“Building Our Transition Streets!” Interview with Maggie Fleming, Co-Director, Transition US by Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Magazine
“This fall, neighbors across the country will be meeting in each other’s homes to support each other in reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, building social cohesion, and strengthening their community’s resilience. Transition Streets brings together small groups of neighbors and supports them in taking effective, practical, money-saving and carbon reduction actions. A workbook helps each person to build their own action plan that improves household energy efficiency, minimizes water use, reduces waste and consumption, explores local transportation options and promotes local food.” – Maggie
PLEASE SUPPORT the Transition Street Indiegogo Crowdfunding Campaign to get this project off the ground.
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Interview with Maggie by Willi
Please define “neighborhood.” Are their different approaches for different places / populations in the program?
Transition Streets is designed to be implemented by people living within close proximity of each other. This could look very differently depending on where the participants live. For example, it could be residents of an apartment building, people living on the same block, or people living a few miles from each other. It's up to the groups coordinating the project in their community to define what a neighborhood means to them.
The Transition Streets curriculum and model is open for adaptation, so some coordinating groups may decide to re-envision who participates in the Transition Streets groups. For example, instead of relying on the proximity of the participants' households, they may want to implement Transition Streets to groups comprised of members of a specific faith group or members of a workplace.
The curriculum is meant to be applicable for audiences/populations throughout the US. There may need to be additions or modifications to the curriculum to be relevant to specific audiences (for example, renters or people living in rural areas). As Transition groups pilot this project, Transition US will support them in adapting the curriculum to be appropriate to the audiences in their communities.
Talk about some of the underlying values in play for the Transition Streets vision? Could these be a source of tension?
Transition Streets is aligned with the broader values of the Transition movement, which include reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and strengthening community resilience. My assumption is that groups that self-select to participate in the project share these values. In this first year of piloting this project, Transition US will work with local Transition groups to gather feedback on the project. I imagine that any tensions that may arise related to the values of the project would provide important insights for the project evaluation process.
“Transition Streets is a project proven to reduce the carbon footprint of entire neighborhoods and save hundreds of dollars on energy bills.” Food, energy, water, housing, and waste issues are often “in friction” with City politics and government rules. Your feedback on this?
Transition Streets curriculum focuses on individual and household actions that result in direct savings and a reduction in green house gas emissions. The project offers numerous action options, many of which wouldn't be regulated by local policies/laws. For example, in the unit on energy, participants learn to read and monitor their gas and electricity usage, tracking it throughout their participation in the program. They're then given resources and ideas for ways to reduce their households energy usage. If there are specific actions (either suggested in the curriculum or suggested by a member of the group) that are in friction with local policies and government rules, this could be an opportunity for participants to work on supporting policy/legislation changes in their community.
“Transition Streets provides an empowering format and an enjoyable process for working together to significantly increase individual and collective impacts, and really make a difference.” This rings like a campaign ad! Pick a difficult meeting topic and explain how a Transition Streets group would tackle it.
Yes -- it is quite a positive promotion, isn't it. What we're trying to get across with that description is the value of "positive visioning," which is one of Transition's guiding principles. The Transition movement's primary focus is not campaigning against things, but rather on creating positive, empowering possibilities and opportunities.
Another important part of Transition's approach is that while the work to create more resilient communities can be challenging, it can also be fun. The social connections created by the Transition Streets model is a key part in making the process enjoyable, therefore drawing in more people that want to participate.
That being said, yes, you are correct that some of the conversations may be difficult for participants. However, what one person considers difficult might not be so for others, so it's challenging for me to say which meeting topics will be difficult. So I'll give one example of a topic that some might find difficult, which is food. Some aspects of this topic that I can think of that participants may have differing opinions on include: whether or not to eat food that's lower on the food chain, organic, produced locally, and/or in season (or what percentage of these foods to eat out of your overall diet); what conveniences are you willing to forgo when it comes to food packaging; we know that growing our own food increases our access to food, but what are the tradeoffs/benefits in time spent vs. money saved for growing your own food.
