Community Members Aim To Increase Sustainability

Photo: Berkeley residents met at the Ecology Center to discuss plans for the city's new Transition Town.
Simone Anne Lang/Staff
Berkeley residents met at the Ecology Center to discuss plans for the city's new Transition Town.

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Correction Appended

Some Berkeley residents are looking to transition back to a day when they knew their neighbors and grew their own food.

About 100 community members crowded into the city Ecology Center Wednesday to discuss plans for the city's new Transition Town, as part of an international movement aimed at promoting community-based sustainability, specifically in regard to energy consumption, oil reliance and food production.

Co-initiator Susan Silber said she was inspired to create the group with Linda Currie because it aims to create a community "where we are not only surviving, but thriving."

"We want to look at the needs of Berkeley," Silber said at the meeting. "It's going to take the entire community to make it happen."

Each Transition Town - an international hyper-local movement - strives to meet these sustainability goals differently. Silber, for example, said she wants to work with children to map fruit trees in Berkeley and also collaborate with local efforts such as the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition's "1,000 Bicyclists" campaign and Berkeley's Victory Garden Club. Transition U.S. Executive Director Carolyne Stayton said her chapter in Sebastapol has organized neighborhood walks and mapped emergency water and gas shutoffs.

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement, outlines the concept in his 2008 book "The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience." Hopkins offers a set of twelve steps for the model, including building bridges with local government, honoring elders and creating an "energy descent action plan."

This locally-focused movement has gone global. In 2006, the Transition Network opened in the United Kingdom, followed by Transition U.S. the next year.

Stayton said the national organization has 80 official chapters as of Friday, with three additional chapters expected on Monday. San Francisco and Albany already have Transition Towns of their own.

While the Berkeley group has yet to apply for membership into Transition U.S., Stayton said groups are sometimes denied if they seem to not understand the handbook or lack diversity.

"The goal of the movement is to create every town, city, district (and) neighborhood to be resilient," she said.

Transition Town Totnes - Hopkins's flagship town in England - organized film screenings and talks, held a seed swap and business swap, and even created the Totnes Pound, which was exchangeable for local goods, according to his book.

Timothy Burroughs, the climate action coordinator at the city of Berkeley's Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, also spoke in support of the group at the meeting Wednesday.

"I'm really excited when local residents take the initiative to lower their carbon footprint and build their community," Burroughs said.

Silber said the city's Climate Action Plan - a voter-approved initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 80 percent by 2050 - is already a Hopkins-style "energy descent plan."

At the meeting, attendees wrote thoughts on poster paper about the group's direction. Respondents advocated partnering with UC Berkeley and neighborhood associations, and the long brainstorm list included projects such as integrating electric vehicles into transportation services, legalizing rooster-keeping and creating community orchards and network gardens.

One woman even spoke up during the question-and-answer period and asked the group to help her start a garden in her backyard.

"Those are exactly the projects that we can help make happen," Silber responded.

Ralph Bartholomew recently retired from UC Berkeley, where he worked on engineering and building in the optometry department. He said he grew up in rural Connecticut and looks to return to the small-village model.

"Life is faster now," he said.

Yasmina Hadri, founder of the Berkeley Healing Center, agreed.

"If there is one thing that can save us, it is community, I think," she said.


Correction: Wednesday, March 2, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Transition Town Totnes is located in Ireland. In fact, it is located in England.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Sara Johnson covers the environment. Contact her at [email protected]

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