Thursday, April 22, 2021

Ralph Borsodi and Transition Towns

Bill Sharp (c) 22 April 2021


Ralph Borsodi was a leader in the back-to-the-land movement.  In 1920, during a major recession and highly lethal pandemic, the Borsodi’s moved from New York City to a homestead near Suffern, New York.  They soon created a model and successful homestead.  Over the course of his long and productive life, he laid much of the foundation for what we today call the sustainability movement.  My recent Hermitix (UK) podcast interview provides insights into his life and work (link)[1]

The Borsodi—Transition Towns connection started at the beginning of Transition Centre.  Bob Flatley was one of the first to respond to the invitation to discuss forming local Transition Towns.  Bob and his wife Kelle were (still are) living and working on a Borsodi inspired homestead.  Bob and I cofounded Transition Centre in 2009, later incorporated as a Pennsylvania non-profit organization.  Between us we helped form two Transition Initiatives.  Asked to join the boards of two environmental nonprofits, TC did numerous presentations around Pennsylvania and in neighboring states on the joint approach to building self-sufficiency and community resiliency.  

Transition Centre followed the steps in The Transition Handbook and particularly a lot of networking, presentations and collaborations.  Late in 2014, following two years of workshops and study groups, involving some 200 people, we produced our EDAP, the “Centre Sustainability Master Plan.”  We learned in the process that we had a vital emerging sustainability culture and that what was needed most was steady encouragement, making connections, and participating.  

What was it about Borsodi that attracted our interest?  I think it is the incredible sweep of his creative work.  He wasn’t just a guy with ideas, he organized, built, taught and traveled.  A brilliant and original thinker yes, but a man who loved the soil, a master at composting and an avid gardener.  And that was just the start.

Achieving Self-Confidence

As he and his family settled into life on the land, Borsodi also pioneered in the field of consumer advocacy, writing two books on the subject.  He was a consulting economist whose clients included some of the largest retail chains and organizations in the country.  He knew what he was writing about.  Borsodi’s law is that the cheaper the cost of production, the higher the cost of distribution.  Today, for example, the farmer gets only six cents of each dollar we spend on food.  In short, he set out to demonstrate that his family could produce much of their own needs in less time than needed to earn the money to buy stuff.  And the quality was better and healthier.  

In 1929 Borsodi published This Ugly Civilization, in which he addressed the liabilities and injustices of a highly centralized industrial economy.  There were three basic themes in this book:

1.     A critique of modern industrial culture.

2.     Achieving personal economic independence – homesteading.

3.     Enhancing individual potential – education.  

The book came out weeks before the onset of the Great Depression.  It went through several editions.  A new edition was published in 2019 (new introduction by Bill Sharp) which is available online.  In this book Borsodi first publicly reported his homesteading experience.  Also serialized in a national magazine, he attracted a great deal of interest as the Depression deepened.  He inspired a large number of people to take up homesteading.  He offered training to many of them.

His publisher requested a homesteading handbook which came out as Flight From the City in 1933.  Borsodi made an effective case for home production of essentials.  

In 1934 Borsodi incorporated his School of Living and fully devoted the rest of his long and productive life to helping people achieve greater self-reliance.

On the 50th anniversary of the Borsodi’s completing a new, hand-built, home on their extended homestead, in a jubilee celebration, some friends gave testimonies to his accomplishment.  The list of his achievements and influences includes, in part:

·      Pioneer and model homesteader 

·      Championed and practiced home and small-scale, appropriate technology

·      Diet and food reform 

·      Organic gardening

·      Composting 

·      Community 

·      Family life, and this includes natural birth, breast feeding, home schooling, and raising children in a healthy environment where they fully participated in family life close to nature.

·      The changing attitude in medicine towards understanding minds and bodies instead of emphasis on pills and drugs. 

·      Clarified free market economics and set real reforms in motion. 

·      Grassroots, self-governing movements.  

·      Local currency

·      But the most important, they agreed, was his work on adult education.

·      Including work in classifying the world’s wisdom around problems of living that provided a sense of commonalty to all peoples.  

Land Trust

One of Borsodi’s most important and enduring legacies is the Community Land Trust.

Dissatisfied with land reform, which had made limited progress, and government control of Depression homesteading projects, which proved a disaster, Borsodi established a private land trust.  He acquired property and established two homesteading communities during the mid-1930s, at the depth of the Depression, and built his School headquarters in the center of the first.  He and associates provided hands-on training, developed a number of publications, a good library, craft guilds and production units (including making looms for weaving).  It was at this time that two families joined Borsodi who had been missionaries in India and knew and worked with Gandhi.  I think this proved an important connection for Borsodi to India.  Paul and Betty Keene went on to establish a highly successful organic farm and distribution business, one of three organic food organizations established in Pennsylvania that he inspired, Walnut Acres, that is now being restored.

Mildred Loomis

World War II brought this phase of Borsodi’s work to a close.  During the war he developed a peace plan that anticipated the United Nations (without centralized bureaucracies) and wrote a bestseller about dealing with the inflation which usually follows wars.  It was then that he first advocated what became local currency.  In 1945 he shifted the School headquarters to the homestead of close associate Mildred Loomis in Ohio.  Mildred and her husband had established a model homestead of their own, growing 95% of their food and providing a small but adequate cash income. 

Mildred provided four decades of active and creative leadership focused on homesteading.  She edited the journal, conducted workshops and conferences, created a large network of homesteaders and many other people interested in the movement.  As a result of her work with the youth movement during the 1960s and 1970s, Mother Earth News named her the Grandmother of the Counterculture.

Education and Living

Borsodi continued to work for a just, safe and secure lifestyle, focusing on the individual, the family and the community.  He increasingly devoted his work to developing educational programs to help people achieve these objectives.  He developed a seminal problem-centered framework for education.  These problems he defined as universal – problems all people around the Earth and through all time have worked to solve.  He offered seminars to help people clarify their values and beliefs, and understanding the world, nature and human nature.  He advocated a lifelong education around a study of the collective wisdom of humanity as a whole.  But, above all, were his seminars on the practical problems of life – earning a livelihood, building community, organizing collective efforts, good heath, the family.  

