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Transition in the Big City - part II

This post is a continuation of "Transition in the Big City," a description of how Transition ideas are being applied in Los Angeles.  Part I discussed issues of scale, the formation of the city hub and pods, and the structure we use today.

OPERATIONS

At this point Transition in Los Angeles consists of 6 pods which offer regular public meetings:  Transition San Fernando Valley*, Transition Mar Vista, Transition Culver City*, Inglewood, the Environmental Change-Makers in the Westchester/LA area, and Transition South Bay LA.  The two starred ones are now official TIs with the Transition Network, as is the Transition Los Angeles city hub.  We have two additional areas which are just beginning to hold Transition-type public meetings, Whittier and Rancho Palos Verdes.

Having a city hub is very helpful with regards to outreach.  The city hub becomes a central contact point for outside groups to find us.  We have in essence a speaker's bureau: among the members of our TLA core team there are several people who regularly go out and give "Intro to Transtion" talks.

We try to coordinate things so that each month, at least somewhere in the the greater L.A. area, there is an "Introduction to Transition" session open to the public.  Honestly, none of us want to be doing the same intro script every month.  And neither would any one of our local areas would yield enough participants for monthly intro sessions.  But we need intro sessions to keep bringing people on board the movement, so we offer them at rotating locations.  One month the intro session might be up in San Fernando Valley.  Another month it might be in Mar Vista.  We move it around and publicize them all on our central website.

The Transition Los Angeles city hub website is really just a merged feed.  It collects blog entries from those of the local pods that run blogs, and that becomes the TLA news.  The TLA calendar is a merged GoogleCalendar from all the local pods - each local pod runs their own GoogleCalendar (and some display their GoogleCalendar embeded in their own webpage).

All the members of our local pod core teams are part of a leadership email loop.  There we swap resources.  For instance we'll make sure someone who is attending a fair has the photo displays or the right handouts.  We'll help with a leadership issue, or coordinate schedules to handle the speaking engagement requests.

We're gaining name recognition in the area (you could call it "branding").  Within the green circles there is growing recogntion of the word "transition" and connection with the ideas of powerdown preparedness.

FINANCES

I've already written about our finances here in L.A., how we're trying to maintain TLA as a resilient organization.  Years ago (pre 2004) I learned many of the things that are now coming to the Transition movement through the Stoneleigh talk.  Suffice it to say, we use this paragraph in our introduction to new core team leaders:

For the people, by the people -- no members of TLA are funded or paid for the work they do for their community.  We rely on the power of the people, inspiration, time, skills, and donations.

WORKING GROUPS

At first we thought there would be some working groups at the TLA city hub level and other working groups at the local pod level.  In actual practice, as people set up the working group they feel passionate about, it's unfolding a bit like that theory and a bit differently too.

Working groups seem to be forming at the local pod level first, for instance the Sustainable Health Care working group at the Transition Mar Vista pod. 

At the city hub level, we have individual core team members who have special interests they pursue.  In many cases they gather a team of non-core-team volunteers to do the project, for instance the mentoring of community gardens.  Is that a true working group?  Perhaps.

The pace also is a bit different from the initial vision.  The first "working groups" TLA seems to have spawned are the local pods themselves.  So having local operations is indeed proving to be more important as far as where volunteers choose to dedicate their passions than creating city hub level working groups.

EDAP

We have had a few core team discussions of the idea of an EDAP (Energy Descent Action Plan).  On one hand, some issues (ex: water) are an area-wide issue, that would be common to all the pods and would have a logical place in an area-wide EDAP.  We do have other organizations in the area who are looking at these issues through the peak oil + climate change lense,who become excellent potential partners for an EDAP.

Other issues (ex: health care) will necessarily have to be handled neighborhood-by-neighborhood across the entire area, because these need to draw upon -- and thus grow -- very localized skill base and resources.

At this point we could see it going either way: 

  • localized EDAPS, perhaps with an area-wide portion on water resources, or
  • an area-wide EDAP that inspires local communities with a general vision

When we began to discuss this EDAP issue (local? or area wide?) our core team turned quickly to a different EDAP question, the same one which was recently highlighted on Rob Hopkins' blogAre we writing a plan or a vision?

A few members of our L.A. team had studied some of the EDAPs which have already been published worldwide. In our observation there tend to be two general styles:

  • a vision plan:  A user-friendly, cheery, welcoming, charming vision of the community, containing lots of lifestyle-level examples, these are apparently written with the general public as intended end-user.  These are good for enrolling the reader in possibilities, they help people to visualize and they can help with the inner aspects of Transition.  Forest Row is our favorite example of this type of EDAP.
  • a business-style plan:  Concrete and analytical, these documents include university-caliber studies and city-planner-level examples, and appear to have been written with government or the business community as the end-user (few members of the general public would likely take the time to wade through them).  They are often drafted by a government task force or a university and include little-to-no input from the general public.  They lack Transition's spirit of celebration.  These style EDAPs can help people make concrete plans for the years ahead.  They provide functional documents which could be helpful to city planning departments.  City of San Buenaventura is our favorite example of this type of EDAP.

We realized that one of our first decisions would have to be which style of EDAP we intended to produce.  Which did L.A. need more?  Our discussion circle felt that a vision plan for the whole city would probably be very helpful because it would help enroll far more people in the ideas.  The business-style plan would probably have to be done neighborhood by neighborhood, pulling in area-wide data for some sectors.

TIPS

for people starting the Transition journey in a city:

  • Start in the area where you feel you have influence.  If you already have area-wide contacts and your initial core team is from all over the city, maybe a city hub is the right place to start (note: it's a lot of work to start this way).  If you're starting as a lone initiator, and you don't have many contacts, definitely start in your own backyard.
  • No matter how you start, START.  don't let the nay-sayers get you down. It can be done, but certainly not by people who don't begin!
  • Start small.  Design all of your initial meetings so that they would be successful if only 5 people attended.  If you get more, great!  You'll be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed.
  • Always have a sign-in sheet and collect email addresses. Ask for zip code, because one day you'll want to sort it all out and you'll wish you had that information!
  • If people don't have email, collect phone numbers and begin a phone tree
  • Even within the magnitude of city, don't neglect Inner Transition work.  You and your steering group will need it as leaders, just as much as your participants will.
  • Be willing to recognize the limits of your personal abilities.  These aren't flaws, they're more like holes in the swiss cheese, an opportunity to bring someone new onto your team to plug the places you have holes (and bring someone new onto your team to plug the places they have holes, and ...).  Together we can become the complete set of skills the area needs.

RESOURCES

Transition U.S. will be holding a Tele-Salon about "City Hubs" on Thurs July 15

Article on resilient nonprofits

Samples:

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