Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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17 Sep 2010

Starting Monday: Will You Help With Re-Writing the Transition Handbook?

Over the coming few months I will be sharing with you the ongoing work in developing the patterns-based model of Transition that will form the centrepiece of the second version of the Transition Handbook, starting on Monday.  I have explained how that approach will work before, and it was also set out in the booklet produced for the 2010 Transition Network conference.   To do this, we are trying out a different approach, not a wiki, but a rather exciting way of gathering your input.  These patterns need to be alive and rich with your hard-won experience, your failures as well as your successes.  Here’s how it will work:

Most days, I will post a draft version of a pattern I have been working on.  They won’t necessarily be in a chronological order, but randomly chosen from thoughout the patterns.  Please have a read, and then post as comments (not here but at the link provided) suggestions for alternative photos, anecdotes, case studies, projects, stories, images, links, whatever you can offer from the experience of your involvement with Transition, anything you feel should be reflected in that pattern.  It is these that will bring the book to life.   To enable this, we have set up, on the Transition Network website, a directory of patterns, which will evolve and grow as new patterns are added, edited and refined.  It will be from this directory that the final version of the book will be drawn.   My thanks to Ed, Jim and Helen for all their hard work on creating this.  I hope this will prove to be a very exciting and productive collaborative process…. see you on Monday (can’t wait!)…

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Andy in Germany
17 Sep 5:20pm

Typical, I’ve just bought the first one…

Graham Burnett
17 Sep 5:41pm

Think how much it will come to be worth as a historical document Andy!

Carol McCreary
17 Sep 6:16pm

Yes! Just back from Transition Cascadia one day event in Seattle. Thanks for sending greetings via David Johnson. We are all recharged!

marcus perrin
17 Sep 9:08pm

Sensing this marks an exciting and rich exploration of how Transition is ‘working’! Looking forward to helping from a Chepstow perspective.

One small plea, we need to find a way to ensure the what we produce is accessible to a wide audience. I love the detail and it needs to be captured- but many approaching Transition will be used to a bulleted, tweeted, sky news world. Some (but not all) of these folk will continue to need an easier route into Transition. I hope this doesn’t come over as patronising! But we do need to galvanise our inclusiveness and approach to diversity through using accessible language and literature.

Let’s get started!

hilda from The Netherlands
17 Sep 10:00pm

Count me in! Just make sure you announce your postings on Twitter and I will have a read. I would love to be able to contribute!

Kamil Pachalko
18 Sep 6:13am

I’m on that with Marcus.

From my experience when one starts getting familiar with a topic one forgets that other people might not easily understand the ‘basics’ of that topic. I remember my biotech professor organising a Science Festival and getting nil visitors because his poster wasn’t understood by the public. I had luck and had help from a children’s librarian who translated:) my poster into people’s language and the turnout was great.

We could use the current government’s and marketing approach of focus groups. I could start with my family as an example of a group which I mention peak oil and transition towns but don’t necessarily deepen the knowledge and read out a few patterns to them and see which ones stick. Those could form something like a Pattern Primer with possible suggestions to using more understandable, common words and phrases.

Any advice on conducting this kind of DIY research are welcome.

Graham Burnett
18 Sep 12:49pm

Up early considering you are partying tonight Kamil?

claude saint-jarre
19 Sep 5:22am

Hello. About the rewriting: I prefer to say now what I wish to say: please contact a french person who saw the movie of Colinne Serreau: solutions locales pour un désordre global. Your starting point is peak oil ane climatic changes and recently, the financial crisis. Colinne Serreau starts with the crisis of civilization, which is more global and complex and true from my point of view. I also sense that it is a right brain point of view. There is a concept developped by Emmanuel Bailly ( whom I suggest you to reach) an ecoregion. I see this aspect lacking in the transition book. I personnally have been criticised because I did not follow the 12 steps recommended. I see there a lack of flexibility and perhaps of friendship.