A Journey East

In 1952, Borsodi journeyed to Asia to study the impact of western industrialization and wrote a highly critical book, The Challenge of Asia.  That book played a role in his invitation to return to India for two years to work with Gandhian agrarians.  There, with their sponsorship, he wrote a booklet, The Pan Humanist Manifesto, which called for educational leadership for a rural renaissance – one of Gandhi’s goals – and a book, published in India, The Education of the Whole Man, which provided guidelines for teachers and university students as leaders of a self-sufficient agrarian, culture.  Borsodi, although personally a humanist, was ranked highly as a spiritual teacher by his Indian friends.  He was, I believe, clearly a Gandhian at heart.  

Returning to India a third time in 1966, Borsodi, working with Gandhian land reform leaders, renewed his commitment to the land trust.  At age 80, he established an organization at his home in Exeter, New Hampshire, and drew a number of influential associates, include Bob Swann who latter established the Schumacher Center.  

Swann was field director for the land trust organization.  He was a builder and peace advocate who worked in the south to rebuild burned out churches.  There he met a cousin of Martin Luther King, Jr., Slater King, and worked with a group of black agrarians to established what became the model community land trust, New Communities, which is still in operation in Georgia.  Borsodi, btw, is on a list of names favorably mentioned by Dr. King in his sermons.  

A few years later, Borsodi launched a program that created an inflation-proof, private (local) currency for which he established an international organization.  Bob Swann was again a close associate and to this day the Schumacher Centre for New Economics continues to champion the local currency and land trust.

A Merger

The restoration of Borsodi’s work came about largely because Bob was editor of the Borsodi inspired Green Revolution newsletter.  Bob encouraged my writing a number of articles about Borsodi and Loomis over a period of several years.  On the centenary of the Borsodi’s moving to their homestead (April 1, 1920) we launched a celebratory blog site on which we began publishing chapters as completed, and on the 101st anniversary, completed the two-volume work.  These are:

Ralph Borsodi, A Confident Future:  The Green Revolution, which explores the homesteading side of the Borsodi/Loomis legacy, and

Ralph Borsodi, A Confident Future:  Learning and Living, which focuses primarily on Borsodi’s work in education, for which he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

These are available for download at no cost; links are at the top of the home page of the Transition Centre web site:  

That the twentieth century has been a challenge, is an understatement.  Climate change has become a critical priority and is becoming increasingly critical.  This century began with a recession, a horrific terrorist attack that launched a war that has not yet ended; and as one sage said, I believe it was Mark Twain, just one damned thing after another.  The Transition Handbook was published as the 2008 recession began.  

More of those “damned things” and then the COVID tragedy.  As we emerge from this trial, and from a contest for the hearts and souls of Americans; as we enter what can only be hoped as a new era of justice and equity, it must be clear that we need the tools, the organization, and the moral capacity, to meet these challenges.  I believe that Transition Towns and Ralph Borsodi, Mildred Loomis and their School have incredible potential for helping us get through what is to come.

The importance of the Ralph Borsodi and Mildred Loomis legacy is the remarkable collection of knowledge and skills their 60-year legacy represents.  I have worked to capture a record of these in my two volumes.  

Borsodi proposed a post-industrial culture.  The alignment with the ideals of Transition Towns is clear.  They are complimentary – each represents a variety of facets of a more comprehensive program.  It is about a culture close to the natural order of things.  It is not primitivistic but seeks to preserve appropriate technology and small-scaled, localized industry.  It is about building inclusive and collaborative community.  It is about providing knowledge and skills for the pursuit of the good life.  

Bob and I and others continue to work to develop a handbook, an organized and crafted presentation of Borsodi’s principles and practices.  We believe these books and resources will become increasingly valuable as we work to achieve a transition into a carbon free, just and equitable, life for all.

Borsodi envisioned his School as a local, self-governing organization to provide the basic knowledge and skills for a livable world and the good life.  He proposed that School be located at the center of the community, a gathering place, a place with a good library, seminars and good conversation where community could flourish.  We can do that virtually and Transition Centre will continue to advocate this program.

Bill Sharp, Director, Transition Centre,

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Transition Centre Resilient Communities Blueprint

Executive Summary

Bill Sharp, Director
Transition Centre © April 2024
Permission to use content for non-commercial purposes only is grant with acknowledgment of source:


The Transition Centre Resilient Communities Blueprint serves as a resource for developing communities that can thrive in the face of the growing range and severity of challenges that face this country and the world.  

This Blueprint is drawn from work to achieve more sustainable communities in the US since the 1970s.  A great deal has been learned.  We have, however, missed the opportunity sought in terms of sustaining resources and environmental viability.  As a result, there has been a shift from sustainability, or management, to resilience, or adaptation.  

We will argue that localizing economies to a community level is the direction we must take to create a practical, secure, and equitable society.


The first decade of this twenty-first century presented us with an unprecedented perfect storm of challenges.  It has produced three serious recessions, unprecedent rise in oil prices, accelerated global warming, the most lethal pandemic in a century, a surge in international warfare, and political ideological conflict at the national level around the world.


Perhaps the most stunning of these challenges was the pandemic.  The stunning and tragic developments of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis give us pause for deep reflection.  Many lives were lost.  It changed our daily lives and introduced us to new social patterns.  It tested our economic, social, and political systems severely.  We recover from the lethal effects of this crisis, but the virus continues to linger.  We will not soon forget our vulnerability to this long-recognized force of nature.  

The New Normal

Several transformative shifts have already occurred that will have consequences to how the immediate future unfolds.  We call them the “new normal.”  These trends must be given thoughtful attention.  Following are some of our key issues.

Economic Crisis

The shutdowns caused massive closures of business, education, government, and other employers with a devastating impact on economies around the world.  

