The Transition Towns Movement

By Carolyne Stayton

What if local actions CAN change the world?

I first saw evidence of this when Transition Sebastopol in California (part of the international Transition Towns Movement) organized a Reskilling festival at a local farm.  Various peer-to-peer workshops were happening simultaneously: tool repair in the barn; mushroom cultivation in the yard; compost-building under the oak tree; and making Granma’s brine in the outdoor kitchen. When those completed, another set of sessions rotated into being. Following a lunch of fresh farm greens, pots of vegetable soup and trays of fresh corn bread, more sessions filled the afternoon.

What was remarkable to me was the reframing that occurred in my own head. Yes, this event had a lot of practical information. It was free and well organized. The presenters were passionate about their crafts. Participants were riveted – they all wanted to learn this stuff. But even more extraordinary was the impact of people sitting next to each other, finding out they had common interests, realizing their kids went to the same school, or that they lived the street over from one another. There was sheer delight in these discoveries. Phone numbers were exchanged and plans were made to continue practicing their new-found skills together.

I had the visceral revelation that I was witnessing community being born. It was palpable. And through the diverse, imaginative events and offerings of Transition Towns in 44 countries, today this is happening around the world.

Community building is the real gift and strength of the Transition Movement. It provides context for people with different interests and levels of participation to come together, bring their gifts and talents, and develop a positive response to the great challenges of our time: climate change, resource depletion, and economic instability.

Here are just a few examples of how Transition Towns in the US are unleashing their collective genius to make their locales richer and more resilient:

Earlier this month, Transition Manitou Springs in Colorado opened the Local First Grocery to offer a viable distribution site for local producers, as part of a bigger plan to reduce the town's carbon emissions 30% by 2020. Local First eliminates the need to drive to Colorado Springs for groceries, invigorates the downtown core, and because it is a cooperative in structure, will financially benefit its members.

Transition Marbletown in New York is partnering with a local health clinic to offer free health services each third Tuesday of the month.

Transition Cadillac, Michigan is encouraging community members to “Grow a Row” for their local food bank or senior center, and matching aspiring gardeners with available land through their “Garden Match” project.

Transition Town Media, Pennsylvania is re-imagining cultural values with Happiness Week and a FreeStore.

Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition is helping develop a community food forest in Boston which will be cared for by neighbors and provide community members with free access to fresh produce.

And there’s so much more!

Transition is a revolution quietly taking root in rural communities, urban centers, campuses, counties, and regions across the US and around the world… and we invite you to join us!

This month Transition US is hosting the Community Resilience Challenge, with thousands of people across the country taking action to save water, grow food, conserve energy and build community. To participate, visit our website for project ideas and register your actions to be counted. Last year we registered almost 7,000 actions. With your help, this year let’s make it 10,000!

And later this year, Transition US, along with 24 Transition groups across the country, will roll out the Transition Streets neighborhood carbon-reduction project, a way for neighbors to come together and collectively reduce their environmental impact. Participating households will notice annual reductions of their CO2 emissions and cost savings on their household bills through conserving water, saving energy, growing and consuming more local foods, lessening transportation miles, and reducing waste. More than 500 households have participated in Transition Streets in the UK, on average reducing CO2 emissions by 1.3 tons and saving roughly $900 annually. What might be possible in the US, which has a higher carbon footprint per household?

To connect with the Transition movement in your locale, visit the US Transition map or the international Transition map. Or start a Transition initiative in your own city, town, neighborhood or street.  We’ll give you a hand!

In the words of the Transition Movement co-founder, Rob Hopkins:

  • If we wait for government, it will be too little too late,
  • If we act as individuals, it will be too little
  • But if we act as communities, it might be just enough, just in time.

Carolyne Stayton is Co-Director of Transition US. Since 2008 she has helped catalyze and support the Transition Towns Movement across the country which has grown to over 300 communities in 40 states. Carolyne has a master’s degree in Nonprofit Administration and her background includes serving as Director of New College’s North Bay Campus for Sustainable Living, an innovative educational institution that promoted advanced studies in leadership, community-building and developed the nation’s first “green” MBA program.  Carolyne resolutely believes that these extraordinary times call for us all to build community resilience through every possible channel; citizen action, local resilience-building businesses, reinventing food/transportation/energy systems and re-skilling ourselves with practical know-how. Training, tools and resources to make this historic transition to resilience are provided by Transition US.

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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 10: Green Innovations