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From Terminal City to Transition Town

How Vancouver residents are dropping fossil fuels and adopting resiliency

by Kerry Hall

Sandra Ignagni hosts the monthly Sew Op, where community members can drop in for free, at her home in the Kitsilano neighbourhood. Photo by Kerry Hall
Sandra Ignagni hosts the monthly Sew Op, where community members can drop in for free, at her home in the Kitsilano neighbourhood. Photo by Kerry Hall
The Village Vancouver seed library, with different varieties of vegetable seeds, is portable and shared amongst members. Photo By Kerry Hall
The Village Vancouver seed library, with different varieties of vegetable seeds, is portable and shared amongst members. Photo By Kerry Hall

VANCOUVER―In neighbourhoods across Canada, people are organizing at a grassroots level to make the transition to a less energy-dependent way of life and to become more skilled in supporting that lifestyle.

Creating what are known as Transition Towns, the initiative moves communities away from high energy consumption, carbon emissions and environmental impact. First developed by permaculture designer Rob Hopkins in Ireland, the concept was moved to England in 2005, where Hopkins expanded on it. Since then, the movement has spread to more than 450 locations around the world.

There are recognized transition initiatives across Canada, including 10 in British Columbia, nine in Ontario, two in New Brunswick, one in Nova Scotia and one in Quebec. BC hosts the oldest as well as one of the largest transition communities, with about 2,500 registered members, called Village Vancouver.

Ross Moster, a local resident with 20 years of experience running a food co-op, started it in 2008.

“I’ve always been a student of how to create effective change,” Moster told The Dominion. His idea was to connect people and community in a fun and celebratory way. “There’s a wealth of knowledge and expertise in our neighbourhoods, but if you don’t know your neighbours, you can’t tap into it,” he said.

Moster describes the Transition Town movement as a grassroots response to climate change and economic inequality. He said Village Vancouver helps neighbours meet one another and develop self-reliance. “The reason [Transition Town] has resonated is we encourage people to pursue their own ideas rather than tell them what to do [and] we focus on having fun. It’s a winning combination.”    

Transition Town members sponsor more than 250 activities per year, including workshops, events, potlucks, seed libraries and collaborative gardening. Members are respectfully aware that they’re on Indigenous land, says Moster, and feel they can learn much from Indigenous peoples. Regular gatherings are hosted in several Vancouver neighbourhoods, like Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant and Grandview-Woodland.

Jason Mertz is one of the organizers in Grandview-Woodland, where they host a monthly potluck and workshop at his co-op housing complex just off Commercial Drive. Workshops are decided on collectively and members lead the sessions. “These things work by neighbours teaching neighbours,” he said of the efforts to build people’s skills, adding that this is part of being resilient.

At the May event, a couple of members taught the group how to make kefir and kombucha, which are fermented water-based beverages easily made at home. Previously, members have taught bike maintenance, vegetable fermentation and seed starting. Upcoming topics and events include how to raise backyard chickens and a canning workshop.

Jordan Bober is another one of the members and organizers in the same neighbourhood. While he participates in a number of activities, his main effort is a project called Seedstock, which spun out from Village Vancouver’s local economic working group. Launched early this year, it is an alternative currency system with more than 60 businesses involved.

“We’re creating more resilience for local economies and local people,” he said. The project supports non-profit organizations, encourages local supply chains and keeps the currency circulating within the community.

Sandra Ignagni lives in Kitsilano. After meeting members of Village Vancouver who encouraged her ideas, she started a spin-off project called Sew Op, a monthly sewing group she hosts in her home. With donated sewing machines and supplies, it’s free for people to drop in and create. “[There are] so many people who know how to sew and are willing to share,” Ignagni told The Dominion. “The social relationships are what’s at the heart of it. Getting together with the community to reach out and share in a de-commodified way.”      

In April, Village Vancouver partnered with UBC on the New Economy Summit, a three-day event to contribute to a socially just and ecologically responsible economy. As part of the city’s Car Free Day in June, the group will set up a demonstration Transition Town with everything they would like to see in their neighbourhoods: seed libraries, solar panels, backyard chicken coops, collaborative gardening, composting and more.

“If we had a mantra, it would be ‘Talk to your neighbours, see what happens,’” said founder Moster.

Kerry Hall is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver.

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Journalist, co-founder VMC, ex-editor & board member with Media Co-op. Author, Drug War Capitalism.

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