Unemployment soared as businesses cut back.  But official unemployment is only part of the picture.  The official U3 unemployment is defined as people looking for work.  It does not include part-time and contractual workers who are not eligible for unemployment benefits.  Offsetting the official unemployment figure, two in five people in the American civilian labor force were categorized as “discouraged,” or no longer seeking employment.  It is unclear how these tens of millions fit into the social and economic picture.

The pandemic brought the second deepest economic downturn since the beginning of the twentieth century.  We are dealing with a massively complex system of many interrelated parts.  We do not fully understand the long-term effects.  Significant shifts in the structure of the economy will have to be studied as we move forward.

Inequity is a growing issue as fewer people own more economic resources resulting in a growing gap between wealth and poverty.  Food insecurity, housing shortages, medical and educational services are all at risk.  A growing sense of unrest affects our political climate.

Supply Chain Shortages

Global supply chains were seriously disrupted and continue to be challenged for a variety of reasons.  This produced rising cost, inflation.  A promising response has been the move to shortening them and bring production closer to home markets.

Globalism itself seems to be running its course.  There are several factors related to this, but the issue is emerging as one of the most threatening in the coming decade.  Economies are re-regionalizing, coming back home.  Shortages and rising prices can be expected, and the transition would take any number of years.  

Inflation is a disruptive reality.  Things are going to get more expensive.

A major problem in the global system is an aging, retiring, workforce and declining birthrate in leading countries.  This effects both the strength of the consumer economy and the capacity to produce components and products in a strongly dispersed manufacturing sector.


The modern world is driven by technology.  Technology affects our perception, behavior, and social organization.  We have progressed from steam to the automobile to aviation; from the telegraph to the radio, the television, and the digital era.  The emergence of commercially driven social media, virtual reality and artificial intelligence has and will continue to alter our sense of reality.  Robotics, including human form, will play an ever-increasing role in the organization of manufacturing, distribution, and customer services.

A small community has a much greater capacity to shape perception, behavior, and evaluation of emerging conditions.

International Conflict

Russia’s war on Ukraine further disrupted the global economic system.  China’s shift in economic and military policy is also a major part of the evolution of the global economy.  The Israeli-Gaza war has added another chapter to the rising level of conflict.  Deglobalization will produce stresses that will mandate the realignment of military power.

Social Dislocation and Adjustment

With pandemic closures, many people were able to work at home.  We already had a powerful digital media, but this event took it to a dramatically higher level of acceptance.  Many businesses and government offices continue distance working; in no small part because they can cut the cost of office rental.  Office vacancies in cities increased dramatically.  There has been a movement of populations away from many cities.  Municipal revenues thus shrink.

Schools and universities sent students home during the pandemic and made a shift to online instruction.  Colleges and universities, already affected by declining enrollment, many closed, others were consolidated, others adapted.  Budget revenues continue to plague higher education.  This affects the wellbeing of many small communities.


The American health care system has been put to the test in terms of both its capacity to provide services and the economic impact it has felt.  Hospitals predicted a three or more-year financial recovery following the pandemic.  Healthcare workers provided praiseworthy service during the crisis, but the burnout rate has been high and a shortage of healthcare workers at all levels continues.

The ticking bomb of substance abuse, especially opioids, continues to plague our society.  The overdose death rate has become a major cause of death. 

The life expectancy of Americans has declined.

Social Unrest

Social protest over deaths in police custody clearly revealed the depth of both the immediate anxiety and long unresolved social issues.  Gun violence is at a record high. 

Ideological polarization is accelerating in the US (and elsewhere).  The January 6th riot at the US Capital staggered the imagination.  A contested Presidential election and ruthless campaigns for Congress demonstrate a growing tension in US politics.  Congress has experienced a leadership crisis.  Many have called it a “second civil war,” some have called it a war on democracy.  The judicial system has also become noticeable more politically polarized.  

These issues have been simmering for decades.  Confidence in government has steadily ebbed.  The functionality of our economic system is being questioned.  The unstable political system will have long-term social and economic consequences and will shape our national destiny.  

Climate Change

Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise and with them global temperature.  We are nowhere near dramatic cuts.  With this trend comes more extreme weather events, and the number and total cost of billion-dollar weather events steadily rises.  Droughts affect large areas of the country and particularly prime agricultural regions.  Wildfires have become common with smoke plums hazing the skies and causing hazardous air quality conditions across the country.  

Renewable energy is on the rise, in no small part due to declining cost that makes it competitive.  With growing energy demand, however, it tends to supplement rather than replace fossil fuel energy.  The resources limits and rising cost for renewable energy technology are a barrier.  Fossil fuel resource development continues.

Resource Depletion

The list of resource risks includes water, arable land, and from these agricultural products, energy minerals, and “all other mineral resources.”  Continued growing global populations and developing countries place increasing demands on nonrenewable resources.  International competition, climate, and supply-chain issues are critical factors.  Technical and economic feasibility of extracting these resources necessarily raises the cost to consumers.

The Rustbelt  

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, globalization caused the closure factories across the country.  They became known as “rustbelt” communities.  The loss of anchor industries, both commercial and educational, continue to occur.  The economic effect on their communities is severe.  Rural communities are particularly affected, and census demographics indicate that the number of such distressed towns and cities continues to grow, now over half of the total across the country.  

In 2022 Transition Centre completed a model for rural revitalization, the Rural Resilient Hub (below).  It resulted from a detailed analysis of local economies and the programs in place to revitalize them.  In short, public programs and funds are far too limited to more than scratch the surface.  And these funds are more readily acquired by those communities already in the upper tier, a small percentage of the total.  

Community institutions have been decimated and must be restored and strengthened.  There are significant resources in many communities to capitalize local social enterprise.  Appropriate education, designed to meet the needs of each community, must be developed.  In response to this need, Transition Centre is developing its community university model (below).

Turning Point?

Change, even dramatic downturns, are also opportunities.  There is a recognized need to reestablish core economic activity.  Small communities are a critical focus.  Resilient economies require greater local self-reliance.  Supply chains can be shortened, wealth retained by communities, and greater efficiencies achieved.  Innovation is 80% of economic development, and innovation comes from small businesses that can thrive in small communities.

