Many thanks goes to Bruce Bender for engaging me conversations that help me formulate this essay.
After ten years studying the work of architect Paolo Soleri, I realized that his idea of arcology (architecture and ecology) had deeply affected my life to the point where I saw very little hope for the survival of the human race without his evolutionary urban design becoming a social reality. So, I packed my bags and moved to Arcosanti to see how I could help further the cause. After being here for 6 months, I feel that I have gained insight into the project and know some of the struggles facing the future of Arcosanti.
My essay will analyze daily life at Arcosanti. I will explore ideas as to what needs to change in order for Arcosanti to become the thriving "Urban Effect" that its founder, Paolo Soleri, has been envisioning for the past 30 years. During my slide show, I will show and tell the daily rhythms of the site. Some of the more difficult questions that the project faces will also be raised. One such problem is, how will Arcosanti, which is being slowly encroached upon by the urban sprawl of Phoenix, be able to adhere with Paolo's four basic principles of Arcosanti. These include stipulations that Arcosanti remain a laboratory for urban structures, is based on equity, creates a lean society and is an alternative to the present economic system. Trying to create an alternative culture to suburban sprawl while being surrounded by it, is extremely challenging. How can Arcosanti become a prototype of a new way of life and what is that way of life? Does living in Arcology require a new Man and Woman, that is, a new state of mind between the sexes in order to live at peace with Nature?
I will then look at the Virtual Arcosanti Model and the role Cyberspace plays in proving a simulation of a new way of life. What role does virtual reality play in helping build Arcosanti? I will finally discuss the Paradox Project in forming a new Arcosanti vision.
Twenty years ago I was enchanted by the cover image of a book by Ian Todd and Michael Wheeler, entitled Utopia. The book examines the history of utopian thought in Western civilization using "architectural blueprints, the social experiments, and the literary tracts against the background of the times that produce them." On the cover is architect Paolo Soleri's Hexahedron Arcology. I was so inspired by the image that I cut out the Arcology, a word coined by Soleri combining the words architecture and ecology, and pasted it on a map of my hometown, Greensboro, North Carolina. I recalled the famous quote by Oscar Wilde, "a map of the world that does not include utopia is not even worth glancing at."
Until I pasted the Hexahedron onto the map, the map of my hometown represented to me the unsustainable American city, a lifestyle of physical isolation and social alienation, an unhappy world where the human imagination has been crushed by the urban sprawl and the automobile. Underneath the arcology are pasted the words, "Are We Closer to the Dream?" and "Total Revolution." I so was affected by Soleri's image of an evolutionary city that I was inspired to develop my own vision of an ecocity based on the principles outlined in the arcology. The ecocity that I visualized worked far more efficiently and sustainably than the traditional modern American city which uses fossil fuel and nuclear energies and technologies. The collage was the first real work of art that I created in this lifetime. Soleri's city had changed my life by helping me discover more of my true self.
Another collage was created in a similar vein. I pasted the skyline of Manhattan on a red stop sign. On the other side of the stop sign, I painted it black and pasted a blueprint of an arcology from Soleri's epic book, City in the Image of Man. Beside the blueprint were printed the words in white, START. For a few years the collage was exhibited beside my bed. Every night before going to sleep I imagined myself living in arcology. I asked myself, "what role would I play in an arcology? What would my activities and responsibilities be like in an arcology? How different would human love relationships be living in an arcology and how would children be raised? I felt that somehow I would be involved with the governance structure helping to evolve the social architecture within an arcology.
Years later when I was working towards a doctorate in Future Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I took an art history course entitled, "Contemporary Art". The professor required us to choose one contemporary artist and do a research paper on her or him. I knew that as a student of utopian thought, I wanted to do an architect. But I wanted to find an architect who was trying to change the world through a new urban design that took into account ecological concerns. While trying to decide what artists to choose, I happened upon an art show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden entitled, "Dreams and Nightmares: Utopian Visions in Modern Art." In the exhibit were several images of Arcosanti, Soleri's prototype arcology that is being built in central Arizona. The description of Soleri's work in the exhibition catalogue reads,
Rejecting the earlier ideal of the megalopolis surrounded by suburbs as wasteful and contrary to human needs, but recognizing the cultural need for cities, Soleri proposes instead greater density and concentration, leaving the countryside free. Each arcology would consist of multilevel complexes, primarily geometric megastructures that would house populations comparable to those now living in modern cities. Through miniaturization and thoughtful use of technology, large communities could become much more compact, occupying only a few square miles of land. This concentration within one complex would eliminate all vehicular traffic and keep urbanites in immediate proximity to open countryside. The individual arcologies would be linked together in a web, eventually circumscribing the earth.
After viewing the exhibit, I knew that Soleri was the artist I needed to research. The research resulted in my essay "Arcology of Love: The World of Paolo Soleri"
Graduating from the university, I created a Usenet Newsgroup in Cyberspace to discuss the need for arcology. It was very obvious to me that arcology was a meme. A meme is a concept invented by neo-Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene. Memes are ideas that work on the cultural level the way genes work on the biological level, except that memes mutate much quicker than genes. Years ago when I first saw Soleri's Hexahedron Arcology I was affected by a meme. I could see that arcology and other megastructural designs such as Bucky Fuller's geodesic dome and the Biosphere 2 experiment in Oracle, Arizona were creating a different archetype in architecture, one fundamentally different than the linear city of the sprawl such as Phoenix. These new kinds of structures acted as containers that could eventually allow us to live in hostile environments such as underwater or in Outer Space. Soleri's drawing was showing us the glimpses of an evolutionary architecture necessary not only for living in Outer Space, but to guide us to live in harmony with nature here on Planet Earth.