So how would Transition Streets groups tackle these potentially difficult topics? The Transition Streets model, which includes group discussions, gives participants a chance to explore other opinions and perspectives that they may not have previously considered. The Transition Streets curriculum provides data and resources to support participants in making their own decisions for all of the questions posted above. The curriculum also supports participants in creating their individual food action plans and offers suggestions for using the group for support and accountability in implementing these plans.
Do you envision that Americans will have a different perspective on the process than folks in the UK? Do you have examples?
Yes, I think Transition Streets when implemented in the U.S. will have an American-flavor, though what exactly that will be is yet to be seen. It will also look differently depending on where it's being implemented. Local groups will be able to adapt the curriculum to make it more relevant for their particular audience. You'll have to check back in with us after the pilot for specific examples on the different perspectives on the process between the U.S. and the U.K.
Admittedly I have not seen the “user-friendly workbook” that supports the neighborhood planning process but it sounds rather archaic for folks with two TV’s and four computers at home!? How much of the Transition Streets process is web-based? Is this an “open-source,” transparent process?
The curriculum will be available to download and view online (or groups may choose to print out hard copies). There's lots of room to make the workbook and additional Transition Streets more interactive in an online and/or mobile format. We'd love suggestions, ideas, and funding to help make that happen.
Our intention has indeed been to make this process open-source and transparent. The decision for Transition US to do a national rollout of the project actually came from Transition leaders, who asked for this resource and support in our annual survey. Transition US has hosted several calls with Transition leaders across the country over the last year, inviting their input and participation in the project. There are two Transitioners taking the lead on adapting the curriculum, plus a larger group of Transition leaders who will be reviewing it. There is a hosting team of Transition leaders that determined the content and format of our crowdfunding campaign. Transition US has been updating our network about this process through our online communications, with an open-ended invitation for feedback/input/participation.
Once the curriculum has been adapted, it will be available at no cost. It will be open source in that Transition groups will be adding modules to make it more relevant to their particular audiences. For example, we've already heard interest from Transitioners in the North East that want to add a module on emergency preparedness.
Do the ethics and principles from Permaculture play a role in Transition Streets?
Yes! As a model, Transition explores how to apply permaculture principles at a community level to redesign entire food, energy, and economic systems. Transition Streets embodies the principle of applying small, slow solutions, focusing on Zone 1, the household. There’s also a strong emphasis on catching and storing energy (through energy efficiency improvements) and valuing renewable resources and services (solar, composting, and regenerative agriculture). And of course, participating households obtain a yield in terms of cost savings on their energy bill, relationships with their neighbors, and greater access to high quality food.
Planning can be a frustrating, joyless and tedious experience - but we just love actionizing at the end! Can you elaborate on how the program will be evaluated?
We will be working with local Transition groups to track project results including numbers of participants, average household savings, and self-reported reductions in CO2 emissions. We'll also likely collaborate with Transition groups in doing a survey to measure the impact of the project. A survey done in the UK showed that 85% of Transition Streets participants stated that their personal changes made during the project will be sustained beyond the project. In the same survey, 98% of groups said they'd keep meeting beyond their last 'official' meeting. And they found that beyond the scope of the Transition Streets curriculum, Transition Streets groups went on to initiate a wide range of unanticipated activity such as a community film club, a community orchard and a ‘wheelbarrow market’ in a drive where neighbours swap unwanted stuff. We'd love to partner with a university to develop a more robust evaluation plan to measure the impact of the project -- so feel free to send contacts our way if you have anyone in mind.
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Maggie’s Bio -
Maggie is passionate about community organizing, youth and leadership development, and environmental activism. Her experience in nonprofit leadership includes currently serving as Co-Director of Transition US, the US arm of the worldwide Transition movement. Previous leadership positions include Executive Director of EarthTeam, a regional youth environmental education and leadership organization, and Senior Development Associate at Earthjustice, an environmental public interest law firm. Maggie is a fellow of LeaderSpring and the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy.
Co-Director, Transition US