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Thread: Current relocalization and transition interest...

  1. #1
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    Current relocalization and transition interest...

    I last posted on this question back in 2008 and have seen a few references here and there to relocalization and the transition initiative (transition towns) since that time but nothing substantive and in-depth. Back in 2008, Daniel Lerch's Post Carbon Cities was published and he wrote an article for the December 2008 edition of Planning Magazine where I had written an associated sidebar related to my experience in relocalization up to that time. Since then, I've seen the emergence and growth of the Transition Town movement stemming from Rob Hopkins initial work in Kinsale, Ireland and then Totnes, UK.

    While a few planners here and there seem familiar with these efforts and movements, there does not seem to be significant interest in the potential of relocalization as a model for sustainability nor the transition initiative for local public mobilization, even though numerous other disciplines such as environmental advocacy, social movements, organic agriculture and permaculture, and even new urbanism are interested in its possibilities.

    As a planner who is well versed in these initiatives, I'd be interested in the experiences of other planners who have been involved either professionally or as a volunteer in relocalization or transitioning. And if not, provided you recognize the threats of peak oil, climate change, and economic globalization, perhaps you can share your criticisms. I'd love to see a discussion thread morph into something more substantive at some point.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Local Renewable Ammonia and Model Sustainable Cities

    I see your post over in the Post Carbon Cities thread. You'll see some of my posts there, also. My thinking since then has morphed, and some of it is expressed here at Cyburbia. I now suggest the development of a "renewable ammonia corridor value cycling engine" as a technological means to catalyzing the formation of a Midwestern coalition of model sustainable cities. Yes, perhaps movement may appear to be slow since 2008. But I think I have one example of contextually appropriate and applicable technologies for the locations I describe. Search my posts here at Cyburbia and/or see my "Model Sustainable Cities" website at http://modelsustainablecities.weebly.com for more information.

  3. #3
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    MachWing

    I'd be stepping off into the abyss by discussing energy technologies. My focus is a bit softer and less technological although I respect any effort to find a sustainable energy source as long as it does not facilitate the continuation of the growth economy.

    My area of focus lies in community building, democratic processes, alternative transportation, local economy and agriculture, and, for better or worse, the new urbanist component embodied by the CNU charter and the LEED-ND effort.

    I also find myself drawn to individual and neighborhood resilience building including residential water and energy retrofits and permaculture applications.

    But as a former midwesterner, I wish you success...

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for the reply

    cjryan,

    Thanks for your reply. Growth in our current a linear-industrial fashion would be unsustainable, but growth in the sense of cyclical maintaining, replacing, and renewing our goods and services in such a way that the quality of life similar to that which we enjoy now is maintained -- I think this style of economic development (if not growth and waste by limitless consumption) -- I think this style of "household management" is possible.

    It's interesting that you mention agriculture and permaculture and water. The renewable ammonia product and process can help bridge our food, fuel/energy, and water infrastructures. Renewable ammonia can make current industrial agriculture move toward permaculture a step at a time. The energy roles for ammonia will help both transportation and the future patchwork of smart electrical microgrids. And offshore wind to ammonia will facilitate the production of desalinated water, also.

    It's an exciting field. I have yet to learn more about the charters and organizations you mention. Thanks for the wishes for success.

  5. #5
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    It's nice to see nearly 150 views of this topic although fewer responses than expected. I know that planners in the UK and on the west coast are working with these issues and would love to hear from them and learn what they're working on specifically.

    After working as a volunteer with a transition group in Concord, MA and peripherally with two "Locals" in the Nashoba Valley of Massachusetts (see the December 2008 sidebar article), I began to develop the draft for a consulting practice with a focus on relocalization:

    http://www.relocalizations.com

    plus a couple of years ago began a blog to discuss relocalization from a planning perspective:

    http://thelocalizer.blogspot.com

    I'd certainly welcome any constructive feedback on these initiatives plus would be interested in your own experiences, for better or worse. If these threats to status quo are valid, planning for linear extrapolation of history makes no sense.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I think part of the reason why you have had so few responses is the terminology you use. The links help to explain what you are advocating, but "relocalization" is not a commonly used term.

