Transition Culture

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

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12 Nov 2012

Your help needed! New book about Transition needs your thoughts on the best scale for doing Transition …

Thanks for all the great Top Tips sent in over the past few days.  Great stuff.  Today’s ask is that I would love to hear your thoughts on scale, and how you decided what would be the best scale on which to do Transition?  Was it an easy decision or did you deliberate long and hard?  How did you decide what constitutes your neighbourhood?  Did you decide to set up a Transition group to work on the scale of a whole city, or a part of it?  What underpinned your thinking? How did you decide to work at the scale you are working at, and in hindsight, do you feel like you made the best decision?

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Joanne Poyourow
12 Nov 5:09pm

Scale. My favorite topic. Or perhaps the topic that follows me around the most, both in questions from media and other Transition initiatives, and in my own “what the ^&%* did you think you were doing?” monkey mind.

I’ve written about the (ongoing) story of Transition Los Angeles here A few reflections to adapt that text to your questions:

We did local -> whole city -> local again, knowing that a return to whole city is in the offing. Meanwhile we continue to be involved in city-wide topic-oriented coalitions (could call them “working groups”).

Setting up the city hub was an easy decision because we were just setting up a circle. We didn’t think of it as a hub until TransitionUS told us that was their term for what we had done. Over time with operations we became a lot more hub-like.

What constitutes a neighborhood was a decision we did deliberate long and hard, many times over the years. Explanation of that is at
The city-wide approach has been essential when we go to green fairs and such because who people come to our table would be from all over, not just from one particular neighborhood. The local approach has been essential to cultivate a sense of Belonging and to create real (not online) connections. We developed a board (like the London inset photo) for events that showed all the local action to help point people to their local group.

hindsight: As expressed in we did what we needed to do at the time. And we are still continuing to go with what is needed at this time. It just looks quite a bit different than a tiered corporate structure in the industrial growth paradigm. It’s not tidy and orderly and logical. It looks different from what I would have expected if you had asked me in year 1.

Sometimes I think it looks different than it “should” when I hear what other cities like London are doing. But this is what works for us, for the people we have here. I have to keep reminding myself that we’re inventing the model for mega-cities (London=8million, L.A.=11million), and that it has its own pace and rhythm unique to this place.

Best decision? Certainly. And after the warmth of ECM’s 7year anniversary party last Saturday night, it feels like even this new course is the best decision ever.

more thoughts on Transition in the Big City, including tips for people just starting out

12 Nov 5:31pm

Linlithgow – local town (actually 2 towns blurred together]. total pop. 15k approx. Couldn’t cope with any larger a scale. have 500 on mailing list so that’s about 10% of households.

Sarah Stewart
12 Nov 7:43pm

Friends and neighbours are in the midst of starting up a Transition group in my neighbourhood (Meadowbank in Edinburgh). I think that local means local: like, ward-local, bump-into-fellow-Transitioners-at-your-local local. I have been a part of larger groups spanning numerous neighbourhoods and they have not been nearly as successful as the ones that keep their distances walk-able (PEDAL the Portobello Transition Town in Edinburgh, for example). I think that this is because community is built when you see each other regularly in a non-transition way, say bumping into someone in the street or at a local shop. These things happen in smaller areas that are walkable from side to side and have defining features that people identify with (a particular building or group of buildings, a natural feature or something). Less is more.

That said, there is an Edinburgh Transition umbrella group that I think is effective.

Jo Homan
12 Nov 8:32pm

Decided to use the local postcode (N4) which covers quite a large area here in London. We didn’t talk about it that much but felt it should be defined because several groups were opening up nearby at the same time. We felt that individuals could join whichever group they wanted, but that we shouldn’t approach businesses in each other’s areas because then we wouldn’t look joined up. In retrospect might have been better to use the local electoral ward instead because it’s tough to comprehensively tackle a very big area. There’s a good logic to sticking to political boundaries if they more or less coincide with the local neighbourhood.

12 Nov 11:38pm

I wish we’d have taken our suburb. People identify with their suburb. We didn’t think about it too hard and took on our council boundary (80,000 people). We were from multiple suburbs and did what seemed to make sense at the time. One of the consequences is that now we have to emphasise we’re a community group, because people tend to assume we are council. Also the people who are most active on the Initiating Group come from the one suburb!

13 Nov 1:49pm

When we set up our initiative in a small rural East of England market town we recognised the town’s interdependence with hinterland villages and thought the appropriate territory for us would be roughly equivalent to the catchment area for the town’s only High School. This gives us an area with a population somewhat less than 20,000 people.
In fact over the next 2-3 years we found that people drawn to our initiative came from distinct pockets across this area – reflecting the different character of town and villages. Two villages are well represented – but still short of enough active participants to create a vibrant village-scale transition. The town itself is not well represented, but does provide a central place to meet and hold events.
This is a conservative area with a relatively high proportion of elderly people. We have sometimes felt as if we were struggling to identify like-minded others to support and encourage local transition.
We had something of a breakthrough when we launched a permaculture course that attracted not just people from our own ‘patch’ but also people from the slightly wider region. The course has helped the ‘transition minority’ to establish a stronger support network regionally. This network now supports embrionic transition people in neighbouring towns (10-15 miles away) and also renews itself by continuing involvement in further permaculture courses.
I’m not suggesting that the wider region is appropriate for a transition initiative. But a ‘hub’ operating over that wider geographical area is certainly helpful.
Perhaps this question about scale isn’t about geography or number in the population but about the characteristics of the community? We need a manageable focus for our local activity AND supportive links to others with whom we can share experiences … and have fun.

Steve Welzer
15 Nov 6:37am

In New Jersey I think the county level is best.

At the town level we don’t get enough critical mass of participants.