Revitalization comes down to the economy.  The economic system defines every aspect of our society.  The economy is cyclical, booms and busts.  Complex unstable conditions around the world affect people everywhere.

There has been evident weakness in the America economy since at least the beginning of the rustbelt era; since at least 1980.  Recovery from the 2008 Great Recession was slow.  The economic structural shifts since the pandemic are significant but not yet fully understood.  It required that considerable subsidies be pumped into the economy.  Trillions more of debt was generated with COVID stimulus. 

Tax revenues, however, have fallen where populations have declined.  State and local governments cannot incur debt.  A number are already facing bankruptcy.  The impact on government services at all levels will continue to be tested.  There just isn’t enough money to turn the tide.  Again, local communities will be forced to find their own resources.

We are at a turning point, and we have choices.  Will it be business as usual or is there something now perhaps more desirable?  Indeed, will it even be possible to return to business as usual?  There are many powerful variables at work.  We need to better understand the nature of the problems we are dealing with.  We need programs that will give us realizable, and not just hoped for, outcomes.  We need reliable information to do that.  We need education and skills development.  We need community solidarity.  And we need to assure sufficient local resiliency to not have to do this all over again in a few years.  

Revitalization is at least as much community as economic development.  The Transition Centre business model has always focused on the local community and how to make it more resilient.  This mandates a focus on the development of a robust sense of community.  We have been fortunate to acquire a great deal of information, to develop methodologies, to identify key principles and best-practices and to configure alternative approaches.  Our Blueprint proposes a transformative program for making communities more safe, secure, and livable.

The Transition Centre’s approach is not radical.  It has no ideological or utopia objective.  We don’t dwell on theories about who did what.  We don’t expect someone else to fix the problems.  The problem is the problem, a lack of real progress in addressing the issues the affect the wellbeing of society.  It is about what we are currently experiencing.  Our definition of problems is based on a practical appraisal of the facts of life.  Our core principles and practices are about concrete, community-based, solutions to problems.  


The Blueprint


The Transition Centre Resilient Communities Blueprint is the product of a long evolution.  The history of Transition Centre can be found at this Link.  

The Mission of Transition Centre:

Promote and develop an integral design for strong, local, human-scaled, self-sufficient and sustainable economies and communities that have the resilience not only to overcome the inevitable challenges arising from economic uncertainty, climate instability, resource depletion, and other inevitable challenges, but to thrive.

The Vision of Transition Centre:

Resilient communities building on local resources and regenerative economic development.

The Objectives of Transition Centre:

1.     Transition Centre promotes effective community-level programs for rebuilding local economic resiliency and a growing level of self-determination.

2.     Develop innovative organizational leadership capable of guiding the transformation of communities, from villages to urban neighborhoods, to achieve resilience.

3.     An integral ecosystem architecture and blueprint for a resilient community and localized economy.

4.     A comprehensive learning institute that serves its community to provide the knowledge, skills, and psychological preparation to achieve transformative change.

5.     Provide materials and resources to assist communities to achieve resiliency.

Our tagline:  Prosperity and Quality of Life

Planning Change

Our primary objective is planned, purposeful change.  Our first plan sought to promote localization of the central Pennsylvania economy.  Central Pennsylvania Local Economy (CPaLE) was published in 2008.  The project started with intensive research into the regional economy.  Transition Centre was founded in 2009.  In 2014 Transition Centre produced the Centre Sustainability Master Plan (CSMP).  That came out of a two-year project involving over 200 individuals in our home community.  

Like many, we started with the idea of sustainability, which is managing things to achieve balance, but subsequently shifted to the idea of resilience, which is transformative change.  The progress of this development can be found at our history link at the top of this section.

With mounting evidence of the lack of global progress in the pursuit of sustainability, including mitigation of climate change, we asked two questions:

1.     Do we know what we have to do to achieve a sustainable future?

2.     Do we have the capacity to do so?

There is a third question:  If not, then what?

In response to those questions, and particularly the third, we begin a major revision of our basic model resulting in this Blueprint.  We also updated a systematic inventory of our community’s numerous accomplishments and resources, Sustainable Happy Valley, (link).  

Transition Centre was founded on a model called, as noted in the link above, Transition Towns and also on the work of Ralph Borsodi.  

Rob Hopkins developed Transition Towns as a response to the impact of climate change and inevitable depletion of nonrenewable energy resources.  His The Transition Handbook came out coincidentally with the 2008 Great Recession, emphasizing the importance of economic transformation of small communities.  A leader in permaculture, he proposed a holistic approach to planning local community resilience.  Beginning in the UK, the network of transition initiatives spread around the world.  National hubs were formed in the US and other countries.  The UK based Transition Network (link) represents a decade and a half of experience and provides valuable resources.  

Transition Centre (TC) was formed as an independent hub promoting this model in the US Northeast.  The TC program has continued to develop since its founding in 2009, now with international reach.  

Ralph Borsodi, a consulting economist in New York City, took his family to a homestead in rural New York in 1920.  There was then a severe recession and a lethal pandemic.  He wrote several books about the state of the economy and in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression published his This Ugly Civilization.  In that book he made a critique of the economy at that time, essentially anticipating economic collapse.  He described his homesteading experience, and he outlined an educational program to assist a transition to a more sustainable culture.  In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, he was engaged as a consultant on revitalizing a city’s economy.  Finding government programs problematic, in 1934 he established his School of Living, a non-governmental entity, to prepare people for a more secure lifestyle.  He developed the private community land trust model.  During the war years he further developed his educational program, then wrote a book about inflation anticipating that which occurred after the war.  It went through several large publication runs.  In 1948 he published his Education and Living and moved on to further develop a university level educational program addressing the major problems of living.  His list of accomplishments is extensive.  In early 1921 two volumes of research material were published on Internet Archive to restore Borsodi’s legacy, and in 1922 The Essential Ralph Borsodi was completed.  Links to these can be found on the Transition Centre website.

