A Visit to Titusville: Building Resilient Communities

The University of Pittsburgh recently invited me to their Titusville, PA campus to speak about the Transition Towns movement. I chose the theme of creating communities that have the resiliency to withstand the inevitable challenges of this century. I met with three classes, had lunch with student leaders, made a public presentation that was well-attended and interactive, and spoke with community leaders. 

Titusville, where the oil industry began, is today a small, shrinking town in search of its future. It is fairly representative of small and mid-sized communities across the country. Like many, it has the potential to become a more resilient community if it chooses. 

My message is one that Transition Centre has adhered to for nearly a decade. Below you will find the core principles of that presentation.

A bit of background: Transition Centre was modeled on Transition Towns. There are a number of popular options for developing a more sustainable community, but the TT model, as found in The Transition Handbook, had some attractive features. The key ideas were: local, grassroots, and community resiliency.

In 2009, we formed Transition Centre as an unofficial Transition Towns hub. In 2010, we formed two formal local Transition Town initiatives. In partnership with other organizations, we made a number of presentations in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. What is our model?

  • Localization: Our problems may be on a global scale, but we embraced the motto: “Think globally, act locally.” In fact, we can only act at the level we can understand and solve our problems. That is our own community, our home place. One by one, a thousand points of light bring us out of darkness.
  • Grassroots: From the bottom up rather than top down. Grassroots means citizen-driven. Such programs require no application, no approval – just a small group of people with an idea. This is Margaret Mead’s vision of the small group that can change the world (but this takes hard work). It starts with a vision – perhaps a solution to a pressing problem. Around the idea, a small supportive group forms. Five people appear to be the threshold. Secondly, it is innovative, not tied down by existing ideas and practices, rules, regulations, and red tape. It does not exclude the involvement of local political authorities, institutions, or nonprofit organizations, but in the Transition model, their involvement comes after the citizen association has formed and has a clear vision of where it wants to go. 
  • Program: The objective of the TT model is a community that can adapt to adverse events and trends. The Transition Handbook laid out a program for building community solidarity and an alternative economy. It begins with building awareness. We created an extensive community resource list, networked, and connected. We created a virtual association rather than a formal organization.
  • The Plan: A major feature of The Transition Handbook model is a comprehensive community action plan. The Handbook follows the principles of permaculture. Permaculture design is about creating a comprehensive plan. For a community this requires a vision, a strategy and the will for achieving a sustainable future.

The objective of the comprehensive plan is the safety, security, and stability of the community over the long term. It’s about quality of life and confidence in the future. It is about community as an ecosystem, and the interrelationship of the parts must be well understood. It’s about building local capacity, such as a robust food economy, good water, renewable energy alternatives, good housing, public transportation, health, well-being, and other essentials of the good life. It is about developing stewardship.

Totnes published its exemplary Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP), Transition in Action, in 2010. In that book, they established a series of goals for 2030 in each of a number of topic areas. After two years of work, involving some 200 people, Transition Centre produced its own Sustainability Master Plan in 2014.

What’s next? What do you do with your plan once its finished? For us, due to the variety of strong local partners, it looked like nurturing an emerging culture of sustainability.

For over a year now, Transition Centre has been seeking to address what it sees as an emerging challenge: Are we running out of time to achieve a sustainable future? We have asked two penetrating questions: 

  1. Do we know what needs to be done to achieve a sustainable future?
  2. Do we have the capacity to achieve it?

We also need to ask a third question: If we do not achieve sustainability, then what?

There are some critical issues: The prospects for the Paris Climate Agreement fade. World population is approaching 10 billion by 2050. Depletion of water, land, energy, and other nonrenewable mineral resources. Increasing income inequity. Declining public revenues. An overdue economic recession. We can address these problems locally.

The response to these questions is found in the updated Transition Centre programs including Resilient Communities, REconomy, and Integral Leadership. We are also starting a five-year update of our plan: an inventory of progress, an assessment of the utility of our model, and a redefinition of local issues.

Effective leadership is crucial. Self-Reliance: Achieving Personal Resiliency and Independence, available as a Kindle book, addresses this issue. This is a workbook. It provides a basic framework and a series of exercises to develop and reinforce personal resiliency. It addresses four key ideas: 

  1. Clarity and certainty about who and what you are.
  2. Ability to accurately perceive reality, both internally and externally: W.I.G.O. – What Is Going On.
  3. Ability to clearly define problems.
  4. Knowledge and skills needed to effectively solve these problems.

Transition Center is available to support communities pursuing resiliency. Visit us at www.transitioncentre.org. See also “Building A Resilient Community” at https://transitioncentre.blogspot.com/2018/10/building-resilient-community.html.

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