The overnight train journey from Milan (after a short train ride to Milan from Bologna) was fun since there were two women sharing the very small cabin who spoke Spanish. Although I slowed the conversation down a bit at times, they were very patient and we had a lot of laughs. I had hoped for a reclining seat on the train, but when I made the reservation, I could only have a sleeper for four. The two women had so much luggage that one more person couldn’t have fit into the compartment.
There was a certain level of comfort entering a country where I could easily ask directions and understand a fair amount of conversations occurring around me. Leaving the Barcelona train station and making my way to the metro station required a few questions and it just came so easily. Though I was to find out that the proud people of Barcelona really speak Catalan, a mixture of Spanish and French, and though my simple Spanish was understood by them, if a person spoke quickly and at great length, there were many words and phrases I just couldn’t get. Oh well, life will continue to be full of language tension for another week and a half until I reach Ireland since I’ll soon be going to a Transition conference in France and don’t speak French.
Since my last blog entry, many things have happened at the “Real Democracy Now” demonstration in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona. On Friday I ended up staying away from the plaza because the police had moved in and were forcing people out. They used batons and rubber bullets on un-armed and peaceful people whose hands were raised in the air to inform the police that they were not a threat. Many people were injured, but it was incredible seeing the news clips where the demonstrators, though being pushed to incredible limits, remained peaceful. I emailed Daniel on Saturday to find out what was happening and he said he was okay and that the people are back on the plaza. I’m impressed with their perseverence. There is a great deal of pride in the current Spanish revolution among the people I’ve met. They believe it is a movement to change the world.
Barcelona is a city of more than 1 1/2 million people. There are 80,000 empty apartments in the city and a number of building with squatters in them. The public transportation system, including metro and buses is extensive and well used. There is an incredible bike-sharing system with thousands of bicycles at hundreds of stations all over the city. One pays about 30 euros a year (approximately $45) for a card that is used to unlock a bike and it can then be used one-way to your destination, inserted in an empty spot, and then another one can be picked up when needed to return. There’s no reserving them because there are plenty. I learned that it has worked so well and is so inexpensive that the transportation authority feels it is competing with the city system, and they are looking for a new, combined public transportation and bike card that will obligate people pay a higher rate.
My Barcelona host, Stefan Blasel, a Transition Barcelona member and a resident of Barcelona for ten years, was originally from Germany, and spoke English very well, to my delight. He has a terrific apartment in which many couch surfers and other assorted folks stay, paying what they wish for the accommodations. He also has a bicycle card and said that he rarely uses the metro or buses because the bicycle system is so convenient. He gave me my first description of the incredible Transition Barcelona initiative.
It all began with a presentation on local currency in November 2008, after which several people met and finally formally formed the group in April 2009. There are about 15 people in the core team which meets every Wednesday for 2 to 3 hours! They have about 250 people on their email list. You can learn more at http://barcelonaentransicio.wordpress.com. Transition Barcelona is a “hub” group, with the goal that each neighborhood would have transition groups. One is now on its way, started with a street fair. Their other successes include:
A Transition training course
A special transition course held over many weeks, given at a local environmental center. It was fully booked so after its announcement.
“Las Caminatas,” walks in the barios (neighborhoods), to point out where positive things are happening like local environmental projects, local foods being sold, community gardens–in other words, places of resilience–and to help connect these efforts and introduce Transition Barcelona.
An alternative economy based on four things: 1. food cooperatives; 2. a local exchange & trading system; 3. local money (the “eco”) which is virtual, run by a software developed in South Africa; and 4. A work cooperative for self employment.
Invited by Barcelona Agenda 21 to organize a video conference about Transition Towns–so they are becoming quite visible.
A Transition in Art exhibit of a local artist’s collages reflecting the work of Transition Barcelona
Creation of urban gardens
Recently Transition Barcelona was featured on a national TV talk show
For this blog entry I interviewed Stefan, Daniel Turon, and Antonio Scotti about their Transition work and visions. I have to say that I continue to be impressed by the hard work of those involved and so appreciate the diversity of their visions!
Stefan became aware of environmental issues when studying environmental engineering in Germany, but lost touch with the movement when he moved to Barcelona until the talk about local currencies in 2008 where he met others of like-mind. He was drawn by the positive approach of the Transition movement instead of always talking about worst-case scenarios. Daniel was studying yoga meditation. Through experiences in social movements, he grew into wanting to unite spirituality and those movements. (He added a “harmony and inner revolution” booth to the Real Democracy Now demonstration in the Barcelona plaza.) He was 16 years old when he first read about climate change and began to look at the world differently. He opened himself up to his “inner mystery” and then saw he had to work on climate change and other social issues. Antonio’s involvement with Transition Towns came quite naturally since he is a permaculture designer and trainer, and he’s had contact with all these issues for a long time. He said that he had not gone through an “End of Suburbia” moment since he understood it already through is permaculture work, and knew the hard work that needed to be done. Rob Hopkins describes what this moment is in the Transition Handbook:
How might one best manage the feelings of overwhelm, devastation and defeat that can accompany your ‘End of suburbia moment.’ the point when your really ‘get’ peak oil and its implications? The first point is to realize that feeling like this is natural, indeed it is far more natural than feeling nothing or blanking it out.
Antonio’s vision for future Barcelona includes a town without private cars, with a much higher level of street life. He envisions more food production anywhere it can be done and that those spaces also become social spaces. He sees a lot of green corridors that connect the sea side with the hills. A lot of electrical energy would be produced throughout the city. People would be working close to their homes and only for four days a week. Education would be different, based more on the land and more connections with nature, being centered more on needs than producing good workers for our never-ending growth society. Water would be collected on site rather than coming from far away places. The local administration would be fully integrated and maintaining sustainability as a focus with laws that support that effort. Transition groups will no longer be necessary.
Daniel wants Barcelona to show the world how cooperative politics in a real democracy can work. He wants Barcelona to be a place where corporations don’t rule. He sees that the Transition, anti-growth, and lowering consumption movements are all currently working for better transportation, more urban gardens, and more cooperation, and he wants those movements to succeed. Stefan’s Barcelona vision includes increasing local food production, understanding that due to the dense population, it would be impossible to achieve 100% local food production. He envisions much more “noise” from birds instead of technical devices. He’d like to reduce the use of autos for those who commute into the city, which is where Barcelona’s car problem is centered. He also would like to see the reduction of our individualism and a much more neighbor-friendly city where young and old will talk and energize each other, where, for example, the older generation will be respected for their wisdom and the younger generation respected for their energy and technical knowledge.
Stefan sees that global issues will become less important in the future and there will be a stronger emphasis on local issues. Daniel’s global vision begins with inner change and where real happiness occurs because of shared work and real friendships.
Antonio talked about a global vision where people would not travel much for leisure, unless in sailing ships or some form of environmentally-friendly travel device. There would be much less intercontinental travel, but technology will help us stay connected through such things as email, skype, or social networks. He hopes we reduce the number of technological gadgets we are using (which would reduce the waste) and have a device that lasts for a long time and is multi-purpose. He hopes for a cradle to cradle world where we close all the materials cycles and a have wonderfully green world.