Transition Culture

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

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

22 Jan 2007

10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative #8. Build a Bridge to Local Government

councilsWhatever the degree of groundswell your Transition Town initiative manages to generate, however many practical projects you manage to get going on the ground and however wonderful your Energy Descent Plan is, you will not progress too far unless you have cultivated a positive and productive relationship with your local authority. Whether it is planning issues, funding issues or whatever, you need them on board. You may well find, in many places now, that you are pushing against an open door.

It is advisable to start the process of drawing them in as early as possible in the process. For each event you plan to run, draw up a list of people within the local authority (as well as local business, the community and so on) who you feel should be there, and invite them personally. Go and see the relevant people within the Council and introduce yourself and the project.

It is key to steer as far clear of any sense of ‘them and us’ as possible. As well as inviting them to attend key events, it can also be good to invite them to sit on a panel which comments at the end of certain events… we are planning an event in April where we show ‘A Crude Awakening’ and then ask the speakers from the Council to comment on what they plan to do about the issues raised.

kedapIt would also be very useful to research the development plans that they have generated, to see what they have already done. Rather than your reinventing the wheel, very often Councils have done lots of community consultation and research, and although a lot of it may be based on dubious presumptions with regards to oil availability and climate change, it is worth checking that out too. We are exploring how an Energy Descent Plan for Totnes might work in terms of being written in a similar format to the current Community Development Plan. I have a mental picture of sometime in 2008, planners sat at a table with the ordinary Community Plan and a beautifully presented Energy Descent Plan, on the day when oil prices first break the $100 a barrrel ceiling, looking from one to the other and deciding that the EDP actually addresses the challenges being presented, and the conventional one being gently slid into the bin (we can dream!).

In short, seek to engage. You may well find people far hungrier for your ideas than you imagine. In Transition Town Totnes, we have a Liaison with Local Government Group, who, as their name suggests, work on ways in which the TTT initiative can most successfully interface with Local Government. They do much that I have set out above, and seek to maximise the productive ‘edge’ between the two. Eventually the link with Local Government might extend, once an Energy Descent Plan has been produced, to someone running for election to the Local Council on an Energy Descent Plan ticket. If steps 1-7 have been successfully pursued, they should get in by a landslide!

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23 Jan 1:17pm

Well, up to a point.
The reality in many places (perhaps most), however, may be that local government are all too happy to get the sustainability brownie points of being associated with initiatives like this, but stop short of any action that would actually upset the powerful interests aligned with the unsustainable status quo.

That, certainly, has been our experience here in Bilbao with the Forum for a Sustainable Zorrozaurre. The local government has all the sustainability vocabulary down to a T, but every single action they take in this respect is purely cosmetic, along the lines of a “car-free day”. When they even bother with that, of course – a couple of years ago they organised a high-performance car rally in the middle of the city.

I am becoming an anarchist…

5 Feb 2:39am

I gave a ten minute presentation to our local planning commission listing concrete steps that the city could take that, spanning over a 20 year timetable, would help a great deal with peak oil problems. Now, our current land use and transportation planning consists basically of zoning, and then letting the developers do whatever they want, more or less within the appointed zoning allowances. They have taken no thought of mass transportation, energy conservation, and how all the far-flung suburban subdivisions could be retro-fitted to include small neighborhood walking-distance access to groceries, pharmacies, and small business service and retail shops. I pointed out our county had also pretty much allowed rail freight shipping to be dismantled and that needed to be rebuilt. I spoke frankly about our lack of preparedness for a natural or man-made disaster of any kind, including gasoline rationing or unavailability, etc. They sat in silence. They have basically driven all real manufacturing out of our county over the last 30 years and housing construction is the only real income generator (not sustainable housing, just single family detached, basically, with some ultra-luxury high end non-family-friendly loft condos thrown in for fun and amusement). This is a city of over 300,000 people that has no intention whatsoever of changing the way they have always done things since they started “planning.” One person who worked in the division of planning actually said, “I will never give up my car,” even when given the scenario that gas was so expensive it was a choice between that and food. This is what we have to deal with out here in the real world. They will do nothing until it is basically too late. I am sure there are far more of my type of town out there than there are of your type – and we all can’t just move to your town. So what can we do?