Thursday, October 22, 2009

Transitioning Barrie to resiliency

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

The only thing constant in Barrie is change, but there is one thing we learn slowly and painfully: change works best when we prepare for it. And preparing is the role of a new local group, Transition Barrie.

Transition Barrie is a local formulation of the Transition Town movement, which began in England just a few years ago; there are now hundreds of Transition Towns around the world. The nearest is Peterborough. But the different towns are not so much part of an organization, as places that have each recognized a local need to build resilience.

What is resilience? Basically, it means the ability of a person, community, or whole economy to survive and function in the face of change or outside shocks. Someone or something resilient can roll with the punches and adapt as needed, absorb disturbance and reorganize, still retaining essentially the same function, structure, and identity despite undergoing change.

For what shocks should we prepare? The city already has plans for various local or temporary emergencies such as tornadoes or floods, but there are signs of wider-scale shocks on the horizon, for which Barrie is not ready. One is climate change, and the radical emission reductions which may be required to reduce it. The inevitable reduction in the amount of cheap oil available is also a concern. As energy cost rises, it will profoundly affect our lifestyle, especially if we aren't prepared for lower-energy living. With so many people commuting a great distance each day by car, how will we cope when regulations, taxes, or shortages make gas more expensive?

Even the current recession shows the need for resilience. If the jobless recovery continues - or worsens - how will our community adjust to unemployment? Can we find ways to keep people occupied and prosperous in a new, resilient local economy? Can we put food on the table and keep our houses if big transnational corporations don't arrive to provide good jobs?

The Transition movement grows out of some key realizations. A lower energy lifestyle is inevitable; it is better to plan for it than be taken by surprise. Towns like Barrie lack the resilience to weather the severe energy shocks the future promises. We have to act collectively, and we have to act now. But by unleashing the collective genius of our community to creatively and proactively design our transition, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and stay within the biological limits of our planet.

This is a positive, solutions-focused approach to meet this shared challenge together. Many of the solutions will come from within, through a process of rediscovering what is already here, rather than from outside experts and consultants. As individuals, what we can do is not enough; if we wait for government to solve the problem it will be too little, too late; but if we act as a community, we just might do enough in time. That's where you come in.

Transition Barrie started forming this past May, but is having its big public launch this Saturday in the Huronia Room at city hall from 1 p. m. to 4 p. m. Groups will form around various initiatives, such as "reskilling" (re-learning traditional skills such as making and mending clothing, cooking and preserving local produce in season, or growing vegetables), alternative energy, efficiency and conservation, cycling, and other aspects of making Barrie more resilient. Groups such as Living Green and Simcoe County Farm Fresh are already partners, but there is lots of room for skilled, knowledgeable, or just plain concerned individuals to make their mark. Some of us can teach; all of us can learn.

Oil and gas are limited resources, and we urgently need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. Transition Barrie will explore what our city will actually look like as we deal with this. How will we live? Where will our food come from? What will daily life be like if we aren't driving a car all the time? Come to the meeting and help us explore these questions and start making local answers.

Visit for more links and information about the movement, including what other Transition Towns have already begun.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a local teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.


  1. I'm glad to see someone is starting a transition team in Barrie, I've been hoping for something to happen in Newmarket Aurora but have yet to find other interested folks.

    I know its not your mandate but once you are well established perhaps you could do presentations for other local municipalities, perhaps through the local greens, the Newmarket or Aurora environmental advisory committees, and spark some interest in a transition team down here.

  2. I'm sure that a few Transition Barrie folks would be thrilled to come for a little visit and share what's happening. Probably could get the same from Peterborough, and they're maybe a year ahead of us. Perhaps on the same night.

    I'll pass it along to the steering committee.

    On a related note, despite our efforts, the City of Barrie does not have an environmental advisory committee.