17 Jan 2007
10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative #6. Develop Visible Practical Manifestations of the Project.
It is easy to come up with ideas, harder to get practical things happening on the ground. It is essential that you avoid any sense that your project is just a talking shop where people sit around and draw up wish lists. Your project needs, from an early stage, to begin to create practical manifestations in the town, high visibility signals that it means business. The power that doing this has in how it affects both people’s perceptions of the project and also in people’s willingness to engage is huge.
These can take a variety of forms. It might be productive tree plantings, solar panels, or hemp/lime plastering. It could be a beautiful cob bus-shelter or an alternative currency used for a defined period. They should, at this point, be both uncontroversial and photogenic. In Transition Town Totnes, the Food group is planning a project called ‘Totnes- the Nut Capital of Britain’ which aims to get as much infrastructure of edible nut bearing trees into the town as possible. In a month or so we plan to plant some trees in the centre of town, and make it a high profile event. We hope to get a lot of media coverage for it, and use that to explain why we are doing it.
In Permaculture, we talk about the need to observe a plot of land for the first year before making any interventions or completing any design. The same goes for a Transition Town project. Your first year is a time for networking, brainstorming, awareness raising, information gathering. It is the time where you are gathering the pieces that are later assembled in an Energy Descent Plan. You don’t want to start doing projects which, once you have completed your Energy Descent Plan you realise are in the wrong place and not actually properly thought out. While it is essential to take your time and plan properly, there is a balance to be struck here, you need to also carry the community along with you. Small highly visible projects will allow people to see that you mean business, that you are here to stay, and gives them a sense of what you are talking about.
I remember when I lived in Ireland that I spent years telling people about green building and natural building. It was only when my house was half-built that those people would say “oh, so *that’s* what you meant…”. Likewise with Transition Towns. People need to get a sense of it all, and to see things that they can go home and tell their friends about. These practical manifestations will also bring into the project the people who have spent the first few months sitting back saying “we’ll see. I’ve heard all this before, this is just another of those flash-in-the-pan projects, I’ll keep an eye on it”. When they start to see infrastructure going in, it becomes infectious, they want to be a part of it.
If you have done the previous steps well, you may well find that the sub-groups start developing their own practical projects automatically. As the momentum builds, you will find practical manifestations bursting out all over the place. Make sure that you get good publicity for all these initiatives. It will be very helpful in building a widespread confidence in what you are doing. Another spin-off benefit of these practical projects is their great team-building potential. A group that meets regularly to discuss food issues is one thing. If that group meets and plants an orchard in a day, shares a picnic and leaves with a sense of great achievement, that is very powerful in terms of building the dynamic of that group. A Transition Town project with dirt under its fingernails (a certain amount anyway!) will carry a lot more credibility.