Lucy and I headed off to Nottingham for the Transition City Conference last week – held specially for communities working to set up Transition Initiatives in Cities and attended by about 150 good people from cities across the UK and beyond. It proved to be a fantastic opportunity to meet with and hear the experiences and ideas of others facing the same issues and challenges and culminated in an open space session at which we thrashed out a revised 12 step transition model for the city environment.
Highlights for me included finally getting my head around the potential of The Sustainable Communities Act – hearing inspiring stories of community engagement from the Akashi Project in Cambridge – revisiting Beeston where I lived as a student and sharing a wonderful South Indian curry for lunch which made me homesick for Tooting.
One thing that struck both Lucy and I was the need to shout out about and celebrate the strength of community in cities. Often people talk about the breakdown of communities in urban areas but our experience – and those of many others at the conference – is of cities teeming with multi-layered communities around race, faith, politics, sport, art, social support, geographical locality, health and many many more. These communities may not leap out at you physically as you walk down the streets of London (and you won’t be able to find them all meeting up in the village hall) but if you look closely at the buildings you walk past every day you start to notice how many house a community group. On a regular daily journey in Tooting I pass a sea scout group, a nursery, schools, many places of worship, a constitutional club, a yoga centre, a swimming club a political party and a gym. Many many others have no physical home – but are no less strong for that – a road with its own composting group, an improvisation group that meets in a pub weekly, a weight loss support group at the local community centre…..
Certainly engaging with a vast, multi-layered and often invisible web of communities presents challenges for Transitioning in cities – but like a physical web, the multiplicity of strands and connections should give our urban areas a strength of community and diversity which we should celebrate.