Transition Houston brings Jason Roberts and Rob Hopkins to Rice

October 10, 2013
Barbara Brown
Houston Sustainable Business Examiner

Transition US and Transition Houston have partnered with the Shell Center for Sustainability to offer an Oct. 8 program on The Sustainable Development of Houston Districts: The Health of the City. This evening session was the opening for Dr. Lester King’s Oct. 9 all day workshop. Dr. King kicked off the evening with "Sustainable Houston Compared to Other U.S. Cities". The 2013 Sustainability Report and workshop is a multidisciplinary effort to develop common language to look at the growing gap between citizens’ aspirations, especially around big issues such as flooding and traffic. Although Houston compares favorably with the top 64 US cities in housing cost, lower income, high utility costs due to A/C and higher transportation costs due to poor public transit greatly reduce overall affordability.

Jason Roberts offered a history of "The Better Block Project". His action philosophy has spread to Houston. Better Block attempts to rapidly transform bad sections of town to be more like old walkable city centers, such as those still flourishing in Europe. By transforming one block at a time using the arts community Better Block shows residents how the area could be and provides metrics for government. In Dallas they discovered that city ordinances from 1941 were preventing legal revitalization by banning thing like sidewalk benches and planters.

Roberts observes the same trend that Golden Spike has detected. Large-scale, complex solutions requiring government consensus just get watered down or blocked by people who don’t want change. They think small because big doesn’t work. Design is important. The block improvement has to look real. Working fast, in days not years, with temporary solutions begins a process of innovation. Using low cost, recycled materials provides another proof of concept pilot. See this in Houston at the next Better Block Houston event on Oct 20 from noon to 5 pm.

Rob Hopkins then discussed "The Art of Resilience: Communities in Transition". Rob, like Jason, sees the power of getting small things done. He outlines how in his new book The Power of Just Doing Stuff: How Local Action Can Change the World. Rob describes his Transition Town movement as “detox” for the West, but now sees that the developing world is using the principles to do things correctly the first time. As described in MEMEnomics, the new parallel economy is hyper local with a distributed structure built around core groups. Transition was built around sustainability issues such as UK statistics that 97% of groceries are purchased from big box food chains, often at huge transportation expense. Our pre-2008 economic growth engine was built on cheap fossil fuel energy which is dwindling rapidly. Transition is attempting to build a simple, scalable, replicable idea that can be modified to local conditions across the world.

Rob asks, on what scale can individuals have practical influence? Studies show that we can make things more valuable by letting locals participate in the process. Let people have what they need in a MESHworks™ of local solutions that don’t go back to the past, but rather go beyond the present dysfunction to a better future economic model that creates jobs. The potential for thriving local is huge. For example, Houston could have intensive urban market gardening on some of our huge lawns. Infilling with higher density, rather than more suburban sprawl concentrates capital budgets on maintenance of existing infrastructure for the residents whose taxes built it in the first place. Rob sees people who are tired of apathy and want to be reconnected to community. The time has come for impact investing to meet the needs of people at a human scale.

Transition is active in Houston. Mark Judeman founded Transition Houston as part of a permaculture project. Transition meets regularly. Activities include local food, biking, and most recently a city 4-H club.

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