In 2022, following work with colleagues in several states, Transition Centre proposed the Rural Resilient Hub model for revitalizing small, distressed communities across the country.  It is a synthesis of over a decade of research and work in community and economic development.  A summary of RRH can be found toward at end of this executive summary.

Borsodi proposed a community university, an educational institution to meet the needs for knowledge and skills necessary for a resilient place.  In 1923 Transition Centre launched its Borsodi Community University model and published two texts:

·      Ralph Borsodi Seventeen Universal Problems Workbook, which presents his seminal problem-centered framework for education, and

·      Borsodi Community University:  Principles and Practices, which explores the evolution of his community education program. 

A summary of the community university model can be found below.


In developing the Blueprint, we had three objectives:

1.     Update our master plan to reflect the emerging challenges.

2.     Access the adequacy of our response to these conditions.

3.     Shift focus to achieving a more robust community ecosystem with the objectives of safety, security and stability over the long term.

Three Priorities

Transition Centre defined three top priorities for the development of Resilient Communities.  A page for each of these can be found at our website

1.     Learning and Leadership

The question of capacity to guide change took top priority.  It answers the “third question” stated above.  We must acquire the capacity for transformative change.  Dedicated individuals must acquire the knowledge and skills needed and above all the requisite motivation to address this incredibly complex time.  

Leadership is about taking responsibility for achieving greater community resiliency. It is not hierarchical but rather collaborative.  It is founded on consultation, not direction.  But it is not passive.  It seeks to achieve necessary objectives.  This requires planning and organization.  It requires effective management.

Each era of human history has its own form of leadership.  The emerging leadership style of the twenty-first century is integral, holistic and comprehensive.  It involves the capacity to see the larger view, to understand the dynamics of a social ecosystem, and to organize the fragmented disorder of daily experience into a methodical framework.  It is locally focused and practical.  A model of this form of leadership can be found at this link.  An introduction to the first level of our program for personal development can be found in Self-Reliance:  Achieving Personal Resiliency and Independence (Link).  We have a resilience leadership bootcamp program.  

2.    Resilient Communities

As noted, Transition Centre is taking “resilience” to a higher level.  It is not about dealing with problems as they arise but rather forming a communal capacity to rise above virtually any challenge.  It is about building a new, regenerative economy, a strong sense of community and the organizational capacity needed to achieve this.  We have described a community as an ecosystem (link).  As such it is an integral system.

3.     Foodshed Strategy

Listed third by my no means least is food.  What is a foodshed and why is it important?  Our reasoning can be found at this link.  Foodshed Strategy is the cornerstone of resilient communities.  It draws on resources already at hand.  Revenues produced from local foods stay in the local economy and support continued development.


Why A Blueprint

In mid-March 2020, of course, things changed.  Our three questions and our three priorities became imperatives.  Our response is the Resilient Communities Blueprint.

This document is a blueprint.  It is not a plan.  It is a synthesis of planning and development efforts.  It draws on a broad accumulation of experiences.  Our home community is fortunate to have many innovative sustainability programs and projects.  We also drew from what was learned in other communities around the world.  

Resilient Communities starts with an understanding of the need for a vision, for clarity, about the future of the community.  A vision must be vivid if you expect to achieve results.  It needs to be comprehensive, an ecosystem perspective, that understands how all the parts fit together.  It is a big picture.  

The process requires a clear statement of problems.  Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, was asked what he would do if given one hour to solve a really important problem.  He said he would spend 59 minutes defining the problem.  Often, when the problem is clearly defined, the solution is apparent.  And the energy spontaneously appears to mobilize planning, organization and execution.

The Blueprint model is designed to be universal.  We have sought to define the common qualities required for the preponderance of communities around the world.  While each is unique, the qualities that make us human, and define our needs, collectively express our essence as a species.  It can be employed as a guide for develop community plans anywhere.  

Each of the core modules of the Blueprint represent essential objectives for a resilient community.  The framework includes preparation, development of each module into a working project, and the methods and resources needed to accomplish them.

First Priority

The first priority, as stated, is leadership:  one or more people taking responsibility for the transformation of their community.  It requires, as Margaret Mead made clear, the formation of a small group.  What we define as the Mead Minimum is five people.  That group creates a preliminary vision.  It networks and brings interested parties into the conversation.  Things take their course from there.

A Vision of a Resilient Community

The vision of a resilient community will likely contain these parts:

·      A safe and healthy place to live

·      A place where natural features are cherished and preserved

·      Economic security despite global uncertainties

·      A place where we feel we belong and are proud to be a part of

·      A place where people care about each other

The vision establishes the identity of the community.  It tells us what we must accomplish to bring our community to maturity.  

With a vision in mind we begin the plan.  There are three components of the Transition Centre Blueprint Template:

1.     Assessment

2.     Core Action Modules

3.     Implementation

Transition Centre Resiliency Blueprint Contents

Component I:  Assessment

There are three parts to resiliency assessment:

1.     Community Asset Mapping:  A comprehensive assessment of natural features and resources, people, built environment, civic resources, and businesses of the region.  TC has developed a model local inventory, Sustainable Happy Valley.

2.     Assessment of consumption and external dependencies:  Reliable estimates of the quantities of things consumed by the community, not the costs.  Where do goods and services come from and what are the risks to the supply chain that can be addressed by each community?  The supply chain problem is becoming increasingly pressing.

3.     Assessment of economic potential:  What is the potential of the local community to produce the goods and services it needs to achieve greater self-reliance, reduce dependencies, and preserve the environment?  What capacities must be developed?

Component II: Core Action Modules

The Transition Centre Resilient Communities Blueprint is developed through a series of action modules.  Each module represents a plan in and of itself that is taken on by a dedicated work team.  It should be clearly noted, however, that these modules are not developed independently and in isolation.  They must be continuously assessed in terms of how they contribute to the overall vision and how they interact with each other.

These modules are drawn from a synthesis of basic human needs derived from the sustainability literature.  Granted, there are other ways to approach this and you are encouraged to be innovative.