    I am also a proponent of local economies, but only to a degree. Perhaps this has something to do with my own business. I need to sell to a North American market and I don't want communities thinking that they have to hire the local consultant to be "good for their economy". The truth is that I specialize and I am often better than their local firm, within my niche. I may not be local, but I will be a better choice for the community. Building on simply me as an example, a local economy needs to export in order to bring new money into the economy, to replace money that leaks out when items are imported.

    Walmart is emerging as an unlikely supporter of local foods. They have given preference to local producers who can supply their distribution centers. They will pay more, recognizing that they save in the shipping costs for products sourced further away.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7
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    Cardinal

    I totally agree with your premise, provided energy costs and the state of the economy allowed you to travel to these communities...and allow these local governments to have the ability to hire you (and if traditional planning consulting is even viable in that scenario). With gasoline at $8 a gallon or more, I don't see even a regional or national market for consulting planners or much else....most economic sectors will necessarily contract to the local....this isn't just a narrowing of the choices...it's an elimination of all but one, Many of our vested interests don't allow us to see clearly the threats to the system that gives us viability.

    As far as terminology, you may be right to an extent but the terms have been put in print by APA and other planning publications and also by progressive planning organizations like Planners Network. I expect that they (the terms) will increase in visibility as this year unfolds.
    Last edited by cjryan2000; 31 Mar 2010 at 11:45 AM. Reason: elaboration

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Scout's avatar
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    Honestly, the typical apocalyptic propoganda shouldn't be the basis for a common sense planning paradigm. Nonetheless, it seems that the "doom and gloom" scenario is playing a role in changing the way people live and how we plan.

    "Relocalization" is a fancy catch-all term IMO, just like "sustainability". How one can specialize in relocalization is beyond me considering that we are talking about food system planning, disaster planning, economic development, environmental planning, transportation planning, on and on and on. All of these of course are wrapped in a neat little package of "local".

    I think relocalization is a good idea but I disagree with the doom and gloom. If my opinion were sought regarding the purchase of either a local tomato or one shipped across the US, I would strongly suggest the local. While peak oil, climate change and dead puppies are important in making the final decision, at the end of the day, the local tomato tastes better and supports my neighbor.
    In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves - Rumi

  9. #9
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    I'll wait for others to respond in more depth but I wouldn't exactly call The Transition Initiative (TI) or Post Carbon Cities to be "doom and gloom".....I wonder in some way if some planners may be threatened by competing methodologies or mechanisms that might work better in some areas....for example, the public participation levels of the TI put most comprehensive plan participation rates to shame.

    In general we are really talking about risk management and where we think the risks to our communities may be coming from, how acute and timely, and what their anticipated impact. We take out insurance to protect house and car (and are required by law to do so) but we don't make any preparations for energy scarcity or the likely impacts of climate change? And why would we leave our municipal budgets so vulnerable to the peaks and valleys of the global marketplace as we've borne witness to over the past several years (just wait until July 1 of this year...)

    Yes, this is a broad and vast domain and no one entity could handle it all....but that doesn't mean it is not worth the pursuit and a very realistic model for sustainability...which is a valid term regardless of how it's been co-opted and bastardized by corporate or other strategic entities.

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    Wet Blankets

    The problem with localization is one of transportation and gratification. I'll use food as an example.

    Transportation is cheaper per mile and more universal than ever before in history, so producers that rely on economies of scale are able to get a ton of goods to market without worying too much about how they get there.

    Gratification is on the demand side. Whereas we all know a home grown or organic tomato is better tasting and nutritious than one "strip mined in texas", the 1500 mile tomato is unaminously cheaper than the virtuous tomato. Fast food is also faster and chepaer than food painstaking ly sourced from local organic farms. When we are flush, we can afford these things. If we are heroic, we will commit to these things, If we are smart, we can almost get these things for the same price as "conventional". I am neither flush, heroic, nor smart most days of the week, and so the default option is not local. While the long term benefits of meticulously sourced food are know, the short term gratification of a Big'n'Tasty is happening right now. We all know what discount rates are about.

