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Sustainable Cities Through a Grassroots Environmental Movement


PHOTO: View from the river of the town of Woodstock in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Photo from Wikipedia.


A key challenge in the 21st century is building an environmentally sustainable economy and society, where monetary and ecological goals are in harmony. With global climate change, natural landscapes at risk from resource extraction, and dependence on fossil fuels, the need to move towards sustainability is pressing. This transition is a global challenge, but will also require local initiatives.

The Transition Movement (also known as Transition Towns and Transition Network) is a movement that embodies the need for both global and local solutions in moving off fossil fuel dependence and towards a sustainable economy. Transition is a grassroots movement, of concerned people coming together in their communities to promote sustainable practices in their cities, towns, and villages, while networking with like-minded Transition groups around the world.

The aims of Transition include educational initiatives, for instance "Transition Guides" published in communities to provide information to individuals, businesses, and governments on how to adopt sustainable practices, including promotion of local economies (such as local agriculture to avoid the pollution that comes from long distance transportation of food), sustainable energy sources such as solar and geothermal, and other actions that can promote environmental sustainability and a move away from fossil fuels.

Transition efforts also include lobbying and encouraging policy makers at different levels of government to adopt sustainable practices, to promote local foods, sustainable industries, green energy, and sustainable urban planning to curb automobile dependence.

Ultimately though, it is about the participants themselves, people getting together, determining the best strategies and avenues to build a sustainable economy and move beyond fossil fuel dependence.

In the Canadian province of New Brunswick, where I live, there are Transition movements in Woodstock, Cocagne, Moncton, and Fredericton.

Woodstock is a New Brunswick town of approximately 5,000 people. Transition Woodstock has accomplished several successful projects in the Woodstock area. These include the Richard Olmstead Sustainable Living Expo (the third annual one will be held on October 5, 2013 at the Woodstock campus of New Brunswick Community College). This expo engages a range of stakeholders in the community - including business, municipal and provincial government agencies, and environmentalist groups - to get together to showcase products and initiatives that promote environmentally sustainable practices.

Other Transition Woodstock initiatives include the Woodstock Community Garden, which was started three years ago, and a monthly event held at New Brunswick Community College featuring documentaries, films, and guest speakers. I myself will be a guest speaker, speaking at New Brunswick Community College in Woodstock on May 28th at 7:00PM, on sustainable economic development in New Brunswick.

Transition Woodstock has published an Energy Transition Guidebook for the Woodstock region which includes guidelines for businesses and individuals. This includes recommendations for green power sources for homes and businesses (including geothermal and solar) as well as policy recommendations on planning to facilitate methods of transportation -- walking, biking, and public transit -- that are alternatives to private automobiles.

In Fredericton, that city's Transition group held a World Café at Renaissance College, an initiative where people from the community came together to discuss and vote on ideas to ultimately determine which issues were priorities. This event was an excellent example of open-format democracy.

Some of the themes identified included promotion of a sustainable model of economic development where environmental harms (along with monetary benefits) were part of the equation, alternatives to automobile-centric transportation (including promotion of mass transit, biking, and walking), promotion of renewable energy (including solar power where homeowners can sell back to the grid), and supporting local agriculture.

A comprehensive strategy, from all levels of government, is needed to promote transition to a sustainable economy. As an example, municipal governments have an important role in promoting sustainable planning, moving away from sprawling box store developments with vast parking lots which are often along busy thoroughfares without proper sidewalks, all factors that discourage walking and biking. Provincial and federal governments have an important role in building an economy that is diverse and sustainable - taking advantage of new opportunities in green business sectors.

In all this, community and grassroots activism, an engaged citizenry, is important. The Transition Movement is playing a key role in this regard, linking local activism to global networks, encouraging the promotion of new practices among individuals, businesses, and governments.

Global climate change is a crisis, but it can also be an opportunity for new and innovative ideas, new opportunities to build sustainable economies (with jobs based in environmentally sustainable sectors), and new opportunities to build sustainable societies.

An earlier version of this article appeared on the Huffington Post.