The plan modules can be organized into a number of broad categories:  

Natural Environment

The natural environment defines the place we live and the natural resources that define the region.  There are two general categories in the plan:

1.     Land, Water and Natural Resources

2.     Parks, Open Space, Recreation

Built Environment

Built environment includes: 

1.     Places we live, work and play 

2.     Transportation infrastructure 

3.     Utilities infrastructure

4.     Communications infrastructure


Consumables include both raw materials and finished products and services:

1.     Food

2.     Water

3.     Energy

4.     Other material resources

5.     Services

6.     Information

Again, it is not the dollar value of these things but rather the actual quantities needed.

The REconomy framework (link) addresses how these goods and services can be produced more reliably in the local market thus giving the community greater self-reliance and security and retaining a greater share of revenue within the community.  This model restructures the economy, preserves and restores the natural environment, and provides incredible potential.  The Rural Resilient Hub updates this program.


What do we do with everything left over from our consumption?  Solid, liquid and gaseous wastes tend to accumulate in landfills, go into the air or settle into the soil and watershed.  Our proposal is zero waste.  Waste products are potential raw material for economic development.  Nature waste nothing.


Creating the type of community we love to live in is a matter of making it a good place to live and that involves conscious attention to all the modules above.  In addition to these there are several specific modules to address.

1.     Community Development

2.     Healthcare

3.     Education and Training

4.     Public Safety/Emergency Management

5.     Recreation, Arts and Entertainment

A description of the Core Action Modules can be found at this link.

Component III:  Implementation

A plan is intended to achieve an outcome.  This is essentially a business plan, more specifically, social enterprise.  It’s what you need and how to work to get the job done.  There are eight modules to this part of the Blueprint:

1.     Economy, Finance and Enterprise

2.     Community Ecosystem Map

3.     Local Resiliency Organization/Community

4.     Innovation

5.     Eco-entrepreneurship

6.     Education and Outreach

7.     Communications Infrastructure

8.     Local Government

Supplemental Materials

Appended to the Blueprint are three sections including:

1.     Critical Resources – a comprehensive list

2.     Economic Blueprint – a sector by sector analysis of your economic potential

3.     Documentation

Core Principles of the Blueprint

There are a variety of distinctive principles upon which the Transition Centre Blueprint is based.  These principles have been developed through an extensive search of literature, exploring best practice communities, a long ongoing dialog in our community, and experience gained.  We believe these principles are universally applicable.


We believe communities can create a better future for themselves.  The Blueprint is explicitly localized.  That does not mean closing down retail outlets and interstate commerce.  It is about producing more of what the community can locally and thus removing unnecessary dependencies on distant markets.

Localization is first and foremost about working at a scale you can more readily understand and have control over.  Our community is our home.  We know who lives there.  We have a better understanding of it than we do the larger world.  And it is on a scale where we are more likely to have the ability to affect changes.

Our view of localization is grassroots – from the ground up.  It is not a job for government agencies or nonprofits to do for you.  They have limited resources.  It is about individuals taking responsibility rather than expecting some outside agency to fix the problem.  The community university is designed to provide the skills transfer into the community needed to achieve this.  Community resiliency must involve a broad spectrum of its residents.  Local governments and nonprofits are already supported by groups of volunteers who possesses a broad array of knowledge and skills.  There are many talented people in a community.  This capacity must be effectively mobilized.  

Resource Scarcity

The driver of our model has always been global resource scarcity.  The global economy is almost totally dependent upon non-renewable resources that we are exploiting as if there were no tomorrow.   The classical ideal of sustainability, of insuring there is enough for future generation, is no longer achievable.  Continued global population growth, even with sustainable economic development, increases demand for these resources.  We believe each community should live within its means; which brings us to:  

Community as Ecosystem

The foundation for the Transition Centre Blueprint is that a community is an ecosystem, an organically whole system.  Community as ecosystem is integral and comprehensive.  It includes the built environment, the people who occupy it and the surrounding environment from which the community can draw its needs.  It is about how these parts interact.  The Blueprint thus seeks to be a comprehensive and systematic architecture that ensures the well-being of all parts of that ecosystem.  Nature seeks harmony.  Human beings have the capacity to employ these natural principles in a purposeful and creative manner.  


Vision is the stage setting of the model.  A clear and compelling vision of what is to be accomplished must be achieved.  It’s not only what it looks like but what it would feel like to live in.  It’s about the fundamental values of the community.  The importance of a vision is not a new idea but rather goes back at least to the time of the ancient King Solomon: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs, 29, 18).  Vision is one of the root principles of wisdom.  A vision is about what attracts and motivates people to participate.


We either accept “business as usual” and take the consequences, or we undertake innovation.  Change can be driven by necessity, but this model is not simply opportunism.  To have transformative change requires purposeful action.  Our age is complex.  It is in a state of continuous emergency.  Our institutions are designed to maintain some semblance of order.  They aren’t working well.  A lot of people want something different.  But it takes more than wanting it and more than asking for it.  It requires doing what has to be done to achieve it.  Apple’s Steve Jobs provided this perspective (link). 


Resiliency, as noted, is about going beyond emergency management.  It is no longer about adapting but learning to thrive on challenges.  It is about a desire to do more than just go with the flow.  It is about understanding the nature of the forces we are dealing with.  It is an intentional and creative effort to make our communities and or personal lives the best they can be.


The human brain is made for learning.  Solving problems is what nature (or if you will, God) created us to do.  We learn in order to solve problems, but we also learn in order to build character and virtue.  As problems and crisis mount, as existing intuitions and methods prove inadequate, we must innovate and refine the art and science of learning.

Transition Centre recommends a community university that provides a full-spectrum, life-long curriculum of adult learning.  With effective learning we believe that many can find a capacity for leadership in some area of the life of the community.  The community university is intended solely to support the needs of its community, not only for knowledge and skills, but to achieve objectives effectively.


