Transition Milwaukee

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Transition Milwaukee is an organization based in, and working throughout, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 2009 by Nicole Bickham and Tom Brandsetter, with the continual help of Erik Lindberg, Sarah Moore, Jessica Cohodes, Gretchen Mead, and Claire Moore, this organization follows the ideas of the recent Transition Movement. This movement, created by Rob Hopkins in his book The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience in 2008, explains the need to plan and prepare for a less oil-dependent future as climate change and a lack of oil will drastically change how we live our future lives[1]. This movement was paralleled in Milwaukee by the group Transition Milwaukee and emphasizes sustainability within multiple areas at the local level within multiple communities of Milwaukee.

History of the Transition Movement

As the realization that the current global consumption rates, for everything from residential and industrial usage to human and product transportation, of natural oil resources around the globe is ever increasing, the concept of an oil peak came into view. The current era is one full of cheap oil, or oil that is affordable for everyone. As this natural resources takes millions of years to become formed, the rates of consumption of the current global society are much higher than the rates of replenishment for oil. In fact, our global society is about 20 years too late in order to switch over to renewable energy in an easy/smooth way.[2] These thoughts all came together for Rob Hopkins in March of 2008. Through intro and outrospection of himself and the world around him, Hopkins shared his ideas and conclusions about this oil peak issue in his book The Transition Movement: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience.

The Transition Movement is one that focuses on releasing the oil dependency of ourselves and our society and moving towards resilience of our local communities. Resilience is the concept that a thing, group, or process, such as an individual or an entire economy, has the potential to manage its operations in a time of change from an external force. This idea of resilience plants the seed for designing a way for a community to come down from the peak of oil that still allows a community to function and not only survive, but thrive. This movement isn't simple, such as just cutting carbon emissions in order to reduce the cause of what will become the climate crisis or plugging into a new clean, renewable energy source, but about a new look on what our future may be like and a proactive way to look at and live life with it. The main goals of this Transition Movement are to build up local food production, build up local energy production, and reevaluate waste and how we manage it. This Transition Movement idea has spread all over the globe, resonating in large cities and being implemented in many local communities [3].

Overview of Transition Milwaukee

Transition Milwaukee is one of the cities across the globe that the Transition Movement has been started in. Starting as just a community meeting of 40 people to talk about the possibilities of what the future holds and what means of sustainability the city can do to prepare for that, Transition Milwaukee has turned into a cross-community network of people all over the city working towards that same Transition Movement goals.

Re-Localization of Agriculture

Food production contributes to resource depletion and climate change in two major ways. One, it takes a lot of resources such as land and water in order to mass produce crops. Two, it takes a lot of fossil fuel energy in order to transport this food across the country or across the world. Bringing agriculture and food production back to a local scale would significantly diminish the amounts of resources and fossil fuels used, and therefore diminish the environmental effect that the food that community is eating makes. Transition Milwaukee works to do this through programs such as community gardens, aquaculture systems, or in a community member's own backyard [4]. Sharing of an abundance of food is also promoted in order to structure the society under non-competitive markets and regeneration. All of these things would help the communities transition away from the current dependency on oil [5].

Less Energy and More Local Energy

In order to prepare for and confront a future with less access to oil, Transition Milwaukee promotes the use of less energy powered by oil and the use of, and production of, more energy from a local source using sources such as generation from pedaling a bike or solar panels.

Re-Skilling Ourselves

Erik Lindberg stated that "...the educational system, today, focuses almost exclusively on training our young to make money rather than make or do things. Transition Milwaukee recognizes that community members have lost skills and knowledge that were common at one time, such as preparing food for preservation or basic home building/upkeep skills." The act of re-skilling is a process to regain these skills and knowledge and share this with others in the community. Doing so would allow community members to meet their own needs, and the needs of their neighbors, locally [6].

Transition Milwaukee Initiatives

The Victory Garden Initiative

The concept of a Victory garden started during WWI and WWII. By having a citizen grow food on their own property, the citizens were able to produce food for themselves, allowing for additional resources to be given to the troops. The Victory Garden Initiative of Transition Milwaukee follows this same idea; this war being the war on having safe ecosystems and food security, however. This group believes that all spaces within a community should be considered for a garden, whether that be a yard, a rooftop, or a patio [7]. Their vision is to connect households and people all across Milwaukee with their own sustainable food system. Through educational programs and community activities, The Victory Garden Initiative works to form an abundant and sustainable ecosystem through the reintroduction of food growing [within] our urban ecology [8]. Their largest community program is the Urban Garden, a once empty lot transformed into a 1.5 acre farm right in the middle of an urban neighborhood [9]. In 2014, the Victory Garden Initiative spread to Green Bay in the form of the Green Bay Garden Blitz.

Power Down Week

This annual Transition Milwaukee event is a fun week to challenge yourself and your neighbors to use less energy in many aspects of one's life all while learning about different ways to do so. There are no specific rules for how one should "Power Down" for the week. It is all up to the participatns to challenge themselves to use as little energy as they think they can or that they want to. Workshops, programs, and other events are scheduled all week throughout the community in order to teach community members about off-grid energy production, skills such as beer , soap, or yarn making, gardening or low energy cooking. This event is held in order to show community members and beyond how to live a life with less energy as this may be our future [10].


  1. Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (Cambridge, England: . PDF.T Cambridge, 2014).
  2. Brevvaxling, Royal. "Transition Milwaukee: 'We're All in This Together.'" On Milwaukee. Last modified May 30, 2012. articles/transitionmilwaukee.html?viewall=1.
  3. Hopkins, Rob. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. Cambridge, England: UIT Cambridge, 2014. PDF.
  4. Gray, Daniel. "Transition Milwaukee." Bay View Compass. Last modified March 1, 2010.
  5. Brevvaxling, Royal. "Transition Milwaukee: 'We're All in This Together.'" On Milwaukee. Last modified May 30, 2012.
  6. Gray, Daniel. "Transition Milwaukee." Bay View Compass. Last modified March 1, 2010.
  7. Victory Garden Initiative. "Why Victory Gardens?" Victory Garden Initiative. Last modified 2017.
  8. "Our Vision." Victory Garden Initiative. Last modified 2017.
  9. The Victory Garden Initiative. "The Farm." Victory Garden Initiative. Last modified 2017.
  10. Snyder, Molly. "How Low Can You Go: Milwaukeeans Plan to 'Power Down.'" On Milwaukee. Last modified June 19, 2010.

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