Rahul Goswami
19 Sep 6:25am

Dear Rob, lookng forward to seeing the first pattern. This is a good approach, to get input from as many as possible who have experience – direct or as information about – on Transition. A suggestion: can you also explicitly call for sharing from Asia and Africa? Many societies in these regions are employing practices today that fall into Transition concepts in the ‘West’, and they have the benefit of learning that goes back 2-3 modern generations (I had a chat about this with Bart Anderson, Energy Bulletin). South America is an excellent source of info – can you accommodate Spanish/Portuguese? Regards, Rahul

19 Sep 1:07pm

Although it is a very positive and beautiful thing to see renewed interest in APL, I would suggest that the manner in which PL is being utilized is a misread of Alexander’s approach to architecture and building.

What TC is attempting to do is teleological, in the sense that you have arrived at the conclusions long before evidence. You are attempting to work on paper first using mental processes which is really the last thing that should be being done. Patterns arise out of activity that is largely embodied in space and time, specific to social and material context. This is why vernacular buildings are so diverse across cultures and history. The qualities that CA chronicles in detail in The Nature of Order are not qualities builders consciously imbue in their work, they come about as a result of something else. The are the manifestation of a deeper experience.

The most important part of CA’s ideas is that sequence and process are how the qualities he speaks of, arise. Its not the other way around. You neither elect or define the qualities you wish to appear, they appear out of an embodied dynamic that is rooted is a certain kind of social structure and dynamic within the landscape. CA unlocked the mystery how this happens, but is not Cartesian in that sense that you simply reverse engineer the process to get the qualities. Its much much more.

Speaking of sequence and process, what CA is really talking about is ‘priority of dynamic embodied activity over isolated ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ regions.’…taken from the working definition of proprioception It is embodied cognition and how this applies to APL is that can neither predict or create the future in the sense that you are talking or thinking. You can only discover it after the fact. Attempting to ‘envision’ this kind of future world or that kind of future world will produce the same kind of qualities that manifest in modern suburban subdivision because it is relying on the same process

The problem with this approach, for most people, is that they find it hard to accept that they can not control the outcome of their actions. Our culture does a tremendous disservice in that we are conditioned to believe that we can be in control though the instrumental application of reason and want to believe ourselves to be powerful of enough to effect the world around us. Obviously, this is why things are a disaster, socially, ecological, etc. Cognitive science are showing us to largely be fools when we think this way.

The process that underpins APL requires you not to define the future, not to vision anything at all, but to discover, through interaction, what is ultimately meant to be in any specific landscape. Unfortunately, this does not lend itself to the quick and easy programmatic schema that TC seeks for its ideas and the underlying reality of APL is that require a fundamentally different kind of economy, social life and way of being in the world.

Rob Hopkins (USA)
19 Sep 5:08pm

This is a great idea to keep the movement and the book alive. I loved the original book (although I originally found it because of our shared name) and look forward to the revision. Keep up the great work.

Best of Luck!
Rob Hopkins (USA – Pennsylvania)

[...] place).  In case you’re wondering what this is all about, there is an explanation with links here. They are not being posted in order… you can see the larger context, the evolving directory [...]

Josef Davies-Coates
20 Sep 9:46am

I really like the direction this is taking.

However, following others’ call for simpler language, I’d suggest not using the “patterns” word.

Perhaps “recipes” could work?

20 Sep 9:56am

Dear Rob,

I would like to echo Jeff’s concerns (above). It is great to see an earnest use of the APL approach, but I think an awareness of it’s wider approach might be warranted. The design process tied to A Pattern Language fosters an emergent solution, and invovles a series of steps, in which the ultimate outcome is unknown. In this sense, it attempts to mimic evolution. This results in a sustainable outcome which is guaranteed by time and use, rather than theory. It seems to me that the Transition attempt to “back-cast” is rational-linear, and would indeed be part of the problem of non-sustainable approaches to planning. The future emerges; it cannot be planned.