Where people work together there must be organization.  Under a plan roles and relationships are formalized, tasks and objective assigned and monitored.  This requires leadership and effective management.  It is through community organizations that visions are turned into reality.  Our acronym is POES:  Plan, Organize, Execute and Sustain.  


The Transition Centre Blueprint is an economic plan in a broader perspective.  The sustainability triptych includes environment, society and economy.  The weak link in that pattern is between the environment and the economy.  Our objective is a regenerative economy – a REconomy (link).  That means an extensive overlap of all three sectors. 

The idea that ties this model together is the fact that Ecology and Economy have the same root.  Eco means homein both words.  An ecosystem is natures economy.  Traditionally, communities have formed spontaneously just as natural ecosystems do.  Unlike the rest of nature, however, we have choice.  We don’t always make the right choices.

At the heart of the model is resilient business:  A business model that pursues innovation, efficient use of resources, and strengthens local economies through development of latent capital and human resources found in the community.  It is an entrepreneurial program – social enterprise and development.  It requires people to take risk.  It takes hard work 

If you want change, it must pay for itself.  There is not, in fact, anywhere near enough outside money to make the necessary changes in every community.  The capacity to produce wealth, real wealth, not just money, is mandated for each community.

The Plan

In developing our master plan, we did considerable research into the emerging literature on sustainability planning.  We sought the qualities that made these plans work.  Or not.  The importance of the planning process must be emphasized.  It is about more than money and material goods.  It is about people and the spirit of place.

The word “plan” is not a noun, it is a verb.  Planning is a process, not a thing.  It is an art and a science.  The purpose of a plan is to solve a problem or get something you want.  It starts with an exacting statement of the problem/objective and a compelling reason to address it.  It is not complete until its objective is satisfactorily achieved. Planning starts with learning and comes to fruition through action – often a good deal of trial and error.  Since we have objectives that have not been achieved before, or achieved under different circumstances, we need to continuously learn and adjust.  

Plans are living entities.  They are a learning process.  They must be constantly adapted as development unfolds.

Vision 10 – 10

Achievable objectives are essential.  We have adopted the Japanese idea of Kaizen – starting with small steps.  

Transition Centre developed a Vison 10 – 10 framework:  an objective of achieving ten percent of any goal, such as local food or energy, within a timeframe of no longer than ten years (preferably much less) for each core module.  We find this gives a better feel of achievability than taking on the whole sector.  It allows us to lay the groundwork, run pilot models, and refine the process.  Once we achieve ten percent, we have the infrastructure for moving to the next level.  We believe that the best place to start is with local foods.  


In our study of notable sustainable communities, we found that they each have their own culture of sustainability.  We surveyed more than 30 of these places.  We conducted more in-depth case studies of several of them, including Corvallis, Seattle, Portland, Burlington, Oberlin, and Boulder.  The players in these emerging cultures include a broad spectrum of interest such as business, government, nonprofits, education, and people at large in the community.  A lot of work went into making those communities more sustainable.  It takes time to develop a culture.  Once formed, a culture is something people join; the values, norms and daily practices are established and comfortable.  We found our home community an evolving culture of sustainability and worked to nurture that process.  Understanding that, the community ecosystem, is vital to achieving greater resilience.


A community has a much better prospect of providing opportunity than blanket regulatory agencies and cookie-cutter programs.  A community by definition is a collaborative enterprise where members are mutually supportive.  People are a vital part of its ecosystem.  An ecosystem thrives on diversity.  It is as strong as its weakest part.  There is no place for poverty and hunger, prejudice, crime and addiction, ignorance or a prevailing mood of despair in a resilient community.

Rural Resilient Hub

Rural America has long been in decline.  Manufacturing, anchor industries for many towns and smaller cities, moved offshore.  Agriculture became highly industrialized; machines replaced workers.  This trend goes back to at least to the 1980s, when globalization went mainstream.  These communities have been labeled forgotten, distressed, and shrinking – all three terms iconic of continuing decline. 

Over half of the counties in the US, most of them rural, are economically distressed, left behind by the national/global economy.  This has resulted in loss of jobs and population, decreasing incomes, shuttered storefronts, and vacant residential lots, aging population, reduction in public revenues.  It has become a daunting and persistent problem.  

The problem of rural decline is endemic.  The recovery following the Great Recession of 2008 “failed to benefit the country’s most vulnerable communities.”  Even in more prosperous communities, there is a wide range of income disparity.  Overall real wages went slightly lower between 2000 and 2020 across the board.  There was continued significant decline in the well-being of rural communities between the 2010 and 2020 censuses.  Then the COVID pandemic further aggravated the problem and supply chain issues and inflation added to the burden.  

Small towns and surrounding farming country were once the foundation of American life and values.  They were settled by pioneering people.  That same pioneering attitude is needed now to revitalize them.  And yes, given the resolve, they can be restored to prosperity and livability.

It is a communal as well as economic problem.  There is clearly a problem of institutional decay in distressed communities, in government, education, faith, family, and communal associations in general.  Reduction in revenues depleted local government budgets.  There was a loss of talent as the best and brightest left town.  An aging leadership is left to cope.  Health and longevity declined.  Violent crime, substance abuse and suicide rates increased.  Racial tension and persistent poverty became drivers of conflict.  

It is thus not merely an economic problem, not merely a matter of rebuilding downtowns and attracting businesses, but of revitalizing communities of people and of restoring essential institutions and services.  It takes a dedicated group to begin that recovery and moral determination to continue.  It takes engagement of all sectors of the community.  

The mission of the Transition Centre/Rural Resilient Hub project:

Revitalization of distressed communities across the country.  TC/RRH provides an integral framework for developing local strategies, workforce, business enterprises, education, and governance.

Our vision:

Self-reliant and sustainable local economies and strong communities with high quality of life – places where our children will want to stay and make their home.  

The Transition Centre/Rural Resilient Hub (RRH) is founded on social enterprise.  It is a business model with a dual bottom line that generates both financial and social value.  As such it is an acknowledged alternative to both government and nonprofit programs.  This model seeks to pay its own way.  

