BBC's One Planet visited Totnes where the Transition Town concept was formed in 2006. It is now a huge network with 150 towns in England, a dozen in Scotland and in Wales, 30 in Australia, 60 or so in the US, including Reno, 13 in Canada and a scattering throughout the rest of the world.
Totnes began by thinking about how they wanted the town to look and to be in 2030 and from that formed a plan which is now being implemented. This goes beyond watching An Inconvenient Truth and worrying about peak oil, it actually raises money, installs photo-voltaic panels on roofs, has a garden plot exchange as part of a food and land reform initiative so that food starts to be produced locally again. Transition towns aim for carbon neutrality—they are everything that one would hope for in an intelligent civilisation. Places apply to become a Transition Town and the city councils have to be on board.
Portobello in Scotland started with a victory over a superstore coming into the community; Armidale NSW in Australia has a local food initiative with workshops, sowing guides, accessible fields for gleaners, farms for manure, a permaculture design course, a perennial food garden (nut and fruit trees) in public spaces.
The Canadian list of Transition Towns includes obvious places – Salt Spring Island, Vancouver and Nelson, BC, but also Victoria, Ottawa, London and Barrie.
Peterborough wants to set up two land trusts, fund the necessary access and service costs and ensure that it is used for food production. Community Garden Land Trusts are 'a way to equalise some of the social inequity built into the 20th century economic growth model'.
Powell River's transition group is newer and perhaps representative of what really goes on in setting up as a Transition Town. Its website shows a lot of hard slog to raise awareness, get people out to meetings, to films, to workshops and protests.
However, it is a very large network, clearly made up of people who are not going to wait for their governments to do something about the environmental crisis. They access whatever government resources are going however, and then just get on with it, bringing in local industry where they can. Looking at the well established transition towns in England and the ambitious projects underway one realises that the movement there has control and power. It is not a fringe activity, it appears to be in the centre of the collective community.
I think it is the brilliant front edge of a paradigm shift starting from below, not from the top.