Transition movement strives to reduce energy use, bring neighbors together

On a recent warm evening, nearly 30 people gathered in the parlor of the 1870 farmhouse at Ecovillage Charlottesville off East Rio Road. Squeezed on velvet sofas and with some sitting on the floor, the welcoming group gathered to launch a movement new to the area — Transition Streets.

Transition Streets, which grew out of the Transition Towns movement that started in the United Kingdom in 2005, is a program that brings neighbors together to implement simple household changes that save money, preserve energy and build community.

“Transition Streets has been a dream of environmentalists for many, many years,” said Joanie Freeman, a founder of both Transition Charlottesville Albemarle and of Ecovillage Charlottesville. “Transition Streets goes deep. It goes into each of you developing a relationship with your neighbors and building the resiliency that we need.”

Earlier this year, Charlottesville was chosen as one of 13 sites across the nation to implement a Transition Streets pilot program. Participants of the pilot, which ran during the spring, were present at the recent gathering to share their experiences and answer questions.

“We started meeting together about every two weeks with seven households,” said Logan Blanco, a resident of Charlottesville’s North Downtown neighborhood. “We just started talking. The handbook gave us ideas of what to talk about and provided us with facts. But more than that, we started asking each other questions.”

Topics covered in the handbook range from types of rain collection systems to when to replace old appliances, and prompted larger discussions for the neighbors in the pilot.

“It brought up some big questions like traveling internationally and the carbon footprint of those decisions,” said Wendy Roberman.

Most importantly to the participants in the pilot program, Transition Streets helped them grow friendships with their neighbors. The group says they continue to meet on a regular basis informally.

“The discussions prompted by Transition Streets allowed us to talk about important things in our lives, supporting each other to make positive changes, and brought us closer together,” Roberman said.

Also present at the launch party was Susan Elliott, the city’s climate protection program coordinator. She shared information about Energize Charlottesville and the community effort to win the Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition.

Charlottesville is one of 50 semifinalists competing for a grand prize of $5 million awarded to the community that can most reduce its use of residential and commercial energy.

“The money must go to rewarding the community as a whole and for furthering the community’s energy saving efforts,” Elliott said.

Transition Streets participants said they expect that their work to reduce waste and energy use in each of their own households also will help the city reach its goal.

For those interested in learning more and getting a Transition Streets group started in their neighborhood, organizers will provide resources for starting the conversation with neighbors and will offer support. A visit to their website, , is recommended as a good place to start.

Leaders of the Transition group left those at the gathering with a reminder of the heart of the program.

“If your neighborhood is more of a meat-and-potatoes place, don’t be scared away,” said organizer Dana Tornabene. “It’s not supposed to be political. The essence of the program is to get to know our neighbors, save some money and live a little lighter on the planet. We don’t have to get into the why. It’s about gaining some new positive habits and just getting together.”