    Local has to be on a better footing than "the right thing to do", because that is pretty personal and will never win out against "the cheap thing to do".

    After reading McKibben and POollan, I realized that the main virtue of organic farming is that it requires smarts and committment. Farmers can raise as much food sustainably if they are clever and committed to their land. What I have not seen in policy circles is a way of framing sustainable farming as a creative-class job sector. Getting brains back on the land would be a great way to deal with unemployment, though not in the mold of the conventional American Dream.

    Wresting control of our food supply back from ConAgra and Monsanto would also be a great way to reduce our health care costs. 70% of our health care budget goes to chronic care for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and the like. If we can monetize the defrayed costs of health care into a truly local planning and design, we could bend the incentives to make local work as a market good, not just a boutique one.

  11. #11
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    Wet Blankets

    The problem with localization is one of transportation and gratification. I'll use food as an example.

    Transportation is cheaper per mile and more universal than ever before in history, so producers that rely on economies of scale are able to get a ton of goods to market without worying too much about how they get there.

    Gratification is on the demand side. Whereas we all know a home grown or organic tomato is better tasting and nutritious than one "strip mined in texas", the 1500 mile tomato is unaminously cheaper than the virtuous tomato. Fast food is also faster and chepaer than food painstaking ly sourced from local organic farms. When we are flush, we can afford these things. If we are heroic, we will commit to these things, If we are smart, we can almost get these things for the same price as "conventional". I am neither flush, heroic, nor smart most days of the week, and so the default option is not local. While the long term benefits of meticulously sourced food are know, the short term gratification of a Big'n'Tasty is happening right now. We all know what discount rates are about.

    Local has to be on a better footing than "the right thing to do", because that is pretty personal and will never win out against "the cheap thing to do".

    After reading McKibben and POollan, I realized that the main virtue of organic farming is that it requires smarts and committment. Farmers can raise as much food sustainably if they are clever and committed to their land. What I have not seen in policy circles is a way of framing sustainable farming as a creative-class job sector. Getting brains back on the land would be a great way to deal with unemployment, though not in the mold of the conventional American Dream.

    Wresting control of our food supply back from ConAgra and Monsanto would also be a great way to reduce our health care costs. 70% of our health care budget goes to chronic care for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and the like. If we can monetize the defrayed costs of health care into a truly local planning and design, we could bend the incentives to make local work as a market good, not just a boutique one.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    I keep reading this thread, almost commenting, and then not doing so because I feel like I'll be too snarky.

    I think what bothers me is the terminology of "relocalization" and "transition." I feel that these terms are much too academic and obtuse, as well as unnecessary. The concept of "think global, act local" has been on bumper stickers for years, and the promotion of local self-reliance as a counterpoint to an increasingly globalized world has been seen as far back as the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    Even before the industrial revolution, it is difficult to find a time where the economy of an area was so "localized" that we could rely on a concept of "relocalization." Trade has been a part of human interaction since the creation of the Amber Road and the Spice Route. Trade increases human interactions, ties us together and widens our understanding of each other. Trade also enhances our quality of life by making goods and services available to us that we would never have otherwise.

    I agree that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and that we waste too much land on low-density development. I also agree that more local ownership of business helps keep profits in a region instead of exporting them elsewhere, and that locally sourced food and goods also keeps profits and payrolls in the local economy. But the solution is not to turn inward and create thousands of duplicate pieces of infrastrucure so that each region of the planet can create its own versions of the same products. The solution is to ensure that people get paid fair wages for their work (e.g. unionization of service workers) and that every business pays the full cost of their operations and doesn't get to foist off costs on the local community as negative externalities (e.g. carbon taxation, universal healthcare for employees).

    If (and this is a big if) we are not able to come up with solutions that can fuel our cars, trucks, planes and trains with non-carbon (or carbon-neutral) sources before oil disappears, then and only then do we need to talk about drastically "transitioning" our society to exist in a much poorer and unpleasant age of "relocalization." But I think I will be driving my electric Nissan Leaf to the electric light rail station, both powered by a mix of solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear power delivered through a smart electrical grid, long before any of that will be necessary.

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