Your PA Helen was good enough to send me your full bibliography last week, and I notice that you have only one book of Alexander’s there.

It would be worth looking at the more recent research on the PL approach. There is a continuing dialogue about how to create sustainable environments carried out by colleagues of Alexander, which doesn’t seem to be reflected in your biblio. Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order is the definitive text (but it’s over 2000 pagers). Jenny Quillien’s Delight’s Muse, and my own book (forthcoming) The Living City provide shorter introductions. It is widely acknowledged that APL did not have the effect it could have, and was also widely mis-understood, but the discussion is ongoing, and as you will reach a wide audience, I think it would be good to be aware of these.

Please check out the following websites for views on the more up-to-date understanding of generative design of sustainable systems, on which a Pattern Language rests:
a paper on how sustainable env’ts are created, by Christopher Alexander
(see, for example the twelve lectures on algorithmic sustainable design, as well as the book A Theory of Architecture.
(a generative code would be a way to go, as it allows for an organic solution to emerge, rather than a planned one).
Michael Mehaffy is an expert on contemporary alexandrian approaches for buiding sustainable communities.

Daniel Schwab

20 Sep 10:22am

Like any other aspect of human activity, however, there need to be guides at different levels. Simple,easy to grasp, introductory stuff through to rigorous scientific analysis, explanation and theory. There’s space and scope for many guides to “Transition”, but if each level of guide encourages people to read on, take action, develop it further, then each guide has made a contribution.

In practical terms ? How about a simple minimum update revision to the original handbook (perhaps talking about recipes and ingredients rather than sequential steps for example), even as the deeper patterns thinking work emerges as a separate and complementary guide ?

Some guides in some styles and levels will work better for some people/groups than others. If it isn’t thought of in this way, isn’t there a danger of creating a situation where “only the latest guidebook” is the one to be seen with ?

20 Sep 11:33am

I find it really difficult to see what jeff meant, above, but found his contribution stimulating.
Would I be close, if I paraphrased it as ‘Thinking too much will produce more of the same; a ‘pattern language’ is generated by breathing, eating, loving and seeing/recording what manifests as a result”?
I see dangers inherent in each of those two approaches, and seek to synthesise/sympathise/synergise without warning!

As for “…a fundamentally different kind of economy, social life and way of being in the world”, I think this peeps out quite often to see if it is safe to come out and play.

David Eggleton
20 Sep 12:14pm

Cliff wrote: “I…seek to synthesise/sympathise/synergise without warning!”

That’s beautiful and wise.

Jeff, I wish to be connected. Please send me a note if willing.

Rob, I suspect the method of presentation that CA demonstrated is principally what you’re adopting. I think it’s likely to be fruitful in the next phase, which is only that. So many phases to come!

David Eggleton
20 Sep 3:12pm

this is just to fix the URL in play, for Jeff’s benefit in particular

21 Sep 4:10am

Jeff and Daniel are surely right about the need to integrate the pattern language typology with a wider process of ‘generative design’, as Alexander has attempted. But at the same time it could be noted that the pattern language idea has moved well beyond Alexander’s initial field of architecture/planning and into the field of software design, where it has been taken up with gusto. Programmers who have adapted the pattern language concept haven’t generally had the concerns Jeff and Daniel outline but have nevertheless made highly successful use of pattern languages. See the Portland Pattern Repository, initiated by Ward Cunningham (inventor of the wiki). Also Apprenticeship Patterns, which is a good example of presenting a pattern language in a highly accessible way. So while Jeff and Daniel’s concerns are significant, I don’t think it’s necessarily a disaster if the Pattern Language concept is detached from its ‘pure’ implementation as per Alexander.

21 Sep 12:47pm

Good to hear some informed comments on APL.

