Portland as a "Resilient Community"

September 26, 2011
Kyle Curtis
Blue Oregon


If there is an organization in Portland that has to do with livability and sustainability issues, chances are Jeremy O'Leary is invovled with it to some degree. With prior experiences with the city's Peak Oil Task Force, along with Transitions PDX, overseeing TheDirt.orgPortland Permaculture Guild, participating with the City's Local Energy Assurance Plan (LEAP), and also the FooDiversity group that looks at food and garden issues in East Portland. Jeremy is also an IT staffer for Multnomah County, for which he served on the steering committee for the Multnomah Food Initiative. Considering all of these organizations that he is involved with- as well as his personal interest in emergency preparedness issues- it is safe to say that Jeremy firmly has his pulse in regards to livability issues both for Portland and the surrounding region. As such, when looking for an expert to discuss these issues with, there were very few other options to contact. In a recent sit-down interview, Jeremy described the Transitions Initiative, the recent natural disasters that have rocked the country and world in recent months, and whether Portland should be considered a "resilient community" or not.

To begin with, could you describe the Transition Initiative? What is it, and what are its objectives? Would you be able to easily describe these efforts for those who are uninformed and unaware?

Sure. Let's provide a little bit of context. Transitions is a global effort started by Rob Hopkins. Rob was a permaculture instructor, and the more he learned about Peak Oil, he figured that it would be a great way to teach permaculture to deal with the effects of Peak Oil. In effect, the Transition Initiative focuses on the effects of Peak Oil, which includes "global weirding"- my preferred phrase to describe the changes of climate- as well as the economic crisis that would be created by a lack of easily available cheap energy.

But the underlying theme of the Transition Initiative is the creation of resilient communities. Very few people know that the first American city to have a Transitions "Great Unleashing" was Sandpoint, Idaho- not exactly your liberal mecca. There was a mixture of liberals and conservatives invovled in the project, with one conservative saying, "I don't particularly believe in global warming or Peak Oil, but this is simply the right thing to do." As for Transition's local history, I was personally involved with the City's Peak Oil Task Force. During this process, we looked around for models of neighborhood resiliency to deal with Peak Oil. A friend of Hopkins came to Portland and did a presentation about the Transition Initiative. It was exactly what we were looking for. The Portland Metro region is all ready a fairly advanced transition area, carrying out a lot of stuff that Transition groups all over the world talk about- gardens, bike culture, the efforts of City Repair. All of these efforts are doing great work in Portland. At the same time, a model designed for a town of 10,000 will only be scaled up so high. I should offer a cheerful disclaimer, however, and that is to acknowledge that the Transition Initiative is very much an experiment, and there is no guarantee that these efforts will succeed in dealing with life after Peak Oil. However, there is another acknowledgement that if why try to do everything by ourselves, these efforts will be too little. At the same time, if we wait for government, then it will be too late.

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