Not being able to imagine a lower-carbon world is a huge impediment to designing and realising it. How best to overcome this collective failure of the imagination?
Visioning helps distinguish Transition from most other environmental approaches. Rather than campaigning based on a grim portrayal of the future, Transition suggests we start by creating a positive vision of a future. It asks, ‘If you woke up in, say, 2030, and the transition had been successfully managed, what would it look, feel, smell and sound like?...
Try to weave visioning into everything your Transition initiative does, asking: “If you were to wake up in 20 years’ time, in a world that had successfully navigated the journey to a low-carbon, localised and more resilient community, how would it look, feel, smell and sound?”
Visioning helps distinguish Transition from most other environmental approaches. Rather than campaigning based on a grim portrayal of the future, Transition suggests we start by creating a positive vision of a future. It asks, ‘If you woke up in, say, 2030, and the transition had been successfully managed, what would it look, feel, smell and sound like? What would you have for breakfast? What would you see when walking down the street?’ When I asked a senior planner for Totnes that question, his response was revealing. “I suppose it would probably feel like going back to the way it was,” he told me, before going on to paint a picture of the settlements of his childhood. Perhaps the Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009 failed partly because few of those there on our behalf went with such a vision in their minds? Why fight for a low-carbon future if you can’t even imagine it?
Transition in Action: Visioning in Kingston
[Insert pics: Kingston visioning, Kingstonvisioning2. Caption: Local people taking part in the ‘Our Kingston, Our Future’ workshop, April 2009. Photo: Artgym
In April 2009, Transition Town Kingston (upon-Thames) (TTK) did a community visioning process together with Artgym™, a community arts group. The project, ‘Our Kingston, Our Future’, brought together the under-25s with the over-50s to look at Kingston’s past, present and future. It aimed to build understanding by bringing different generations together with film-makers, artists and designers. The resultant artworks were exhibited at Kingston Museum, alongside an exhibit about TTK. Visions generated through these and other visioning approaches form a strong base for Transition initiatives.
The first thing to consider about visioning is that context is critical. A completely open-ended visioning process is of little value: what matters is that it roots itself in a future world that has responded to climate change, has far less net energy than today, has moved beyond economic growth, and has adapted creatively and purposefully. The Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP),[i] the first such plan in the UK, begins by stating its assumptions, before setting out its vision of the Totnes of 2030.
One of the simplest visioning tools is to invite people to close their eyes and imagine themselves walking down the street in 2030 and stopping to look around. Ask them what they can see and hear. Invite them to record their impressions through drawing, painting, writing poetry or writing stories. Much popular media narrative is based on conflict, so creative exercises using, say, tabloid story methods which echo this, may work for some people.
Transition in Action: ‘Towards a resilient Taunton Deane’ – from then to now
by Chrissy Godfrey
[Insert pics: tauntonvisioning1. Credit: Chrissy Godfrey] Caption: Workshops run by Taunton Transition Town with their local council, inviting them to create a vision for a post-oil Taunton Deane. And TauntonTransitionlogo [no caption]]
Taunton Transition Town (another TTT) ran an exemplary visioning exercise with their local borough council between July and September 2009, at the request of the council’s strategic director. It brought together almost all the council’s 375 employees, from senior management to plumbers, plus over half of the council’s elected members, to create a vision for a post-oil Taunton Deane. They were asked to respond to a number of inspirational ‘provocations’ to get to grips with what the area needed to become resilient.
The resulting ideas were pulled together into a unique story by the two TTT facilitators. The document that told that story, ‘Towards a Resilient Taunton Deane’, has kept the council buzzing ever since. The strategic director instantly pulled together a Green Champions team of staff, who volunteered to promote all things green across the organisation. The council joined the 10:10 campaign and by November 2010 had achieved a saving of 9.87 per cent on its energy usage. Each department now has its own Green Charter, and there are regular events such as quizzes, competitions and other initiatives to keep Transition alive for all staff. One spin-off was a planning officer and a car park attendant from the Green Champions team organising the planting of a new apple orchard on public land. Without all this, they wouldn’t even have known each other.
The council invited Taunton Transition Town to talk to the Local Strategic Partnership about peak oil and resilience, resulting in the LSP giving TTT a grant to repeat their visioning workshops in the community. Run with parish and town councils, there have now been seven of these in rural areas, neighbouring towns and in Taunton itself. One was also run for the Taunton Deanery Synod. For each event, the Transition facilitators pulled together the visions and ideas into a printed and illustrated story to give back to the community, highlighting their local priorities and intentions.
As a result of one workshop in the highly rural Neroche Parish, their new parish plan now has a strong ‘green’ element and a new group exists for local action. In Wellington, the workshop helped the existing Transition group raise their profile and membership and identify priorities. At least four other Transition-style groups are also emerging as a result.
The council arranged for the same workshop to be run by Transitioners for the Local Strategic Partnership, with other local businesses. About six organisations took part – a modest number, who nevertheless valued the chance to share ideas. At the time of writing, Transitioners are due to meet with the council to plan for an Open Space event on sustainability issues for businesses sometime in the spring – which Transition members will facilitate.
Another ripple saw Transition members work with the council’s new climate change officer to recruit new volunteers to act as Home Energy Auditors. Ten of these, all trained to NVQ standards, roam the borough, providing free advice to householders on cutting their bills. One final ripple: one of the local council’s political parties (we won’t say which) called on Taunton Transition Town members to advise them on their manifesto for the local elections in 2011.
[i] Hodgson, J, Hopkins, R. (2010) Transition in Action: Totnes and District 2030: an Energy Descent Plan. Transition Town Totnes/Green Books.