With regard to APL and OOP (object oriented programming), OOP was certainly inspired by APL and got its start about the time APL was first published. Being a former programmer/analyst, I would strongly disagree about OOPers not being concerned about generative design principles. Take a look at this section on Opportunity Driven Problem Solving in this paper on wicked problems – Basically, what studies reveal about the design process in software development is that developers do not really solve/develop software in any linear rational way, contrary to what they think. When studying how programmers actually develop and problems are solved, they discovered that developers naturally use a methodology akin to Alexander’s morpho-genesis,that is it unfolds, it is reiterative, its opportunistic and that it contains many of the 15 properties that define CA’s process. It is precisely because of this that software development is as robust and exciting as it is. So I would contend that the generative principles are alive and well, central to the success of OOP.

That was certainly my experience working on software and it was in the 80′s that the concept of RAD started to displace the more rigid, linear design methodologies of the old school main framers, leading to a revolution in computing and software development. What the wicked problems documents is saying, essentially, is that developers work intuitively and that this way of working is contrary to the top down, imposed model. It was a pattern that revealed itself early to me as a IT manager of 20+ developers that the usually best and brightest developers were ones that did not have any formal training in development. They did not have to unschooled themselves to overcome the bias inculcated through education (Hopefully I don’t step on any toes there). One must keep in mind too, that the parallel development of client/server architecture was a move to a highly decentralized computing environment, which is where OOP flourished. Mainframe-based development was very expensive up through the 80s and program time has to be highly managed and rationed but but as the cost per mips declined to point of in consequent, developers were subject to less controls and restrains and had access to far greater computing power.

Currently deriving my existence as a design/builder of dwellings, it is not difficult to see the similarities between building and software, particularly in the design aspects. One of Alexander’s key observations is that it is beyond the cognitive capacity of any one individual or team to anticipate every detail, problem and opportunity of a building. In order for the top down, linear-rational approach to work in building, everything must be reduced to the narrowest of subsets conducive to high measures of control and predictability – in other words mass produced, interchangeable building components assembled by interchange cogs.

By doing so, you severely reduce the potential of errors, problems, cost overruns, changes, etc but the flip side of this is that you also drain all the dynamic life out of a human artifact and replace it with the qualities that reflect the dominate priorities of those who have power – efficiency, profit, rationality, control, etc.

Furthermore, this reductionist methodology is largely driven by finance, which requires complete quantification of every aspect of the building before funding. The problem is obvious in that if you utilize a methodology where the central tenet is that the outcome is unknown and unknowable, then it can’t be quantified and priced. This is why our economic system is essentially killing the earth and destroying human community because in order to function, it requires everything to be reduced and emptied of meaning, retaining only those properties that reflect the priorities.

All the qualities that CA chronicles arise because the individuals engaged in the actual building work such as designer/craft-workers, inhabitants, etc are the ones who are collectively engaged in the synthesis of the social artifact. It is not an disembodied exercise of rote assembly of a two dimensional design where the designer’s knowledge of materials and landscape, of workers and owners is severely limited or largely non-existence and where the workers are alienated from the design, from the work, and from those for who they are building. Such is the norm in today’s building.

21 Sep 12:51pm

Dave, could not find an email address at your url…

David Eggleton
21 Sep 1:02pm

it’s dse at appliedecologics dot com

22 Sep 11:59am

Greetings all, and thanks for the feedback. I’ll try and address some of the key points raised…

Marcus.. indeed, this needs to be retelling of Transition that adds illumination rather than additional bewilderment. A lot of that will come from how it is designed and presented… there will be lots of pictures!

Rahul.. thanks.. be great to know how you think we might explicitly call for sharing from Asia and Africa… our hope is very much that people from there will participate.. but any further ideas welcome…..

