In communities across Europe there are people getting together to build stronger, greener local communities and economies. But why do some regions turn into vibrant hubs, while in others things peter out?
A European Union (EU) funded research project aims to help answer these questions through bringing together lessons from across the continent. Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions Towards Sustainability (ARTS) focuses on five EU city regions which have been identified as front runners in local sustainability, places where “you feel that change is in the air”: Stockholm (Sweden), Brighton and Hove (UK), Genk (Belgium), Budapest (Hungary) and Dresden (Germany). The ultimate aim is a regional ‘transition strategy’ for each one.
The study aims to understand the role and impact of local ‘transition initiatives,’ from community gardens to energy co-operatives, based on the premise that they can act as laboratories for experimentation by ‘demonstrating and innovating’ how communities can live sustainably.
ARTS also employs a citizen journalist in each city region. The collective blog gives a direct insight into the transition work on the local level, as well as following the research developments.
Florian Kern of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex is one of the ARTS researchers. He says the project is looking further than individual initiatives: “We are not planning to just do another set of case studies. It’s about how they come together and whether the sum is more than the parts.”
ARTS will also look at some of the more critical questions raised about transition initiatives, such as diversity. “Often it’s more middle class people involved and the question is, if the whole city is going to move then we need to be more inclusive, we want other people to be active,” explains Kern.
The first stage of the study was for researchers in each of the regions to map local transition initiatives. In Brighton they found almost 100 initiatives across different sectors including education, food, energy and transport.
The second phase is to look at the ‘governance context’ – policy and the dynamics between local governments and grassroots initiatives. Each regional team will then select five to ten initiatives to focus on in more depth. In Brighton the team is hoping to look at the Waste House ecological design experiment and Brighton Energy Co-operative, among others.
The other cities are following the same process and there are regular Europe wide workshops to share knowledge. All the regions will also be holding two local workshops. In Brighton the first one is in May and will include people from transition initiatives across the region. The event will discuss initial findings and transition initiatives will be able to share ideas, challenges and ideas of how to overcome them.
The second workshop will bring together people representing transition initiatives, the council, local businesses and elsewhere to create a practical strategy or roadmap for Brighton and Hove.
Kern is keen for ARTS to do more than produce interesting data: “At the end of the day it’s about the people who are doing this work; we want to give something back to people who give their time up for these things, often on a voluntary basis.”
He also wants there to be a legacy after the project officially finishes at the end of 2016: “If it’s just for us and the sake of the project then there’s not much use in that, but if it’s something that continues or allows people to make new connections then it could be more useful.”