The approach is grassroots.  It builds on the human and material resources of the community.

Targeted Innovations

There are best practices to draw on.  RRH proposes a core group of programs to restore local economic viability once the initial organization is formed, including:

1.     A community center or innovation hub, which provides a place to work, to meet, a maker space with tools, and a venue for sharing workforce knowledge and skills development.

2.     This community center is a major component of the community university.  See below.

3.     Broadband connectivity is important.  Broadband empowers local enterprises including business, government, education, and civic groups.  It is also needed to attract the skilled workers and small businesses that are seeking to move from city to country, to work remotely and to live a quieter, more pastoral and communal life.

4.     Local agriculture is an entry wedge.  Where there is land and water, and people willing to work out of doors with their hands, the food system can be increasingly localized.  Capturing a share of the food market locally both increases food security and creates a significant revenue stream that stays in the community.  Local agriculture includes both suppliers and distributors, a full spectrum of a food system. 

5.     Restoring the built environment and energy efficiency, particularly on main street, is a priority.  Livability is enhanced by walkable spaces with access to basic needs, food, recreation, and to public spaces.  Restoration and renovation create hands-on jobs for local workers.

6.     Local utilities are gaining traction.  These utilities are community owned and managed, including electricity, water, and waste management.  They also capture revenue.

7.     The watershed requires attention.  Water is a critical resource dependent on the quality of the local natural environment.  A watershed plan is an integral part of a comprehensive local program.  The plan covers all aspects of water in the community and region from source water to wastewater.

8.     Local financial institutions, including small banks and credit unions, owned and operated by community members, provide a foundation for financial health increasingly independent from unstable global markets.  They keep revenue in the community.

9.     Veterans and retirees are an important asset.  Veterans have training and experience, work with discipline, have a sense of mission and duty, and enjoy the comradery of working collaboratively for something worthwhile.  Retired persons are a source of knowledge and experience.

Rural Resilient Hub PowerPoint:

Rural Resilient Hub Business Model:

Borsodi Community University

The Borsodi Community University is a life-long learning enterprise that exists to serve the needs of its community to achieve resilience – safe, healthy and secure.  

The Borsodi Community University is a template for laying the foundation of community and economic development, particularly for rural communities that are struggling.  The model provides the foundation and infrastructure for social and economic revitalization.  

It is a life-long educational program to support the needs of its community for knowledge, skills, and personal and community development.  It serves as the “central nervous system” of its community with a community center, library, and basic amenities.  

The community university is the idea of Ralph Borsodi further enhanced by additional development as he had hoped to inspire.  The Borsodi Community University is named in honor of him; you can call your own what you like and shape it, as intended, to meet the unique needs of your community.

A Unique Approach to Learning

Borsodi Community University is a unique approach to education.

It is, first, an educational enterprise that coexists with its community.  It serves only the needs of the community.  

It serves as a community center.

It is a university in the sense that it provides all the knowledge and skills required for personal and community development.

It is competence rather than credential based.  It offers no degrees or majors.  

It is self-supporting.  It requires no national of state funding.  It is thus free of arbitrary regulation. 

The core program is organized around Borsodi’s universal problems framework.  

Key features include:

1.     Enrollment is open:  study what you want when you want under the direction of tutors.  

2.     It is founded on effective learning skills.

3.     It has a small yet comprehensive library.

4.     Study is pursued individually, in small groups and in seminars, not lectures under the guidance of tutors. 

5.     The focus is on general education.

6.     It offers the sciences, arts, and manual skills development – a makerspace.

7.     It has an innovation hub.


The mission of the Borsodi Community University is to provide a program of lifelong learning to assist individuals to develop effective and fulfilling lives in this unprecedented and challenging time; a fellowship of men and women who are prepared and motivated to lead, to educate; and to facilitate social and economic development to promote the progress and well-being of their communities.


The Borsodi Community University is a self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-governing institute at the center of each community that develops its capacity to adapt to the challenges of this unfolding century.   


The program of the community university is integral.  A cornerstone of the system is Borsodi problem-centered framework.  It draws on this Blueprint for content.  It promotes learning skills, critical thinking, and expression.  It has both a strong general and technical education component.  It has an innovation hub, makerspace, shops, and studios. 

The community university develops leadership.

There is a major emphasis on social enterprise.

The business model for the BCU can be found at this link [pending].


Transition Centre/RRH/BCU does not claim it will fix your problems; indeed, it does not offer to do so.  Our objective is to encourage each locality to gain the capacity to solve their own problem.  We will work to facilitate a startup.  We will help channel knowledge and skills and best practices to achieve that capacity.  Coming from out of town, we bring a degree of objectivity.  We are non-partisan.  

There are communities that will choose to pioneer rural revitalization.  Our objective is for these to achieve the capacity to serve as resource hubs within their own regions.  Success will breed success.  We seek to establish a network of these Rural Resilient Hubs across the country to build synergy and overcome a sense of isolation.

Bill Sharp

Bill Sharp is co-founder and Director of Transition Centre (, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, and project lead for Rural Resilient Hub. (RRH).  

Bill is the project lead for the development of the Borsodi Community University.  He has worked to restore the Borsodi legacy as a cornerstone of community revitalization.

Bill spent a career as a planner and project manager with experience in government, business, higher education (college professor and academic administrator), and nonprofits (several startups).  His focus has been community and economic development, specifically strategic human resource development.  He has a strong information technology background.  He has worked in heavy industry and residential and commercial construction.  He is a United States Air Force veteran.

Bill served as a College Township, Pennsylvania, Council member and member of the Centre Regional Council of Governments General Forum.  Formerly member of the College Township Planning Commission, Spring Creek Watershed Commission, and Vice-chair of the College Township Industrial Development Authority.  

Bill is an author, speaker, and workshop leader.

B.Sc. in Public Management with a two-year pre-engineering program and a minor in History.  M.A. in sociology with a focus on community leadership development and additional graduate work in community development and business management.

A full resume may be found on Linkedin[1].