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Sandpoint Magazine Summer 2005

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Keynote speaker Michael Brownlee, director of the Transition effort in Boulder, Colo., and a representative of Transition U.S., gives a PowerPoint presentation at "The Great Unleashing." (Photo by Marsha Lutz)

Sandpoint Transition Initiative aims to create sustainable, resilient and vibrant community
In June 2008 Sandpoint became the second city in the United States to be recognized as a Transition Town. And its future looks promisingly green.

By Scott Daily

We live in a volatile world. Fuel costs, collapsing economies, corporate abuses, and climate change affect us all and serve as constant reminders that our modus operandi as a consumer society is due for some major tweaking.

Sandpoint has seen its share of community sustainability micro-movements over the past decade. Many of these micro-movements have lingered and have been nurtured by individuals dedicated to the notion of living simply and consciously – of building a green local economy, where residents support one another, where ideas can be cultivated and tested, and where our livings are not made by contributing to the degradation of the world around us.

There was the magazine, Full Circle, published in the mid-1990s followed by the Public Forum on Sustainability and the Sandpoint EcoCenter. Various other projects and micro-movements have come and gone, while others flourished and took on new form.

But all of these have played a role in shaping the broader sustainability movement that runs as an undercurrent within the community. Many of the players are now contributing to a unified movement more dynamic than anything seen in the past.

The Great Unleashing

On Nov. 14, 2008, the Sandpoint Transition Initiative (STI) was officially introduced to Sandpoint with an overflow attendance at the Panida Theater. Many were turned away as its 500-plus seats were filled. The result of hundreds, even thousands of combined hours of community organizing before and after the event has resulted in a lot of attention here at home, as well as nationally. The New York Times was one of the most recent mainstream outlets to do a story on Sandpoint, but this time the focus was on its sustainable community movement rather than on Sandpoint being a great place to vacation, retire or invest in real estate.

The Great Unleashing, as it is called, was the result of nine months of organizing by a handful of residents led by Sandpoint's Richard and Berta Kuhnel and Karen Lanphear, of Hope. Since February of that year they organized meetings, held discussions, and showed an array of films focused on topics such as community food systems, peak oil and alternative energy, all of which shared a common thread central to the Transition Movement: Rebuilding community resilience.

They used the Transition Handbook (available at Common Knowledge Bookstore) as a blueprint on how to replicate the efforts of early Transition Towns established in other countries. But even with the handbook, organizers know that it is an emerging and evolving movement, constantly revising and refining itself, testing new boundaries and ideas.

"STI is evolving and it requires cooperation and trust, and, in the end, those human elements are going to make all the difference between future success and just repeating the past," says Lanphear. "It is built around the idea of common good and creating a shared future that honors the past & while asking us all to find new ways of looking at ourselves and our potential as a community."

But success is not assured or even likely simply because there is an inspirational movement, even one with such a powerful jumpstart. The strong international network of individuals and organizations helps toward increasing the chances of success, as do the blueprints and case histories that STI can use as reference points along the journey.

With the success of the unleashing and resulting working groups, the Sandpoint project is off to a promising start. The 115 people that showed up the day after the unleashing, and the 11 working groups they formed to address resiliency issues are testament to the momentum and potential behind the movement here.

Synergy of the perfect storm, a final component

Sandpoint's history of incremental movement toward a more sustainable community has helped STI to emerge as a unifying force to install buffers that can ease the shock of the volatile world outside of our region. Indeed, this very volatility serves as a constant reminder that the time for change, whether voluntary or otherwise, is upon us.

Add to the grassroots foundation several other significant municipal elements, and what we have before us seems to be the recipe for a perfect storm that could propel Sandpoint toward a greener, more resilient future.

A major component is support from local leaders. In addition to the Sandpoint City Council being open to new ways of thinking and doing business as demonstrated in recent work on the city's Comprehensive Plan, the city also has a progressive mayor with a long history of community work in sustainability and social consciousness.

Mayor Gretchen Hellar says that it is the collaborative model of STI that allows the doorways of ideas to be considered and implemented. Without involvement from the residents, city government would be hard pressed to do much beyond its most basic function of planning and zoning, parks and recreation, and providing public safety.

In Hellar's eyes, STI and its participants open the doors of possibility. "They are to me, and the city staff, and city council a wonderful resource."

Director of Sandpoint Parks and Recreation, Kim Woodruff, agrees. A supporter of a new community garden project in the field near Dub's Drive-in, Woodruff says: "It's been an exciting group effort. There is something actually happening beyond the talk phase."

Although Woodruff calls himself a cog in the wheel of the city's decision makers, he is a man of action who has proven in the past that he appreciates out-of-the-box thinkers, but equally he likes the doers.

"If projects are well thought-out," he says, "and if they move slowly, and each project proves itself effective and beneficial to the city and our residents, the decision makers will embrace future ideas."

The Transition Model

At its core, the Transition Model, upon which STI is based, is a response to the twin issues of climate change and peak oil. The Transition Network is an international organization set up to assist communities throughout the world in addressing these global issues at home. It uses the models of the first transition towns in Kinsale, Ireland and Totnes, United Kingdom, to build networks, share ideas and information, and provide a blueprint for similar efforts across the globe. Each initiative helps to transform and refine the model for the next new Transition Town.

For many, personally addressing the issues of climate change and peak oil seems beyond their grasp. Yet Transition Model proves a person does not have to be versed in big issues to be effective on the local level. One working group, for example, is researching a lawns-to-gardens program, an effort that can have a major impact on providing local food to local residents, while also reducing lawn-related pollutant runoff that ends up in the lake.

STI incorporates all aspects of community vitality, resilience and abundance. Working groups have formed that address myriad elements of community, such as health, economy and food. The STI core group simply asks: What are your skills and your passion? Will you contribute?

Whether a person's interest or expertise is in supporting community art, education, natural resource or transportation projects, or more specifically creating a local currency, biofuels or other initiative, the message is relatively simple: If you have talent and expertise that support ideas to make Sandpoint a more sustainable place to live, come share what you have to offer.

Learn more at and

-Working toward a better Sandpoint-
More sustainability groups

Summer 2009

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