The article below appeared originally online at Forbes by Haydn Shaughnessy about the Transition Movement. Make sure to check out The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times.
What really drives changes in people’s lives? When I wrote about innovation policy challenges yesterday I noted how important towns and cities are in forging the new economy. Places are extraordinary compounds of activity and while some of the big ideas that emerge at conferences like TED arise in traditional academic/big company culture, ideas about towns are more down and dirty. The Peak Oil movement, for example, was born in a small and remote town in Ireland – Ballydehob.Re:Thinking Innovation is about trying to break the habit of seeing just one trajectory for change and to look at what’s actually happening or should happen given the changing attitudes and life chances of millions of people. So I want to come back to Transition Towns – now called Transition Network. It began with modest aspirations – can we change the relationship between towns, cities and the 2 – 5 mile band of agriculture around them?
In the world of slow baked transformation Transition Towns is a rallying point. There are now 90 TN initiatives in the USA, 360 around the world, and a swathe of Mullers – groups mulling over how to make a difference to their locality, with increasing exposure in the major media outlets – but here’s the real surprise. Transition Towns began in the backwoods of Ireland, not far down the road from the modest two bedroomed home of Peak Oil founder, Colin Campbell. This is how transition pioneer Rob Hopkins describes his approach:
How might our response to peak oil and climate change look more like a party than a protest march?
Transition Towns are only one example of a wider movement that at its heart is about reclaiming control over the physical side of our lives – take a look here for the New York Times coverage of urban agriculture. And this exceptional project involving Levis – the jeans makers – and the town of Braddock, Pa, surely an example that will soon rank alongside Manor, Texas as a case study of what can be done differently. See also Europe and China’s social innovation parks. What they have in common is a start-up culture that is little different from what we see in the Valley. People want to change the world around them and it is contagious. We ignore this start-up culture at our peril.
Perhaps yesterday I wrote clumsily about the virtual aspects of the new town:
Towns and cities are so much the most important aspect of how we grow, how we innovate, what we do and where we go – their importance is reflected by the way commerce is headed: Towards Local. Google Places, Four Square, Facebook Deals, location-based services. Innovation is street-based,with neighborhood car sharing and neighborhood kitchens.
The reality is people taking charge and reshaping towns and cities, sometimes one field at a time. Not in enough places as yet of course but this transformation is taking place at a certain pace. A decade ago it would have seemed like an alternative movement, a new era fad, one of those escape to the country interludes that come along to punctuate city living and the enterprise rat race. The reality is though that Hopkins has pinpointed an essential element of a future economy – making the land and the town work together differently – and it seems to coincide with new attitudes, a trend towards more differentiated lifestyles, a desire to be in charge of how we define ourselves instead of following fashions, a decline in the value of ownership. Something new in the small town is definitely cooking. And in the 21st century there’s the other obvious difference – those initiatives are all known to each other and can emulate successes quickly. It’s not just a transition idyll or a social media group but a real working network. Now, can we wrap a policy innovation around that?