What is Transition Streets?

Transition Streets logoI realised people are eager to connect and learn new ways of living. I thought I was a “greenie” but participating in Transition Streets taught me many things I was unaware of. I have introduced more things in our daily life that are relatively easy to do and I am keen for others to do likewise. (Transition Streets participant)

Transition Streets (originally called the Transition Streets Challenge) is an exciting street level program bringing neighbours together to explore ways of reducing their environmental impact while building a more connected neighbourhood. Although it is  called Transition Streets, groups aren’t restricted to one street but can include people from neighbouring streets (hopefully within easy walking distance). 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.”

Initially developed by Transition Totnes and adapted by Transition Newcastle for the Australian context, we hope Transition Streets will:

  1. Encourage households to become more sustainable
  2. Bring neighbours together and to build strong local connections that will lead to ongoing action
  3. Engage households not already moving towards sustainable lifestyles.
  4. Help streets discover what they can do together that they can’t do alone
  5. Promote broader community education and engagement.

Transition Newcastle was highly commended (a runner up) for the Transition Streets Challenge at the 2013 NSW Sustainable City awards. According to the judges report:

Laman St dinnerThe focus on the community was clearly one of the highlights to the program. The submission involves everyone within the community and produced great results

The innovation of the program was first rate. The program is a fantastic idea that involves thinking outside the box and is one of the major strengths of the program.

The transferability of the program was another highlight. The set up of the program is simple and effective allowing easy of transferability between suburbs and councils.

Transition Streets was inspired by a number of other programs particularly Transition Streets in Totnes, UK. The CSIRO’s Energymark program, and Sustainability Streets also demonstrated the possibility of street-based discussion groups, while various community led initiatives – like the Painted Fish and Hulbert Street in Fremantle and Café 101 in Tighes Hill – showed the potential of neighbours coming together.

Drawing on these inspirations we’ve created a varied program:

  • A practical, easy-to-read workbook is the basis for discussion within the streets. (You can download a copy of the Transition Streets workbook here.) The workbook has chapters on energy, water, food, transport and consumption & waste. Each chapter includes background information, ideas for action, ways to involve children, fun and thought provoking challenges, and further resources.
From the food chapter

From the food chapter

  • The thought provoking challenges highlight how we take many resources and the environment for granted. Examples of challenges include: using water from a bucket for a day, seeing how many cars the group can keep of the road for a week (e.g., by shopping together, carpooling) and putting 20 cents in a jar every time someone opens the fridge to see how much is collected by the end of the day (or week). Households choose which challenges they want to try, and the focus is on thinking about issues, having fun and building community.
Transport challenges

Challenges from the transport chapter

  • Streets are encouraged to craft creative responses that help them become more sustainable. Each month focuses on one of aspect of sustainability and the streets are invited to think about how they can work together to make a difference.
Community garage sale

Community garage sale

  • Street events such as film nights, street parties and local food dinners help create interest in the street and bring neighbours together. One of the real benefits of the program is the strengthening of social capital within the neighbourhoods.

The best thing has been feeling more connected with the neighbourhood and having a greater responsibility for the neighbourhood. I want to continue to learn and be part of a new sustainable initiative with the community. I want to learn from others and to share that information. My life has been enriched by being part of Transition Streets. (Transition Streets participant)

An overall sense of safety was created… in one instance the students ran out of the house to protect a neighbour who was about to be assaulted. (Street contact)

Transition Newcastle also organises films, workshops or other activities that link in with the chapters of the workbook so participants in the Transition Streets can learn more or be inspired by what others are doing.

And you realise how everybody’s trying to do their best with what they’re doing. And then you find that someone’s doing this and that and, “Oh I haven’t thought of doing that. I should try that.” (Transition Streets participant)

Cooking afternoonEach street is autonomous and is free to do the program as they want. Generally streets meet about once a month to discuss a chapter from the workbook and they might also arrange some other activity in between the discussions (e.g., a shared meal or a film night). There is the potential for people in the street to be involved to different degrees. Some people will join in the discussions based on the workbook, while others might only join in some street events or projects. The discussion groups can’t be too big as they need to be able to fit in somebody’s living room or back deck, and to allow for easy discussion.

Transition Newcastle provides support to the streets throughout the program by attending the first session (if the street group wants us) and can help with advice, resources and contacts. We also host regular meetings of the street contacts so that they can learn from each other. Street contacts have found these very helpful in allowing them to discuss what is working and what has been difficult, share ideas, and support each other. Some people find initiating Transition Streets in their street fairly daunting and they appreciate knowing they are not alone and gaining ideas from other contacts.

As soon as I heard about of it I went “Oh, that sounds really good”, but part of me was hesitant “I’ve already got too much to do, how am I going to do it.” But my gut just said “Oh just go for it and do it, it sounds right up my alley.” And it is right up my alley… My advice to somebody thinking about it is “Just do it!” (Street Contact)

Street picnic an a park

Street picnic an a park

Although it was originally called a “Challenge” it is not a competition or a challenge between streets and households: it is a challenge neighbours take on together. The challenge was about how we can become more sustainable; not how we can do better than other people. Cooperation, a non-judgemental attitude and openness are important foundations the groups to work together successfully. In the introductory chapter of the workbook we emphasised the importance of cooperation:

A major part of the Transition Streets program is working as a group with your neighbours, so it’s important to ensure your discussions and activities are a positive experience for everyone. The following are some practices (most of them fairly obvious) that could help make the experience work successfully.

Respect is at the heart of a successful Transition Streets group. People will come to the program with different backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, commitments and priorities. This diversity brings richness to our community (and Transition Streets) and we need to respect differences. We can help show respect by:

  • Letting everybody have a say and actively listening to them.
  • Being reliable, trying to do what we say we’ll do, and letting people know if we are unable to do so.
  • Being understanding when other people are unable to do what they said they would do.
  • Being committed to the process.
  • Respecting people’s privacy.
  • Offering practical and moral support to each other.
  • Respecting people’s differing levels of involvement.
    (Transition Streets workbook)
Some of our Transition Streets group learning to make bread

Some of our Transition Streets group learning to make bread

In cooperation with Transition Banyule and Transition Kingston (both in Melbourne) we have now created a national edition of the workbook so that it can be run in other towns and cities. We are really excited by the potential of Transition Streets to make a difference to local communities. We look forward to seeing where it goes.

It brings people who have diverse backgrounds together in a different kind of way and I like that. I’ve always liked mixing with all different kinds of people and this is great for that… Everybody has their own particular character and talent, and it is really good to hear what they’re doing and going “oh how did you do that?” or “where did you learn that?” Everyone has an interest in a different side to it so I find that really interesting. (Transition Streets participant)

[Updated September 2015]

If you liked this post you might want to subscribe to the blog (top right-hand corner of the blog),  and you might like to look at:

  1. All posts about the Transition Streets
  2. Transition Streets Challenge – comments from coordinators
  3. The Transition Streets Challenge: Potential and challenges
  4. Take a street and build a community
  5.  “We didn’t just build a garden, we built a community”
  6. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What is Transition Streets?

  1. Belle says:

    Makes me think. We are taking part in the Big Lunch on 1st June with transition hosting the event. It would be a nice thing to e mail to attendees afterwards as a starter.


  2. Thanks for that Steph!


  3. Steph says:

    Sounds fantastic. Well done. I love that your approach connects local people to improve thier place. Much of the aciton is happening around NSW but the stand out point is that by making it a street challenge it connects neighbours creativly and as their relationships develop the project can be sustained and developed.


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