The Transition Streets Challenge – an overview

It’s very exciting – the Transition Streets Challenge is being launched today! The Challenge, which Transition Newcastle has been planning for some time, is an opportunity for neighbours to come together and support each other in reducing their energy and water usage, reducing waste, and building a more connected neighbourhood.

Five streets are in the initial pilot: The Terrace (The Hill), Union Street (Tighes Hill), Laman Street (Cooks Hill), Watson Street (Islington), Kings Road (Tighes Hill).

While we have called it the Transition Streets Challenge, most of the groups aren’t restricted to one street but include some people from neighbouring streets. As one of the participants said “my community isn’t necessarily the people who are on the other end of my street, but those around me, the people I bump into, who have chickens or lemons or a vacuum cleaner to share!!”

The aims of Transition Streets Challenge are:

  1. To encourage households to become more sustainable
  2. To bring neighbours together and to build strong local connections that will lead to ongoing action
  3. To engage households not already moving towards sustainable lifestyles.
  4. To discover what people can do together that they can’t do alone
  5. To promote broader community education and engagement

The project focuses on horizontal community engagement by building connections between neighbours. We want the streets to have the freedom to take the challenge where they want, but at the same time we realise that some people may need (or want) some structure. There has been a tension between providing structure and also allowing them flexibility.

The Challenge grew out of a planning workshop we had in June 2011 and was inspired from a number of sources. Some of us were inspired by the Transition Streets project from Transition Towns Totnes, and they generously shared their workbook with us which provided us with inspiration. Other people wanted fun activities that could bring people together. My inspiration was more from Hulbert Street in Freemantle and 101 Cafe in Tighes Hill both of which showed what could happen when neighbours collaborate. I’m a firm believer that when people who are passionate about something come together, amazing things can happen.

These different inspirations led to a multifaceted approach involving:

  1. A practical workbook that will form the basis for discussion within the streets. The workbook has chapters on energy, water, food, transport and waste/consumption. It provides plenty of information and ideas for action – both behavioural and technological.
  2. Fun, thought provoking challenges highlighting how we take many resources and the environment for granted. Once again there is plenty of choice in which challenges households and streets take part in, but most of them help to build relations between people living in the Street
  3. The opportunity to develop creative responses that can help the streets become more sustainable. Each month focuses on one of the themes and the streets are encouraged to think about what they can do together to become more sustainable.
  4. Workshops run by Transition Newcastle, Council, Hunter Water, Permaculture Hunter and other groups. Once again streets can choose which workshops are of interest. Some of the workshops will be for specific streets (or a few of the streets) and other workshops will tie in with the month’s theme but be open to the general public.
  5. Street events such film nights, street parties and a local food dinner which will help to create a vibe in the street and bring people together.

I believe that it is important that there are multiple pathways for people to become involved in the Challenge. Some people will meet on a regular basis to work through the workbook but, as we want to engage people who aren’t already committed to becoming more sustainable, there will also be the opportunity for neighbours to take small steps by coming along to some of the events. They might be interested in a workshop, come to a street party, join in the local food dinner or participate in one of the challenges. We hope that as they develop relationships with other people in the street they might join in other activities too.

The Challenges have taken a lot of thought and work. At one stage we thought of incorporating some friendly competition into the Challenge (e.g., streets or households competing against each other) but decided that this wasn’t the type of community we wanted to foster. As we have talked to the streets, our decision has been justified because some people were worried that it would be a competition and that people would be compared with each other. (We did joke about voting one house off every week, but thought it wouldn’t really help build strong relationships in the street!)

So rather than competitions, we are hoping to create challenging tasks that will raise awareness but also have an element of fun, or at least be interesting. Some examples include:

  1. A local food dinner where the streets try to have a meal together with  all the food produced in the Hunter
  2. Turning off their water at the meter for a day and collecting all their water for the day from a neighbour’s tap.
  3. Seeing how many cars in the street they can keep off the road for a week.

This is a large project for us – especially as we are all volunteers. Quite a few people are putting in many hours work. Each street has a coordinator who is our main contact and each street will have one or two main contacts from Transition Newcastle. The role of the Transition Newcastle person will vary according to the Street’s needs and might include helping with facilitation of the first meeting, attending other meetings, helping to source information or contacts, or helping to deal with problems or conflict. We mightn’t have the answers but we will try to help the Streets find things out.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all goes.

I will be providing updates in my blog, but you can also see what is happening by liking the Transition Newcastle facebook page.

[There are a number of updates available:

  1. The launch of the Challenge
  2. A slideshow of some of the highlights
  3. Comments from the Street Coordinators about the impact of the Challenge
  4. An article discussing the Challenge in relation to Transition Initiatives in an urban context
  5. Hulbert Street – building community in a street

How are you involved in your street? Have you ever taken on a project within your street? How did it go?

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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