Jeff … I don’t think that what we are doing is a ‘misread’ of APL. What blew me away when I was presented with it on my Permaculture Design Course many years ago was the insight in it, the clarifying of the complex, and its stating that elements of design don’t happen in isolation but are part of a complex interaction with other parts. What we are trying to do here is our take on APL, and in the final publication we may not even use the term,as we are wary of introducing a new level of jargon and complexity. You write that in APL the outcome wasn’t set, but that Transition won’t work as a pattern language because it sets out where it is going. My sense is that what this process is doing is allowing us to move away from the linear process used thus far (The 12 Steps) to something that more reflects what Transition initiatives are actually doing.. it doesn’t say ‘first do this, then that’), rather it acknowledges that Transition moves out through a series of stages, and that they are moving in a general direction, but that within that, a range of ingredients, or patterns, are assembled differently everywhere. Of course we have no idea what the future will look like, but we would argue that a vision of the future is a key part of being able to get there. I will be the first to say that what emerges from this process may well not be strictly speaking a pattern language in the way researchers understand it, that we may break some of the rules of it. However, while I found APL utterly rivetting and a work of great genius, subsequent ones often don’t grab me, and don’t strike me as especially accessible. The ‘Liberating Voices’ one for example, left me cold. This is planned to be a rich, well illustrated, very accessible, entertaining pattern language based, in large part, on the practical experiences of hundreds of initiatives.

Daniel .. good to chat you earlier, thanks for the call. Again, to return to your point that a pattern language is “a series of steps, in which the ultimate outcome is unknown”… indeed. Transition doesn’t set out to be prescriptive, the idea here is to offer a set of patterns that reflect what groups are doing, and suggests where it might go. It is precisely because we don’t want to set out how people should do this that we are moving to this model. Everywhere assembles these patterns in different ways… you say “the future cannot be planned”… but at the same time, in needs some conscious design thinking applied to ensure we don’t, by default, end up with ecological catastrophe and all the other grim possibilities that lie ahead of us.

Trugs… indeed, long discussions here about whether it is Transition Handbook 2, the New Transition Handbook, a separate book with Transition Handbook still in print… perhaps this is the Transition Cookbook… assemble delicious ingredients in a range of delicious ways..!

Thanks all

Josef Davies-Coates
22 Sep 1:58pm

I like the idea of the Transition Cookbook!

Although, if it were to have a title like that it’d have to have as least some actual recipes in it! (both food and otherwise).



Peter Cuming
23 Sep 3:17am

Hi All, keen to be involved. I have been helping communities and government with transition style sustainability plans, and sustainability based organisational and planning frameworks since late 1980′s. Our consultancy group, Sustainable Futures Australia (est. 1987) have a number of well used, practical and applied participatory planning models and frameworks which I can bring to the handbook process, including case studies, working in an integrated manner from local to bioregional, state, national and international levels. Based in Byron Bay, NSW Australia, I am presently assisting Byron Shire Transition Towns movement with their project ‘Transition Byron Shire’, in which we are working towards creating a transition sustainability strategic plan involving local community, business and industry, local and state government and key interest groups – and as a major part of an upcoming Byron Sustainability Festival around World Environment Day June, 2011.The main tool we will be using is a kinaesthetic planning process called “the Planning Web” which enables a wide range of people to be actively involved in developing, preparing and implementing the plan. Be great to be involved and contribute to the handbook, if you feel my contribution would be worthwhile. Happy to liaise about our longstanding work in sustainability planning, design and education. Best regards, Peter

24 Sep 1:45am


Thank you for taking the time to comment.

My wish here is to encourage deeper interest and exploration of Alexander’s ideas and work and what it means to make use of APL since I believe they have profound implications for the world and human community.

But first, on the question of teleology, it is best expressed in your own words:

My own thoughts led me to develop an approach I call ‘Energy Descent Action Planning (EDAP)’, which works with a community to vision how they see their town 20 years in the future, in a positive way, and then backcast from then to now.

