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Totnes EDAP: adequate action plan or a holiday brochure?

Transition and the Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP)
by Pat Murphy

The goal of Transition Initiatives (TI) is an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) – The final step of a 12 step program. (The steps were later relabeled as ingredients.) No Transition EDAP has been completed in the U.S. (I do not count the U.S. peak oil and energy plans done outside the Transition Initiatives movement such as those done in Portland, OR (2007), San Francisco, CA (2009), Oakland, CA (2008), Berkeley, CA (2009), Bloomington, IN (2009) and San Buenaventura, CA (2008). These were peak oil focused as pointed out in Rob Hopkins’ June 2009 article A Look At Peak Oil Preparation Plans Around the World.)[1]

The two official TI EDAP plans that have been completed are the Kinsale Energy Descent Plan, released in July 2005, and the Totnes Energy Descent Plan, released in April 2010. The complete title of the 2010 Totnes plan is Transition in Action: Totnes and District 2030 – An Energy Descent Action Plan by Transition Town Totnes, scripted and edited by Jacqi Hodgson with Rob Hopkins.[2] As the title indicates, the plan was principally the work of Rob Hopkins and Jacqi Hodgson.

The Totnes EDAP is the first “soup to nuts” plan – Kinsale being more of a prototype as pointed out in the Transition Handbook.[3] (The Kinsale plan skipped the first eleven steps of the twelve step process.) Thus the Totnes plan has tremendous significance to the Transition movement. It was a big job requiring three years and eight months of effort from the date of the Totnes “unleashing” (the fourth step of the twelve step program) in September 2006 to the EDAP’s release. However, it is not exactly clear what it is. In his speech at the time of the April 2010 release, Hopkins noted:

“And so to the EDAP. I am so proud of this document. I am so proud of everyone who brought it into being. It has been an extraordinary process, one, like much of what we do in Transition, that we have had to make up on the hoof. Although it is called a Plan, I see it more and more as a story. After all, who are we to write a step-by-step plan? (italics mine) What we have created here is one story of how we could do this. It is rich with research and data, the facts and figures that we will need. More importantly, it tells a story that starts in the 1950s, the last time this community had less food, less energy, and was more localized. The stories we have drawn together from oral history interviews tell of a more resilient, local world, from which we can learn a great deal. The future may or may not turn out as we have described it, but this is an invitation to make this part of your story.”[4]

Hopkins’ comment about story rather than plan seems to be somewhat of a departure from the original Transition objectives, which called for the community to develop a plan. A month after the release, in a May 19, 2010 blog post entitled Energy Descent Action Plans for cities: some thoughts[5] he noted:

“As Brian points out, there is a tension between producing a Plan, and producing a Vision. He warns of visions as things which “a few years later are still no more than that and produce disillusionment about the group that has created them as being no more than a talking shop”. In creating the Totnes EDAP, we deliberated long and hard about this. We didn’t want to create something that was purely a vision, something that was a long prose piece about car parks turned into allotments and how quiet everything was and everyone has a spring in their step, nor did we feel able to create something that was a hard and fast plan of the kind Brian outlines above.

What we created in the end was neither, and yet both at the same time. Although it is called a Plan, I think of the Totnes EDAP as being more like a story (italics mine). It starts with a vision, and then backcasts from that. It sets out, sequentially, the things that individuals can do, the community can do, and the local council can do. It is clear though, that as a Transition Initiative, we can’t make all these things happen. What we can do is to create a vision that is sufficiently inspiring, enticing, yet also achievable, that it begins to inform the culture of the town as a way forward. It tells a new story of the future of Totnes in a way that is far more appealing than the future being told by the Council and other organizations.

As a follow-up to the publication of the Plan, TTT’s (Transition Town Totnes) next step is not to undertake to implement the EDAP in its entirety. We don’t have the resources, and our role is project support, catalyzing others to develop projects, businesses, community responses.”

The implications of “What we created in the end was neither, and yet both at the same time” is confusing. At least in the U.S. a community’s vision and its comprehensive plan are different with one feeding the other. The vision is typically completed first and provides the context for the comprehensive plan. If one views the Totnes EDAP as a vision then another step may be to develop a plan from that vision.

