Making Change in How We Live, Where We Live, in Light of Climate Change

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Transition Town Tooting – a history in maps

This piece was produced as a response to Rob Hopkins call for examples of Transition Towns using meaningful maps.  It seemed a good moment to post it here as a taster for next Tuesday's Open Event  where we will create ‘mini walking maps’ that may develop into official Tooting Walking Maps. See more info here.

Tooting is an amorphous area stretching between and beyond two tube stations – Tooting Bec and Tooting Broadway.  The road that runs between the two – the A24 – was originally a Roman road and is now a major arterial road leading from central London out towards the suburbs.  At one point its position as a tram interchange made it a centre for cinema – we once had 5 cinemas and now have none!  It carries 10 million cars a year in addition to several busy bus routes.  One of our earliest TTT blog posts shows a map and satellite image of the area.

Transition Town Tooting (TTT) has developed a ‘tradition’ (if you can have one in such a short history!) of using maps as a focus for activity.  This stems from the fact that, though there are ...numerous indoor and outdoor spaces used by local groups for social, education, faith, sports and other activities, there is no generally recognised physical hub available to the whole community.  Tooting has numerous halls but no Town Hall, two indoor markets but no Market Square, much green space but little centrally that is openly accessible.  Unsurprisingly the absence of shared public space is an issue which comes up regularly in our open discussions.   In the absence of an obvious ‘public' space to gather, TTT has developed a peripatetic approach to several of its key activities, using maps as focus, publicity and guide.

The first of these – the first Tooting Earth Talk Walk – visited seven places of faith and worship and each stop on the walk a faith leader spoke followed by a representative of Transition Town Tooting.  Much common ground emerged between Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu teachings about man’s responsibility to care for the earth and its bounty.  The Transition Town representatives gave personal perspectives about their involvement in the movement and their hopes and fears for the future of the earth.   Sue Rentoul’s beautifully drawn map – served both as a notice of the event and a guide on the day.

Following this theme our second Foodival event involved the collection of locally grown produce which was distributed to and cooked up by seven local restaurants.  A growing number of local people followed this map as the fold-up ‘table of plenty’ used to served the food Pied Pipered its way the high street.  

We’ve also used maps as a focus of discussion at several open events.  In March 2009 TTT joined in BATCA’s (the Balham and Tooting Community Association) Open Forum on the theme ‘Let’s make Tooting Better’.  The event included a workshop facilitated by Paul Squires of the New Economics Foundation which focused on key themes for wellbeing emerging from NEF research – ‘ connect’, ‘be active’, ‘ take notice’, ‘keep learning’, ‘give’.   A large map on the floor formed the focus for people’s ideas more people friendly streets; more greenery and trees and (not surprisingly) lots of suggestions for shared community spaces.... 

In 2009/10 maps of Tooting took over our lives.   On 29th June 2009 the TippingPoint Commission selected from 178 applications nationally the Trashcatchers' Carnival in Tooting as one of 4 projects to be funded in 2010. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, presented £20,000 to Project Phakama and Emergency Exit Arts to lead a year long project in Tooting alongside Transition Town Tooting to use art, carnival, celebration and the collective ingenuity of all the community to create a large scale promenade on 4th July 2010.  Using recycling as a metaphor its aim was to build a vision of a low-energy future for Tooting and have a lot of fun in the process.

The long and tortuous process involved in seeking permission to peacefully process the carnival through the heart of Tooting’s community needs a chapter of its own.  Suffice it to say many many hours were spent, both within TTT and in official organisations and agencies, poring over maps considering possible routes.  Both access to public roads, and the Carnival’s final destination – a piece of public land used as a playing field – were problematic.  Discussions which began in September 2009 continued until literally the 11th hour on 2nd July 2010 when access to a partially closed high street was eventually confirmed by the local police.

To cut a long story short – what started with our imaginations and a map (see this poster for the event) finally came alive on the day as over 800 Tooting carnivalistas found themselves in a brief but amazing shared space in the heart of their community.  

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