I can not imagine a better example of a teleological construct than this, having people describe a vision of a future state using mental processes and then, working backward to engineer that outcome by virtue of some programmatic scheme. Perhaps this statement requires revision to conform the new direction that you are seeking to take TC but to suggest that TC does not have a very specific idea of what the future should look like is questionable. Certainly, the TC advocates I have experienced in my region have very specific outcomes in mind. I also find it implicit in most of TC’s literature and discourse.

But we should not get terribly concerned or defensive about this fact. It is not surprising as this is merely an indication of the nature of the world-view we collectively hold as Westerners. The fact that our training, tools and knowledge for understanding and dealing with the world around us are largely designed to serve that kind of end. It is a world-view so deeply embedded in our being that we do not even see it in operation, how it affects us and drives our behaviors and perceptions. This is the core issue that Alexander’s work addresses and which I seek here to raise.

I will site Alexander’s own words in the opening chapter of The Luminous Ground, Alexander’s fourth book in the Nature of Order:

‘But I believe these arguments will be ignored – or rejected by the reader as a matter of practical necessity – unless the reader also faces, and masters, the changes in world view which these arguments require. A person who adheres to 19th or 20 century belief about the nature of matter, will not be able to accept the revisions in building practice that I propose, because these revisions in building practice would remain too disturbingly inconsistent with that person’s world view.

Unless our world-picture itself is changed and replaced by another more consistent with the felt reality of life in buildings and in our surroundings – the idea of life in buildings itself, even with all its ensuing revisions in architectural practice, will not be enough. The old world-picture will constantly gnaw at our attempts, interfere with them – to such an extent that they can not be used successfully.’

One must read the entire chapter to have a full appreciation of what he is talking about, but the essence is that the mechanistic world-view is not one that reflects felt reality, and to a very large degree, is the heart of the problem. Alexander’s work is deeply connected to the findings of cognitive science and the thought that the underlying body of Alexander’s work is irrelevant to applying his ideas or adds too much ‘jargon or complexity’ to the community discourse is…well…I am not sure what it is other than sad. His work is remarkable, accessible and rich, if not essential to understanding the core issues that TC is attempting to address. What does it mean to acknowledge his genius and then ignore what he has to say?

In studying the approach to APL that you are attempting or in the approach of Liberating Voices (which has nothing to do with Alexander at all), both embrace the mechanistic world-view in the sense that one can assemble the pieces of a puzzle on paper (a set of patterns) and that will translate to a human dynamic or social emergent that will ultimately satisfy the description of this imaginary community 20 years into the future. Fortunately, it does not work that way.

Now APL is the foremost selling treatise on architecture in the world but it has been extraordinarily difficult to implement as even Alexander’s own experience testifies. I believe this is why he went on to write the Nature of Order because he realized the shortcomings of Timeless Way, APL, Production of Houses, The Oregon Experiment as insufficient in providing a foundation from which to work. People were trying to use it in the mechanistic sense, in the desire to create the properties of living structure in their projects, but like a cargo cult, the magical plane never appeared to disgorge its goodies.

I sense a strong contradiction because, as you have acknowledged, the future is unknowable but the attempt to reverse engineer all or some part of it through the implementation of some programmatic schema is present nonetheless. This, I feel, can’t be denied. All this is completely understandable, particularly coming from a culture where the rational agent model of human agency is the basis of self-hood, the basis for how we interact with the environment. In fact, it is the basis of our legal, economic and political systems as well. Without delving too much into social science and legal theory, it needs to be stated that this model of the human animal is being shown to be defective:

‘These assumptions culminate in the widespread and persistent belief that regardless of physiological processes, developmental history, or current circumstances, the person is “free” to choose any course of action among the alternatives that present themselves. This view of human behavior is simply untenable from a scientific perspective.’
J. Michaels and  R.R.Vallacher,  “The Ghost in the System: Where Free Will Lurks in Human Minds

