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How Transition is starting to rebuild Ontario

Mark October 21 on your calendar

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October 15, 2012

TORONTO, ON, Oct. 15, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Across the world, the Transition Town movement has spread from its origins in Totnes, England, to over 2,000 locales.

Thirty of these are in Ontario. Seven are now officially recognized as underway, meaning that the local Transition volunteers have undertaken certain first steps on the journey from dependency upon outside resources to resilient communities that have relocalized their economies.

Communities in Transition in Ontario range from Poplar Hill, a village in the far northwest of the province, to larger cities such as London, Peterborough, Guelph and Ottawa.

October 21 will see Transition Toronto take the first step on its journey, when it holds its Energy Descent Action Theatre event.

What makes Transition Toronto’s effort interesting is that this is the first time, globally, that a Transition organization is attempting to work at mega-city scale.

In London, England, for instance, the vast size of the city led Transition organizations to work at the level of the city’s boroughs. There is a lot of communication and co-ordination between the borough organizations, but each charts its own course.

That’s similar to how Transition Toronto is working with the Transition organizations in the cities of the 905 belt around the City of Toronto. Transition Markham, Transition Whitby, Transition Oakville and others are loosely-coupled partners: information is exchanged, but each charts its own destiny.

You’d expect that with a movement whose goal is resilient communities. What each community needs as its path to that goal – and what makes any particular place resilient and prosperous – depends on what already exists (the built environment, as it’s called), local resources and local geography.

Transition, in other words, isn’t a prescription where one size fits all. Each community uses a body of practices to help guide the process of finding its own way into the future.

Given the size and diversity of the City of Toronto – on its own, it would be Canada’s fifth province – it would be natural for Transition Toronto to have broken down into neighbourhood Transition Groups, much as London did.

Indeed, such groups do exist within the Transition Toronto framework. Transition Midtown, Transition Beaches and the like localize the Transition movement to specific self-identified communities within the city.

But ultimately, thanks to the amalgamation of the city in 1998, and the wiping out of more local political structures, Transition Toronto has decided on a two-tier approach: neighbourhood initiatives, with neighbourhood Transition groups, where enough members of the community want to make that happen, and a city-wide approach running in parallel, because many of the opportunities for change neighbourhoods might want will require finding support across the city to make happen.

Transition Toronto – as with most Transition organizations worldwide – is a volunteer effort. Any monies raised are ploughed back into community events to build awareness, find more volunteers, and advance changes. The coordinator responsible for the Energy Descent Action Theatre event, Andrew Knox, has organized it with a small team of volunteers he was able to pull together.

‘Nowhere in the world has a transition group tried to do this on the scale of the City of Toronto’, says Knox. He is realistic about what these first steps look like: ‘we’re looking for 45 to come out – 45 out of 2.7 million – but it’s a beginning.’

Likewise, he is realistic about what the Energy Descent Action Theatre event will produce. ‘It’s called an Energy Descent Action Plan, but it’ll probably have more vision than true plan to it on this first event. Still, it gives the community something to rally around, to attract more people to, and out of that more detailed plans and measurable actions will come.’

Participants in the event will hear a brief presentation outlining the reasons for building a more resilient community, then play a game designed to showcase many different positive outcomes from these conditions, then do their planning. Another activity follows, to show the people there how many resources just this selection of people who came out already have amongst them to start. Two speakers – one from an Inuit community and one with experience in resilient communities worldwide – and a community celebration of eating together wraps up the event.

As always, politicians are welcome but only as citizens. Transition’s goal is not to back any political faction, but to allow the city’s communities to decide for themselves what kind of futures they want – and to elect councillors who support that.

For Ontario, the Transition movement has the potential to do what it’s done in the UK: be the engine to rally a new, relocalized, vibrant and sustainable economy, and communities with staying power in tough times.
Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.

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1 comments
AnnPacey
AnnPacey

You might want to investigate Village Vancouver. We are also coordinating transition activities in a large metropolitan area and have been doing so for 5 years. We now have over 2300 members in our online community, organize hundreds of events per year and help facilitate the formation of transition groups in the surrounding communities. For more information see www.villagevancouver.ca