Is the Time Now for R.I. to Make Transition?

April 19, 2012
Rachel Chiarta and Tim Faulkner
Eco RI News


The call for dramatic change among environmentalists is growing louder just about everywhere, including here in Rhode Island.

One concept tapping into this sentiment is Transition Town. The international grassroots movement advocates for a fundamentally different society, one that seeks a complete break from fossil-fuel dependency. The ideal vision is akin to a modern-day frontier village — a self-sustaining community or neighborhood of about 500 residents managing networks for housing, energy, transportation, child care, food and other basic services.

The Transition Town movement largely sprang from a successful community implementation in Totnes, England, in 2004. With the help of one of its founders, Rob Hopkins, communities worldwide have copied this concept either within a neighborhood or a through a network of like-minded participants.

The Transition movement has spread to 34 countries, and more than 100 Transition Towns have registered in the United States. In Rhode Island, a rural concept has been adopted by the Revive the Roots Farm in Smithfield. A certified Transition Town is gaining traction in and around Providence and Wakefield under the working name of Transition the Ocean State.

The First Unitarian Church of Providence has served as a hub for church members and others interested in the Transition movement. In March, local organizer Michael DeForbes, and Tina Clarke, an official trainer for Transition Town, outlined the steps for establishing the system. DeForbes, of Warwick, introduced the audience to the term “peak oil” and stressed the importance of shifting to a society independent of oil.

“Transition towns are officially recognized neighborhoods, cities or towns in which the inhabitants are not waiting for government solutions to the problems of peak oil,” DeForbes said.

Clarke, who spent four months in Totnes, continued with an inspirational and thought-provoking presentation about the Transition movement and how it creates resilient communities of people working together to address the problems of climate change and economic stagnation. Small things, she said, can have big impacts, such as bike lanes, garden shares and community gardens. Hosting energy-saving workshops, supporting local businesses and simply getting to know neighbors all help broaden the concept.

Clarke detailed a few simple steps for getting started, such as a starting a book club to read Hopkin's book "The Transition Handbook." Other awareness raising events include throwing a neighborhood block party and forming working groups to run a Transition Town training.

Raising awareness is exactly what DeForbes has been doing. He's held public talks on the Transition movement at libraries across Rhode Island, and he formed an organizing committee in hopes of launching a comprehensive training workshop in August. The training, he said, aims to empower attendees to become leaders in their communities and educate them on the process of setting up local networks.

But DeForbes stressed that Transition Towns are run by groups, not leaders. "In this model there is no top, it's just a big bottom, run by the people."

So far, no host community has been designated as the first local Transition Town, but densely built communitties that embrace urban revitalization, such as Pawtucket and Central Falls, are being considered.

"I feel like Rhode Island is ripe for somethng like this to happen somewhere," DeForbes said.

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