Strategic local infrastructure
Much of the infrastructure a powered-down more localised economy will need doesn’t exist. What will we need, and how best to start rebuilding it?
Much of the infrastructure that would have supported a more local food economy, and generated much of the employment in our communities, has been dismantled or converted for other uses. The infrastructure most settlements have today has little resilience.
Where elements of a more local, more ‘Transition’ economy exist, find ways, such as the community support model (as in CSAs – see Tools for Transition No.20) to support them and increase their viability. Where they don’t exist, your Transition initiative, local social entrepreneurs, private businesses and your local authority can work together to create them.
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill
The picture above shows the last working mill to close in Totnes. It was in the centre of the town, was powered by the river that runs past it, and deliveries were made to and from it using a horse-drawn wagon. How’s that for a low-carbon local food enterprise? Now it is the town’s tourist information office, and a very good one at that, but clearly it is much easier to turn a flour mill into a tourist information office than it is to turn a tourist information office into a mill again.
Much of the infrastructure that would have supported a more local food economy, and generated much of the employment in our communities, has been dismantled or converted for other uses. The infrastructure most settlements have today has little resilience. We aren’t able to grow much of our own food, turn our local timber into useful things, or process milk into cheese, apples into cider or fleece into clean, useable wool. We will need to put it back, but it won’t look or work as it used to. It will be based on our best current knowledge and be managed for the community’s benefit.
So what new businesses, buildings, livelihoods and infrastructure might a low-carbon community need? Here is a list to get your Transition initiative started. There are many opportunities for local economic development that need very little infrastructure as we currently understand the term.
This presents many opportunities for new livelihoods. Someone who grew up in Totnes in the early 1960s told me:
“ . . . all of the little back streets had some kinds of artisans or builder’s yards or something going on in them. You didn’t have to go very far out of the high street before you were in light industrial premises. All of the top of town, like Harris’s ironmongers, they had their big ironmongery shop, but on the other side they had . . . an agricultural machinery shop. Can you believe it?! There was agricultural machinery sitting there which was for sale! They sold harrows and seed drills and things to go on the back of tractors! They had a little showroom of all that sort of stuff. Then they had the blacksmiths forge just round the back there.”
This diversity of enterprises would give a far richer tapestry than that provided by our ‘Clone Town’ high streets, out-of-town arcades and business parks. A more resilient community will surely be a more nourishing, interesting place than many of our present towns.