If this true and the evidence is compelling, then the question must be raised that if we are not ‘free’ to choose our course of action, then what is the meaning of the choices that the TC community makes and how, exactly, do they correlate to the outcomes TC advocates for if there is a historical disconnect between intent and outcome of the rational agent? This is a dilemma that most will refuse to believe as true, preventing them from making any real change to anything. From here, we arrive at the crux of the problem which I am trying to illuminate, and that is we all hold this conception of ‘self’ as a matter of culture and identity, as a matter of survival within the larger system that has encapsulated us and that we all know to be in the closing chapters of its story. This conception of ‘self’ is being shown to be false and this is what Alexander means when he states that we must face, and master, the changes in world view if we are to able to be in the world in a manner consonant with life. A manner that fully reconnects us to the world from which we have been separated for too long.

Unfortunately, this is no small detail to be glossed over if we are endeavoring to find peace with the world in which we are a part of. I would think you might agree with that.

In response to the belief that ‘a vision of the future is a key part of being able to get there’ I would say this. The reality that we experience today in the form of social and ecologic crises are predicated on a set of earlier positivist visions that had many names such as Manifest Destiny, The Crusades, White-man’s Burden, Better Living through Chemistry, Progress… infinitum, ad nauseum. Unfortunately, the only visions that came true were the distopic ones articulated by the sensitive critics who saw things for what they were and who could see the trajectory of such schemings but no one listened. The vision of the future too preoccupied the people’s minds to let them see the present, which is really the only experiential space in which we realistically can live . Neither past nor future allows one to experience the only reality that we can ever actually experience, which is the present.

This process of ‘visioning’ may have arisen out of the mechanistic world view. Many people around the world, past and present, live without any vision of the future in the sense we are discussing because they already know how to live in the world. I would venture to say that this ‘vision’ thing is more related to the imperatives of social control and domination ideology then any real path that will reconnect us to the world around us. If you look at one of the most remarkable contemporary examples of emergence, of self-organization, ( look at the favelas of latin america. Google it and marvel at the remarkable organic geometries replete with properties of resilience, autonomy, highly decentralized with the power to resist penetration by the state and yet no one organized it, no person or group published any set of patterns, no one was even aware of that it was happening until it became apparent and the whole thing is made from the discarded rubbish of industrial civilization and by people largely without education, resources or the comforts and privileges of middle class life. All of which leads me to my conclusion.

It may be hard to wrap one’s mind around the idea that you can live in consonance with the world without a vision of the future since, for many, the idea of a specific future is what often gives meaning to the collection of rote, disconnected and meaningless tasks that consume much of our modern lives, but this is more of testament to the state of social life than some innate evolutionary function. It is more than just possible, I think it is essential to ‘facing and mastering a change in world view’. The fear that some sort of nightmare might occur because no one is in control is actually an amusing thought, considering that paradigm of control is what is producing the nightmares. Old habits die hard. The truth of Alexander’s work is that it is not rocket science, it is not some obtuse theoretical premise being promulgated by some tired academic accessible only to an elite. What he is showing us is merely the simple truth of the way all humans have intuitively lived and worked in the world since our very beginnings and he shows us a way back to all we’ve lost if we care to see.

Thanks for everyone’s patience.

24 Sep 11:37am

Dear Jeff

Many thanks for your considerate and thoughtful response. You are clearly a scholar of Alexander’s work to a depth which I cannot claim to match. For me, I don’t see a huge discrepency in our positions here. You argue that Alexander’s work is about solutions and responses, using the example of the favellas, that evolve organically by reconnecting to a timeless way of doing things which is instinctive if only we could reconnect to those instincts which we have been distancing ourselves from at an alarming pace. I agree, absolutely. That is what speaks to me most powerfully from his work, and what hit me between the eyes when I started reading a battered copy of APL 18 years ago. In terms of building it works perfectly, and possibly, it could be argued (although I’m not sure I would agree) in terms of social organisation…

I wonder though how that approach is appropriate when it comes to tackling climate change? I would suggest that one of the key reasons the world has stalled in terms of responding to climate change is precisely that there is no vision of what a low carbon world will look like. We don’t have historical instinctive responses to climate change to fall back on, there is no “Timeless Way of Decarbonisation”.

