling like we’re losing, but that our life is actually being enriched.”

– MICHELLE COLUSSI, CANADIAN CENTER FOR COMMUNI TY RENEWAL AND TRANSITION (CCCR)

For further information

To learn more about the concepts and principles of the Transition Town approach log on to www.transtionnetwork.org

To know more about the Canadian Economic Development Network log on to: www.ccednet-rcdec.ca/Examplesof towns in transition: Sandpoint Idaho’s Transition Initiative www.sandpointtransitioninitiative.orgDundas Ontario’s Transition Initiative www.lets-doit.ca/about.html

Spells of extreme weather, lost jobs and homes in economic downturns, sudden spikes at the fuel pump – these are the events that shock and galvanize public and attract media attention.

However, the longer-term emergencies they represent – climate change, a global burden of debt, diminishing accessible oil supplies – are ones that can sometimes still seem far down the road.

But many ordinary citizens have begun asking just how resilient their communities will be down that road, and what could they be doing now to make them so.

Many have begun to focus their thoughts through a new approach to community development, known as the “Transition Town,” now capturing lively interest among diverse citizen groups across the country and in the U. S., U. K. and Australia.

The approach – sometimes called the “Transition Initiative” or “Transition Network” – is a community engagement model that aims to inspire and support communities as they self-organize initiatives that build in community resilience and reduce CO2 emissions.

The Canadian Economic Development Network (CED-Net) last month hosted a Winnipeg workshop to help more Manitobans understand the approach. CED-Net is a member-led organization committed to strengthening communities by creating economic opportunities that improve environmental and social conditions.

“This has emerged in response to concerns about climate change and the impact that’s having and people’s additional concerns about the rising cost of fossil fuels, and the scarcity of that resource,” said Michelle Colussi, manager of the technical assistance division with the Canadian Center for Community Renewal (CCCR) in Victoria, B. C. and one of the workshop facilitators.

The Transition Town approach is attracting people concerned for the future, but it’s not setting people to lobbying for a specific action, or putting out alarmist messages, or prescribing solutions.

POSITIVE VISION

“Transition builds a positive vision,” she said. “It’s about people coming together as a community and supporting each other in the changes that we have to make, and not feeling like we’re losing, but that our life is actually being enriched.”

The Transition Town concept originated in the U. K. about a half decade ago, when residents there were starting to feel a major impact from soaring fuel prices.

“There they already pay double the price at the pump we do,” she said.

Totnes in Devon, England has since become a model Transition Town for communities across the world.

Projects now being inspired by the approach all aim for boosting local self-sufficiency and setting communities on what’s referred to as an “energy descent path,” a plan to begin weaning off over-reliance on high-energy housing and transportation modes.

That’s resulting in more land bases being set aside for urban agriculture and infrastructure priorities set for building bike paths and smooth, accessible sidewalks. Some towns have started car-share co-ops. Others have initiated local currencies to encourage more stay-at-home support for local businesses.

NEW SKILLS

In Karen Lanphear’s hometown of Sandpoint Idaho, an “official” Transition Town with the full support of their municipal government, they’ve transformed schoolyards to gardens. They’ve also established a folk-school to teach people skills in small-scale agriculture, simple house-building techniques, food preserving, even knitting and felt making, said Lanphear, who co-facilitated the Winnipeg workshop.

Taking this approach in Sandpoint has helped people begin to think and plan hopefully for the future, rather than hunker down in depression and denial, said Lanphear. They’ve found it to be a way of looking at uncertainty down the road as an opportunity to build a stronger community.

“It’s instilled hope into this otherwise bleak thing going on,” she said. “It’s really helped us think about this in a new way.”

The Transition Town approach originated with an Irish college professor who got his students, as an academic exercise, to put together a plan for how a town could become less energy dependent, Lanphear said.

About 100 towns and cities have now become “official” Transition Towns – that is, they have a documented plan of action, endorsed by their local governments, to go forward with their ideas.

In Canada 17 towns and cities, including Victoria and Nelson, B. C. and Dundas and Peterborough, Ont. have declared themselves Transition Towns.

And it starts with conversation happening among informal gatherings of ordinary people who care about the places they live.

They realize adaptation activities for a lower-carbon future have to happen at the community level, not just remaining a matter of individual actions, Colussi said.

“They know that climate change is asking them to do way more than change light bulbs,” she said.

In Steinbach, one such group may be emerging. A small group of residents, some members of that city’s churches, have met a few times to talk over how they think their city could be impacted by climate change and rising oil prices, explains one of its members.

“We’re just a small group of people who are starting to ask ‘What ought we be doing as a larger community to prepare for those kinds of things?’” said Steinbach resident Eric Rempel.

Rempel took part in the CED-Net workshop last month to find out more about the Transition approach, he said.

“We’ve been talking about building in more resilience, but we’re really embryonic as a group right now,” he says.

“And we also have no idea right now as to how many people might identify themselves with something like this,” he adds. They hope to host a public meeting this fall to gauge interest.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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