The Transition Movement: Moving Cities Forward

There are countless initiatives out there striving to make our cities, towns, communities and regions more livable. The blogosphere is bubbling with what must be hundreds of individuals sharing their own thoughts on the status quo and future potential. Well, a new (to us) initiative has caught our eye and we’ve sat down to examine how this one stands out from the rest. 

The Transition Movement is a growing international network of “transition" towns, cities, islands, and hamlets working to wean themselves from a dependence on oil, foreign or otherwise, as well as other finite resources. It’s rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to hearing—but this effort stands out. In the process of successfully addressing the oil question, this grassroots model for change begins with its core constituents: the residents of a community. A set of  7 guiding principles (Inclusion and Openness among them) and 12 “ingredients” are designed to inform each community’s unique steps toward a lower carbon footprint and help to ensure that what begins as a citizen-led effort gains strength by ensuring multi-stakeholder planning and utilizing “local assets, innovating, networking, collaborating, replicating proven strategies and respecting the deep patterns of nature and diverse cultures in their place.” The “ingredients” are meant to inform a sort of energy addiction intervention complete with addressing the issues at hand, being open to a variety of solutions, and devising a 12-step process to tackle energy conservation and permaculture goals. One of the unique steps is called “Honor the Elders” and discusses the value, not of returning to a Depression-era lifestyle, but of learning from the past and re-skilling ourselves in the activities that reject a throw-away culture. Whether or not all residents want to grow their own food or learn how to harvest rainwater, there is no denying that such activities facilitate both independence and community. The no excuses approach is an exceptionally refreshing aspect of the Transition philosophy , which amusingly outlines seven solutions to address common hurdles including a lack of funding, red tape, and political differences.

The overriding goal is to reduce a given community’s dependence on oil, which in turn, is working to inform projects that address many important elements of a healthy and engaged community including food, transportation, energy, and economic systems. There is no set prescription for selecting projects, rather, community members and existing resources combine forces to address their unique goals. For example, Transition PDX in Portland, OR is focusing heavily on improving food systems with the local government and local food organizations—as well as energy and water systems. In turn, “Sustainable Tucson” has devised a series of sketch plans to address their very different needs in regard to food, water, energy, and the built environment.

The Transition Movement stands out from other community grassroots movements with an emphasis not on rehashing or duplicating the efforts of other initiatives but on connecting and pooling those existing resources. This network building is essential to successfully addressing issues of community health, longevity, equity, and social connectedness. What's more, the shared mission to to reduce energy consumption, combined with psychological and spiritual goals, is successfully reframing the approach to making our communities more livable.