What Transition initiatives are doing is to try and argue that such a vision is vital, and to assist communities to do that… but visioning stuff that happens in initiatives is based on assumptions, peak oil and climate change, and where it goes from there is very fluid. Can we imagine an effective response to climate change and rapid onset oil price volatility which grows like the favellas? I would argue that that is what Transition is trying to do…

You accuse Transition of supporting a ‘mechanistic world view’.. but my sense is that the model we use, which is self-organising, viral, specific to place, loose enough for a high degree of personalisation, which celebrates failure as much as success and draws from local oral histories is more rooted in systems thinking than linear mechanistic processes. That is certainly the feedback we get from the many thousands of people who have taken it up and are running with it.

When I said that I was nervous about adding another level of jargon, that wasn’t in any sense arguing that somehow his work is irrelevant or overly complex, rather that was based on feedback from Transition initiatives when I presented this idea. While Alexander’s work is, I think, highly accessible, I am wary about producing a rewrite of the Transition Handbook which also requires people to have a full working understanding of APL.

That isn’t to devalue his work, rather to try and figure the most skilful way of communicating a remodelling of Transition to those already trying to communicate it on the ground. I don’t see that as “acknowledging his genius and then ignoring what he has to say’, rather it is about trying to, as I said, be more skilful about what will be most effective. You and I love Alexander’s work and get our heads round it (you more than me!), but starting from scratch with having to ground everyone in that before they can understand Transition could prove to be largely counterproductive.

I was interested in what you say about historically visions have failed to produce anything other than distopic outputs… not sure I agree in all cases… Sir William Beveridge’s vision of the NHS did not come to be exactly as he had imagined it, but it is still far better than what was there before. Better living through chemistry has had many undesirable side effects of course, but has also brought undoubted benefits in terms of medicine and standard of living.

Your analysis of the degree to which individuals have agency to change anything may be close to the truth, but I think undervalues what can be done when communities come together. Indeed, as George Monbiot’s recent piece about the failure of international responses to climate change shows, it is at the community level that much of the impetus can emerge, and indeed is emerging. Will it have enough power to leverage real change? We’ll see, but my hope is that is can.
Anyway, that, for now, is a few thoughts. Thanks again for your considered and articulate response.

Best wishes

Josef Davies-Coates
24 Sep 3:08pm

Fascinating discussion.

I agree with Jeff about the questionable value of visioning and planning to reach those visions, because if I’m sure of anything it is that plans never ever go according to plan.

Some of the visions I hear Transition people talking about are also not too imaginative either; they seem mostly to be variants of “like the present but with more insulation, solar and wind” or “like it was 50 years ago”. Neither of those visions excite me nor IMHO are they at all realistic.

Saying that, I recently moved to Highgate and an considering starting Transition Highgate to help focus local people’s minds on climate, energy and economic uncertainty :) (Highgate Climate Action Network already exists – I’m a member – and is listed on London Transition directory site but whilst the people involved know about peak oil, Transition etc they don’t have much of this stuff on the website etc)

Jerry McManus
28 Sep 5:16am

Not sure if this is the right place to post this.

The concept of patterns as given in Alexander’s work was enthusiastically embraced by many software developers as a way to apply proven solutions to common computer programming problems.

This was especially true for Object Oriented Programming (OOP), which is very much an exercise in systems thinking, thus the neat fit with Alexander’s ideas. (see “Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software” by Gamma, et. al.)

These solutions are not presented in the form of a recipe to be followed blindly, but more generally in the form of “When you have a problem like this, then use a solution like this.”

This allowed developers to adapt the solution to their particular situation, using any given programming language.

Hope this helps.