Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Transition Centre Resilient Communities Blueprint


Executive Summary

Bill Sharp, Director
Transition Centre © July 2023
Permission to use content for non-commercial purposes only is grant with acknowledgment of source:  www.transitioncentre.org.


Introduction

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.

Crisis

The first decade of this twenty-first century presented us with an unprecedented perfect storm of challenges.

Pandemic

The first of these, of course, is 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 tragically 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.  

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.

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.

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.

Social Dislocation and Adjustment

With 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.

Healthcare

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 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. 

It is evident that an ideological polarization is developing in the US (and elsewhere).  The January 6 riot at the US Capital staggered the imagination.  A contested Presidential election and ruthless campaigns for Congress demonstrate a growing tension in US politics.  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 of factories across the country.  They became known as “rustbelt” communities.  The loss 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.  Appropriate education, designed to meet the needs of each community, must be developed.  There are significant resources in many communities to capitalize local social enterprise.  

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, 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.  It required that considerable subsidies be pumped into the economy.  Trillions more of debt was generated with COVID stimulus.  

Tax revenues, however, have fallen.  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.  

The Transition Centre business model has always focused on the local community and how to make it more resilient.  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

Background

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.  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 (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.  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.  National hubs were formed in the US and other countries.

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 that 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.

Objectives

In developing the Blueprint, we had three objectives:

1.     Update our master plan to reflect the current situation.

2.     Access the adequacy of our response.

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 accumulated experience.  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.  Where do goods and services come from and what are the risks to the supply chain that can be addressed by each community?

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

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.

Wastes

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.

Community

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.  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.

Localization

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.  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.  

Visioning

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.

Transformation

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

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.

Learning

The human brain is made for learning.  Solving problems is what nature 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.

Organization

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.  

REconomy 

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, 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.  

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.  

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.  

Culture

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.

Equity

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.  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.     Broadband connectivity is vital.  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.

3.     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.

4.     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.

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

6.     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.

7.     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.

8.     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: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1a7W7mbOmMkMFzdFWg5Q56-IFJ9h4QLlW/edit#slide=id.p1

Rural Resilient Hub Business Model: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1i4swyUboNf7z-c5v9yCb9usrwEF-yZuf/edit


 

Bill Sharp

Bill Sharp is co-founder and Director of Transition Centre/Rural Resilient Hub (www.transitioncentre.org), a Pennsylvania Nonprofit Corporation.  The mission of TC/RRH is to promote and develop an integral model for local, self-reliant and sustainable economies and communities.  

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 also 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.  Currently member of the College Township Planning Commission, Spring Creek Watershed Association, and formerly 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].

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