The question about the Totnes Plan’s nature was further discussed in an October 8, 2010 post by Rob labeled Transition in Action’: the Totnes EDAP Reviewed.[6] It includes a separate report discussing the Totnes EDAP entitled The Transition Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan [7] written by Michelle Colussi and published in September of 2010. Colussi does an excellent job of summarizing the Totnes EDAP in five pages and closes with the following summary:

In short, as impressive a document as Transition in Action is, it falls short of being an Energy Descent Action Plan. Instead, it seems to be more of a vision – (italics mine) a remarkably explicit, exciting, and community-based vision that tells us exactly what is to come about, but not how or by whom. Ultimately, the document acts like more of an Energy Descent Invitation, than a Plan. It entices other communities to have a go at the process for themselves. Given the time and resources that an EDAP will require, will this invitation be compelling enough?”

The question of the EDAP as vision or plan or both was also being addressed in Los Angeles. In a post Transition in the Big City – part II [8] Joanne Poyourow says:

“When we began to discuss this EDAP issue (local? or area wide?) our core team turned quickly to a different EDAP question, the same one which was recently highlighted on Rob Hopkins’ blog: Are we writing a plan or a vision?[9]

A few members of our L.A. team had studied some of the EDAPs which have already been published worldwide. In our observation there tend to be two general styles:

a vision plan: A user-friendly, cheery, welcoming, charming vision of the community, containing lots of lifestyle-level examples, these are apparently written with the general public as intended end-user. These are good for enrolling the reader in possibilities, they help people to visualize and they can help with the inner aspects of Transition. Forest Row is our favorite example of this type of EDAP.

a business-style plan: Concrete and analytical, these documents include university-caliber studies and city-planner-level examples, and appear to have been written with government or the business community as the end-user (few members of the general public would likely take the time to wade through them). They are often drafted by a government task force or a university and include little-to-no input from the general public. They lack Transition’s spirit of celebration. These style EDAPs can help people make concrete plans for the years ahead. They provide functional documents which could be helpful to city planning departments. City of San Buenaventura is our favorite example of this type of EDAP. (Authors Note: The U.S. cities have not characterized their plans as EDAPs. San Buenaventura’s plan is entitled Transforming Urban Environments for a Post-Peak Oil Future).[10]

We realized that one of our first decisions would have to be which style of EDAP we intended to produce. Which did L.A. need more? Our discussion circle felt that a vision plan for the whole city would probably be very helpful because it would help enroll far more people in the ideas. The business-style plan would probably have to be done neighborhood by neighborhood, pulling in area-wide data for some sectors.”

It is surprising to see this level of uncertainty five years after the Kinsale plan was completed. The EDAP is core to Transition – it is the culmination of the preceding eleven steps. The whole process may cover a three to four year period, as noted in Colussi’s paper. Possibly the final document of the 12 step process should be called an EDV (Energy Descent Vision) or an EDI (Energy Descent Invitation). If so, what is Transition’s plan for an EDAP? Or will Transition limit itself to visioning? To lack a clear distinction between a vision and a plan is a matter for concern. This lack of clarity could very well limit the growth of Transition in the U.S. and may be doing so now.

It is important to understand that most U.S. municipalities have comprehensive plans – in many places they are required by law. These plans may not include a “spirit of celebration” or be “user-friendly, cheery, welcoming, charming” but they are core to managing U.S. towns and cities. In my town we recently completed a three year visioning effort which will be the basis for an update to our comprehensive plan. Admittedly most of these municipal plans are not currently sensitive to Peak Oil and Climate Change, but this is slowly changing. (In my town the question of energy and Climate Change was addressed as a part of the vision.) Possibly the energy and climate crises will require a whole new approach. If so vision and plan may need redefining completely.

The big question in light of the comments of Rob Hopkins himself and reviewers is if the EDAP, as defined by Transition, is going to be successful. As a story and a vision – but not a plan – will it be able to guide a community? Will a “colorful, playful, cheery, charming” document suffice as the pressures of Peak Oil and Climate Change increase? Rob Hopkins summarizes the EDAP essence in the Transition Handbook.[11]

“If your mental picture of the final EDAP is community planning documents you have seen before, think again. Your EDAP should feel more like a holiday brochure, presenting a localized, low-energy world in such an enticing way that anyone reading it will feel their life utterly bereft if they don’t dedicate the rest of their lives towards its realization.”

Does the Totnes EDAP meet this criterion? Does it feel like a holiday brochure? Is it an adequate model for the changes needed in a community? Will the “holiday brochure” somehow be developed into a practical action plan? This is still unclear. To understand the potentialities of this approach requires going deeper into the philosophy of the EDAP process and the underlying assumptions. Being clear on “resilience” may be the first step, which will be discussed in another post.

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