One Path to the Future: Transition Towns

What comes to mind when you hear “Richmond, CA”? Crime? Pollution? Urban decay? That’s the news the media reports. But a quiet revolution is taking place here as in many urban areas; what you don’t hear is that Richmond is a successful Transition Town, with active support from the community and the city government.

Sustainability Tree

So what’s a Transition Town? Locally, the focus of the Transition Initiative is: “…to re-localize the essential elements of our community which are needed to sustain and thrive in a world increasingly challenged by dwindling oil supplies (also known as peak oil) and climate change. Our vision is of a vibrant, resilient Richmond, CA where progress means interdependence, resourcefulness, and plenty for all.”

We know our society is not on a sustainable path, and we’re probably all coming to the realization that the big systemic changes will not come from the top. The changes required for us to make it in the future need to come from the people. But “systemic changes“ sounds so challenging, and the system is so ingrained and we’re so puny, what can we do? Take heart; a lot of these changes are already happening all over the globe, they’re just ignored by the media.

Richmond, like other urban areas, has already “picked itself up by the bootstraps” out of necessity, and is working toward a sustainable future for and with the community. The city manager’s office includes a division of Environmental Initiatives, which supports activities ranging from food scrap recycling to the city’s climate action plan. The city commits to green-collar jobs by partnering with Solar Richmond, a non-profit providing hands-on solar installation training to low income residents as part of a pre-apprenticeship construction program. In 2009, the city met and surpassed its goal of achieving 5 mW of solar installation in one year.

Solar Richmond

Another successful venture is “Richmond Grows”, a Seed Lending Library located – you guessed it – in the main branch library! Richmond Grows offers residents lessons on growing produce, then saving the seeds to return to the Library to lend to other urban farmers. Like Detroit and other cities, Richmond has involved the young people in urban farming. Some of the high schools have partnered with Urban Tilth to lay the infrastructure and build the capacity to grow significant amounts of produce.

Urban Farm

Yes, we’re surrounded by crises on every side. But there are ways we can make positive changes where we live, and build on those changes as we encourage each other. The more we learn to depend upon ourselves and develop our local resources, the less stressful our journey to the future will be. To learn more about Transition Initiatives, see the many links through our local site, Richmond Rivets:

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Posted by on December 14, 2010. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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13 Responses to One Path to the Future: Transition Towns

  1. Bill Pelter Reply

    December 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Great article. . .I am Richmond resident and very proud we have a Green Mayor who, with the support of the City Council, has helped lead the way to a more sustainable City and green job training.

    • mbarnato Reply

      December 15, 2010 at 8:06 am

      Thanks, Bill. I’ve been thinking that the Green Party should adopt Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy. Start small, build up. Just think of the possibilities with Green Mayors, then Green Governors, and then…..? The sky’s the limit????

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  3. Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

    December 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Absolutely one of the best posts’ I’ve read (of late).
    Lake Worth (the small old FL town I live in) has a very young, activist population devoted to sustainability through many programs. I’m learning more and more about them because my new room mate is one among so many organizers’ for programs that not only sustain local business, farming, urban growing or projects of ‘rotation’ where houses here bought as ‘rental properties’ previously unfilled because of high rents are now being filled with other eco-driven young people traveling all over the country filling sometimes just personal goals of travel but also fulfilling grad school requirements for green / sustainable industry related degrees. Earth First is in the midst of establishing a large satellite office downtown. Maureen, I’m so glad to see info here relative to this movement. Our city commission is being positively influenced to encourage and support further establishing Lake Worth as a new environmentally sustainable area… as we are along the southeast coast of Florida, it’s difficult to rally support in the local governments for this kind of movement. But that’s changing with the voices of ‘sustainable towns’ telling their stories.
    It’s a great post!
    I’ll be reposting it on our local activist boards.

    • mbarnato Reply

      December 15, 2010 at 8:18 am

      Many thanks, Gwen, and so glad we were able to swap stories of sustainable activities happening now where we live. The rental house rotation scheme is intriguing, and I’d not heard anything like that before. It makes such good sense! It’s true – these stories rarely rise above local press (although the Richmond Grows Seed Lending got a mention in the NYT!), and we have to kind of dig out what’s happening. You’ll probably be immersed in it now with the new room mate! I came of age during the period of LBJ’s “Great Society”, but realize now that’s falling by the wayside. The future is about what we’re doing in our communities.

      • Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

        December 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

        I think I’m right behind you AFA ‘coming of age’. Though I would never leave the ideals of the Great Society on any wayside! 🙂
        Generations successive owe gratitude to the Great Society’s gen of protest and rebellion – setting an example of how to say NO to the progression of ignorance to the facts (media wise), how to band together to form communities of counterculture and how to say FUCK YOU to the ESTABLISHMENT. Much much needed in our moment now. So, thank you dear lady!
        …you know… it’s one two three what are we fighting for?

  4. Holte Ender Reply

    December 14, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Tremendous piece Maureen and a very hopeful one. Makes a nice change to read something like this and not about obstructionist politicians and corporations that trash societies in their dual interest. Here’s wishing Richmond, CA much success, look forward to reading more about this progressive initiative.

    • mbarnato Reply

      December 15, 2010 at 8:29 am

      Thank you, Holte. There are so many issues to rail against, but here in the last few weeks of the year, I’m trying to keep my happy on and be hopeful! Our Green mayor was just re-elected to her second term, and the need for these new initiatives will continue. I hope to report on more positive outcomes in the future!

  5. A Michael J. Scott Reply

    December 15, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I have read this post several times and each time I am more impressed not only at the writing but at what Richmond has done. It makes me think there is hope for us after all. Brilliant piece. Inspiring indeed.

    • mbarnato Reply

      December 15, 2010 at 10:47 am

      Mike, thank you. Seems to me that this time of year is about being hopeful for the future; trying to keep that as the focus. And there ARE good things happening around us – we just need to dig a little deeper for them. :->

  6. C.H. McDermott Reply

    December 15, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Nice piece. From what I can tell, that sort of thing isn’t happening here in Tulsa, yet. After all, we are The Oil Capital of the World–or were.

  7. mbarnato Reply

    December 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Thanks, C.H.! And, dare I say it…the east bay might be just a tad more progressive in general than Tulsa? Lovely as Tulsa is!

  8. Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library Reply

    December 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    We’ve created the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library as a model that can be replicated by other communities. Visit our site,, and go to the Create a Library page to read about our process and download our organization, orientation (English & Spanish) or seed saving brochures (English and Spanish).

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