The Community Verses the Container Debate

by Doctress Neutopia

May 5, 2001



Is Arcosanti a community, a construction site, or both? For the past 30 years of Arcosanti's existence, architect Paolo Soleri has insisted that Arcosanti is not a community, but a construction site. Because of his stand, building a stable community at Arcosanti has been very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. His hope of building a community of 7,000 people is not even near completion with only a population of perhaps 60 residents currently live on site. He says that the reason for this is because of a lack of funds necessary to complete his blueprints. For decades he has been searching for the rich philanthropist who will see the genius in his design and finance the blueprints with no strings attached.

After the "container" is complete, then he says the real residents can inhabit the project. He considers the people who work at the site now constructions workers or site maintenance people, cooks or workshoppers, but not the real citizens of his new prototype arcology. After the container is complete, then the real residents of Arcosanti can move in and become the proper citizens of the project who will then decide a form of governance structure they wish to live under.

There could be several reasons why Soleri has chosen to divide community development from the "container." The most obvious one is control. To acknowledge community and the need for community development could threaten his power base. If decisions about the future of the project were given over to a community council in order to reach decisions using consensus or a democratic process, then his vision for the project might change. Perhaps he fears his original vision could be lost if it became a community focused project.

Another reason why he puts off the community development until after the "container" is built is because he wants to attract a different group of people than the construction worker, pot smoker workshopper type. The kind of individual Arcosanti has attracted into the workshop program has been a lot of "hippie" types, creative people who have a longing to live an alternative lifestyle. But the kind of people Soleri wants to attract into the final project is more mainstream people who can bring money and prestige into the project. Hippie, artist types tend to be more poverty stricken since generally they are seekers who embody a more spiritual, non-materialistic value system. Artists also tend to be social revolutionaries who are in rebellion against the social injustices of mainstream society and the America Dream lifestyle of the middle class. But Soleri makes a point in his writings that arcology is not revolutionary architecture, but an evolutionary container. Does he think that evolution can happen without an ecological revolution in consciousness bringing about social justice?

How many people does it take to constitute a community? More than 60, perhaps 200 or not until there is room to house the total population of 7,000? Over the decades Soleri has tried many schemes to attract a generous billionaire who wants to live immortally by supporting his vision. But so far that has not happened. He gives little recognition to the people who are willing to live at Arcosanti, experiment with leanness, and work for the construction site. He offers them no long-term rewards for their devotion.

Over its three decades history, Arcosanti has been built through grassroots labor by idealistic workshoppers who also had a vision of building a better world. Could it be that Soleri has been looking in the wrong places for resources, that is, on top of the social hierarchy when he should have been looking around him at the inner resources of the people who are actually sweating both physically and mentally for the idea? Should he be acknowledging other intellectuals who are moving the idea forward even though they might be mutating some of his original ideas as theory becomes practice? Shouldn't he be honoring the people most committed to building the community who are in fact supporting the construction site? At what point will they have to leave their homes so that the real residents can move in?

For me building Arcosanti is a spiritual calling. Working together with nature to build a sustainable model of development is a spiritual quest. People are called to Arcosanti to give their intrinsic gifts to the project. But unless the founders of the project recognize their gifts and stop courting the rich, then their resources go untapped and wasted. The artificial divide between community and construction site, the divide and conquer attitude will continue to stop the flow of positive ideas into the project. Perhaps seeing Arcosanti as both an intentional community and a construction site to shelter a growing population who want to put an end to urban sprawl by living in a radically collective way could revival the spirit at Arcosanti.

Isn't the human spirit the real force necessary to build a truly sustainable ecocity and grow the food necessary to feed a freedom loving people who want to live in a prototype arcology? Until then, divide and conquer rule will keep Arcosanti workers in their powerless place waiting for the day when the Board of Trustees tell them it is time for them to move out of Arcosanti because the real citizens of Arcosanti are moving in. What happens if they refused to leave their homes? Eviction notices, police arrests, trespass orders are administered because the real citizens of good breeding and education have the law on their side!

The Board of Trustees inform the Arcosanti workers, "The town of Mayer, Arizona is not far away. They can keep their jobs and commute into Arcosanti for work at minimum wage. Since their former apartments are not their property and they have no legal rights to be there, their jobs will be retained as long as they move out of Arcosanti. Arcosanti will always need a servant class to maintain the prototype arcology for the real citizens.

This is a vision of evolutionary architecture without social justice. How do you like the vision? How really evolutionary is it?


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