Weaving A Great Turning: Transition Albany Takes It Step-by-Step

Maypole Image

Adults and children gathered to dance and interweave multi-colored ribbons around the Maypole at Albany's Veterans Memorial Park.

Photo by Peter Tichenor

I've been following Transition Albany (T/A) for eight months now. What's become of this effort to transform the San Francisco bay area city where I work into a resilient, self-sufficient, low-consuming, and low-carbon-emitting community?

On Sunday, May 2, 2010, I stopped by at the city-sponsored Arts and Green Festival held at Albany's Veterans Memorial Park. Catherine Sutton, chief proponent of T/A, was orchestrating a Maypole dance there. Standing beside a vertical pole with multi-colored ribbons streaming from its tip, Sutton taught 20 or so adult and child audience-participants the pattern of the interweaving dance. Then the music began. Clutching a ribbon end, each dancer circled, some clockwise, others counter-clockwise, alternately passing inside or outside of each approaching dancer. When the music stopped, we were left with a Maypole, tightly wound with interwoven strands of red, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple, and orange.

After the dance, I strolled by the exhibits. At the Hyperlocavore booth, I marked a city map with a dot to represent my backyard garden-sharing plot. I picked up fliers from T/A to post at my business. Albany Strollers and Rollers offered free bike parking and bike tune-ups. A nearby farm was seeking subscribers for its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce. Maybe two-dozen more booths promoted solar energy, rainwater collection, low-water landscaping, electronic waste recycling, nature preservation, and energy efficiency. On my way out, I met Sutton again. She seemed discouraged in an odd way: unlike Transition towns that she'd just visited, Albany had so much interest in “green” issues already that it was hard to see what T/A's role should be.

A week or so later, I interviewed Sutton to learn what discouraged her, what kept her going, and what was next for T/A. She was more upbeat, buoyed by the words of Gerhard Brostrom, a participant at T/A's mid-May planning meeting. Brostrom had recapped T/A's accomplishments, emphasizing the sustained progress made in spreading Transition concepts throughout Albany and nearby North Berkeley.

“Transition is not a group. It's all sorts of things happening as we all transition from dependence on oil.”

He noted that many people were comforted to know of T/A's vision even if they didn't come to events. The events were experiments from which T/A had learned much about mobilizing energy around a variety of topics: growing food locally, finding alternative transportation, and reducing resource use. And finally, Brostrom said that T/A was one of very few groups that brought such a wide variety of topics together. During this planning meeting, participants decided that what was important was to keep T/A's connections and contact list growing. Although it was frustrating that others seemed too busy with their own projects to become actively involved in T/A, it was still important to honor others'  work. After all, Sutton said, “Transition is not a group. It's all sorts of things happening as we all transition from dependence on oil.”

In late May, at another T/A event, I watched the video "In Transition 1.0: from Oil Dependence to Local Resilience" showing clips of Transition Towns throughout the world. What was most powerful to me were the faces and voices of people excited at shaping the future of their communities.

Transition Albany hasn't had its “great unleashing” yet, the big kick-off celebration of a community's adopting Transition goals. T/A is still in its awareness building phase, even as Albany quietly became the 59th U.S. (and 238th international) Transition Town on March 29, 2010. But whether or not T/A has been the instigator, it has been the conduit through which I've learned of Albany's receptiveness to self-sufficiency. It is Catherine Sutton's e-mails that have told me of the many opportunities available in Albany, including:

  • City-sponsored fruit-tree give-aways 
  • A used-clothing swap
  • A weekly exchange for surplus homegrown garden produce and numerous classes and events for learning about permaculture
  • Learning about other Transition Towns
Finished Maypole

The finished Maypole exhibits the beautiful weaving done by citizens at the Arts and Green Festival held in Albany.

Photo by Peter Tichenor

It is at T/A events that I am starting to recognize my “green-minded” neighbors. It is by seeing more and more “green” projects succeed that they start to seem normal to me. As Sutton has quoted: “the energy of Transition increases with use.”

T/A's eight to ten core group members are gratified by the group's community building progress over less than a year and they're encouraged to continue to meet semi-monthly to brainstorm and plan awareness-building events. Some of their ideas for future events include a skills-sharing fair, a storytelling picnic for Albany elders and families, and a walking tour of local gardens. Other "green" projects such as solar arrays and rainwater or gray-water collection systems will be featured along with bringing in various films and speakers.

They envision a possible “great unleashing” on International Day, 10/10/10, but are realizing that, more important than meeting a fixed timeline, they wish to feel good about working together and inspiring their neighbors to adopt Transition-oriented lifestyle changes. But whatever role T/A eventually carves for itself, it has already created an image of itself in my mind: individuals exuberantly Maypole-dancing in the park, collectively weaving a Great Turning.


of Pam's blogs about Transition Albany.

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