The State of Transition in the Mid-Atlantic Region: The Story of MATH & a Regional Overview

Join the conversation on November 6, 2014, 200 PM ET for the first segment of the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) Teleseminar Series: The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement.” (Click here to register.)

by Pamela Boyce Simms, Trainer, Transition US, Convener, Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH)

This summer of 2014, The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) pauses to take stock of five years of Transitioning in our region. The MATH network unifies the work of environmental advocates who are Transitioning the Mid-Atlantic mega-region from fossil fuel dependency toward regionally integrated, self-reliant resilience. The cluster of cities in our megalopolis corridor includes New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Richmond.

Hubris? We prefer to characterize what we’re up to as an “experiment.” Regardless, we are deeply engaged in Transitioning the Mid-Atlantic region hamlet by hamlet; by village, town, city, neighborhood, street, block and building. As we work, we keep our finger on the regional pulse; listening for that moment when, not a majority, but a tipping point, a critical mass of people in our region choose to live consciously, well, and lightly on the Earth.

Sparked and spread by serendipitous word of mouth and two waves of Transition Trainings, pockets of Transitioning have germinated and sprouted throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region from 2009-2014. In May of 2013 at a five-day Transition retreat, the newly Transitioner-formed Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) began to cross-pollinate, scale up, and steadily cultivate a regional network of Transition initiatives at multiple stages of development. The MATH Council comprised of seasoned Transitioners from throughout the region came into being.     

The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) which prioritizes watersheds over state boundaries, currently embraces Transitioners from the Housatonic Valley of Southern Connecticut (Coginchaug Area Transition), to the Chesapeake Bay watersheds of the Potomac-Shenandoah, Rappahannock, Big Sandy and Roanoke in the great state of Virginia.

New York State counts nineteen Transition initiatives scattered through the sub-regions of the Adirondacks, Mohawk Valley, Catskills, Capital District, Mid-Hudson Valley, Lower Hudson Valley and the New York metropolitan area.

Northern New Jersey is Transitioning in Newton, Sussex County and “down the shore” in Red Bank, Monmouth County. Wilmington in Transition holds down the fort in Delaware even as Transition Howard County is a dynamic Transition outpost in Maryland.

Robust Transition activity in Eastern Pennsylvania, Media and Philadelphia, and the grounded environmental networking of Transition State College in the bull’s-eye center of the state, are way-showers for fifteen Pennsylvania Transition initiatives.

Transition initiatives in Richmond, Staunton and Charlottesville Virginia in the southernmost Mid-Atlantic watersheds provide a challenging range of demographics that demand Transitioning at levels, and from an angle that are in stark contrast to strategies employed in the north.  

Some Transition initiatives sparked the development of others in their area. Most were catalyzed by participants in Transition Training cohorts who were fired up enough to immediately go home and walk the talk. Still others developed quietly, autonomously and in relative isolation from all but online references to the movement. Yet, - Transitioners ALL Are We - in the Mid-Atlantic region; summer, 2014. And the fact that 100% of those involved in the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub are Transitioners-to the-bone, is a key distinguishing characteristic of MATH as a network.

“MATH”- At Its Best - Mirrors Natural Living Systems         

The self-organizing, ever-morphing Transition experiment is patterned after living-systems in nature, as are the operating principles of the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH).At our best, our goal of achieving integrated regional resilience is accomplished by emulating living systems patterns: 1) non-hierarchical, cooperative self-organization; 2) affirmation of a diverse spectrum of contributions and perspectives; 3) constant adaptation to address what is emerging in the moment; and, 4) maintenance of balanced, nurturing energy flows between individuals and the whole. 

Two transformation-driven groups bonded by a permeable membrane animate the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) network. Twenty one seasoned Transitioners from seven Mid-Atlantic states and nine “Stewards” of the environment form the MATH Council, and Circle of Stewards. These environmentalists are in turn networked back within their home states to concentric rings of thousands of Transitioners who are the leaven in the bread of the regional Transition environmental movement.

Biomimicry Inspired Operations

Trillions of organisms dance a ballet of interrelated exchange within a natural ecosystem. Each organism contributes to the needs of its neighbors, to the equilibrium, and the resilience of the whole while maintaining its own identity.  

MATH Transitioners who hail from a latticework of interconnected water and foodsheds are creating a Transitioner-ecosystem that pegs its operational effectiveness to how well we mimic closed-loop natural systems. The power of a living-system is derived not from individual participants but from how participants are organized, and the interchange among them. So while the contributions of individuals are important, the real power of systems emerges from their interdependence.

To take this path in growing a network and Transitioning towns toward local resiliency is to deliberately step away from mainstream behavior. Implementing a living-systems goal requires a fundamental shift of lenses. Power and control dynamics infuse the air that we breathe when we participate in the “business as usual” mainstream.

MATH decentralizes power. Working Groups which include MATH Council members, Stewards, and Transitioners from local initiatives maintain close communication so that information flows freely through each concentric ring of scale. Each group has the authority to act autonomously, and members continually monitor the degree to which we value each other’s humanity and innate talents equally.Since we’ve been conditioned in the hyper-individualistic, stratified culture that drives the US economy, it’s a process. It’s an exercise in perseverance and patience with each other.

Local to Regional Connectivity: Scaling up in Concentric Rings

The MATH network recognizes that aligning the way we live within the Earth’s biosphere means that the most vital work happens locally. When constant adaptation takes place in localized microenvironments, any shock to the larger system is minimized. Resiliency is maximized. Transition Towns focus on localizing the factors communities need to thrive, e.g. food production, alternative energy generation, and more.

Yet, while local self-reliance is a goal of resilient living-systems, interconnectedness among systems is also essential. The Transition network therefore reflects nature’s interlocking microhabitats. Thousands of Transition towns, regional and national hubs function as a loosely connected international web of systems. Concentric rings of subsystems nested within geographically larger systems inform the other’s process and enhance the wellbeing of the whole, while cultivating what is unique to its own particular sense of place.

Mindfully Managed BoundariesMATH’s Growing Edge

Managing energy and information flows among interconnected individuals, groups, and systems to allow emergence of what is innovative and new is Transition’s growing edge. MATH acknowledges that the movement is an evolving experiment, and that we don’t have all of the answers. We aren’t intent on finding perfect solutions, but like living-systems, we seek experimental pathways that meet the need of the hour and can be refined over time. When something doesn’t work, we’ll embrace new behaviors and adapt to emergent circumstances. Each time we shift course, the complexity of our relationships will deepen and we’ll become more adaptable—more resilient.

Join the conversation on November 6, 2014, 200 PM ET for the first segment of the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) Teleseminar Series: ”The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement.” (Click here to register.)


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