After completing my doctorate, my only connection with academia was through the Society for Utopian Studies, a group of international, interdisciplinary scholars who get together for an annual conference at luxurious hotels to discuss topics about utopian thought. After ten years of being a member of the organization, I was extremely frustrated with all the talk within the Ivory Tower and so little action. I was at the point that I could no longer talk about an ecological utopia. I needed the knowledge of actually living in one. I had grown more and more isolated in my daily life doing most of the research and activism online. I was participating in virtual communities with people from around the world when I had little real communication with people in my local area.
Finding myself living more in cyberspace than in real life, I realized that I was in trouble. I had become addicted to my virtual life because I found my real life boring and meaningless. I was living more in a fantasy world dreaming about utopia than trying to actually live it. All the while, the external world around me seemed to be in the verge of social and ecological chaos. Reports on climate change due to the burning of CO2, not having found a solution to nuclear wastes, hearing stories about dying coral reefs all made me feel that our species needed to face radical transformation in terms of the way we live or else we faced extinction.
I recalled the words of Soleri in his book Arcosant An Urban Laboratory? He writes: "The laboratory is by definition that with which utopia cannot coexist. Utopia is conclusive if not conclusion itself. The laboratory is this or that instance and occasion streaming along the immense tide of those events reality is itself creating. There is no pretense of finality or privilege in the project, none of the "elected" and the "chosen" syndrome. If you are after utopia, skirt Arcosanti. Nothing will satisfy you there. Planning yes, anticipation yes, optimism yes, failure yes, utopia ? What is that? (It is the habitat of nowhere).
After a night of existential crisis about the direction of my future, I went to the Arcosanti Web site. There I saw an advertisement for a new workshop called the Paradox Project. The Paradox Project is based on Soleri's ideas of six paradoxes he sees evolving from the Computer Revolution. These six paradoxes are listed in his paper, "Six Paradoxes of the Silicon/Cyberspace Revolution" which are:
1. That an ephemerization technology, the Miniaturization/Complexity computer techne, generates new wealth that in turn finances a new wave of materialism courtesy of the production/consumption engine. The savior of intellection, the noosphere, is authoring the nemesis of the biosphere.
2. That Homo Carbonis might be engaged in self-extinction via the Homo Siliconis he is inventing, a biotechnology reaching back millions of years, made fearfully tragic by the World Wide Web.
3. That an optimized communication/information technology may generate a planetary hermitage engaged in a virtual reality and a technology promoting a hyper-segregated Homeo Sapiens.
4. That a technology of learning via information can very easily turn into a technology of data inflation, constipation of information and mindless pernicious gossip causing a sclerosis of mind.
5. That a democratic technology might engender a split between the haves and have nots, a split of unprecedented cruelty.
6. That a fundamentally democratic technology, the World Wide Web, might cause a Luddite revolt against technology and its overpowering presence, a technocracy.
Soleri warns about the danger of being trapped in what he calls the "Global Hermitage". The lifestyle of the global hermit is someone who lives most of her/his life through mind to mind interaction over the Internet than by face to face communication. The hermit has no idea where her food is being grown, the nature of her electric power usage, or where her sewage is being processed. He writes in his Paradox essay, "The reason for my unease is simple: It is via the gilded log cabin habitat that the planet and everything in it is in grave danger. Ten billion wealthy hermits are nemesis not genesis. More for the world is only one billion hermits are the objects of envy from the other nine billion."
Soleri sees the "America Dream" of single-family home ownership and all the consumer goods that go along with it becoming even more isolating, the opposite of what he thinks would happen in an arcology when the "Urban Effect" starts to occur. He defines the Urban Effect as "The complexity-miniaturization-duration paradigm epitomizes interdependence, cooperation, and synergy. At a higher level it epitomizes reflection, anticipation, passion, compassion, love, grace transfiguration, mind. It is the urban effect as postulated by the "city of God," the ultimate (and therefore the only legitimate) utopia."
Reading through the Paradox literature, I realized that Soleri was describing my lifestyle. I was trapped into the "global hermitage." In order to grow I needed to be part of the Urban Effect. So I applied to take the Paradox workshop, was accepted, and made the trip to Arcosanti in hopes of finding a way of contributing my unique gifts to help build the prototype Arcology.
After flying from Providence, Rhode Island to Phoenix, Arizona, I took the Ushuttle to the Cordes Junction stop about two and a half miles from Arcosanti. At the Junction are two gas stations and a McDonalds Restaurant. Before calling someone from Arcosanti to pick me up at the Junction, I went into McDonalds and wrote down my exceptions and fears about becoming involved with the Arcosanti project.
My fear was that I would not be able to find a job that would allow me time to continue my creative research into arcology and ecofeminism. Moreover, I wondered if the work I had done on the poetics of arcology would ever receive acknowledgement. I felt that I had already made a contribution to the theory of arcology in my dissertation, Gaia: The Planetary Religion, The Sacred Marriage of Art and Science. In the dissertation, I created a narrative about the history of architecture that connects arcology to some of the earliest settlements such as Catalhoyuk in Anatolia. Archaeological ruins of these Great Goddess worshippers showed that they lived closely together in multi-use dwellings similar to the Native America pueblo towns of the American Southwest. Temples where arts and crafts where taught and produced were built in a center of dwelling clusters. Within the town complex were temples for the living as well as temples honoring death and renewal. In these prototypical towns, archaeologists speculate that since weapons of war and defense had not been uncovered, the Goddess civilization developed a culture of peace. The bull and the snake where symbols found in the dwellings that we symbolic of the Great Goddess.
Soleri states that arcology is more womb like, than phallic. Does this mean that the poetics of arcology is centered around the feminine principle as in the ancient Goddess culture than the phallic centered world of the skyscraper and nuclear missiles? How would a feminine container effect the governance and religious structures within an arcology? Would arcology support patriarchy, matriarchy or a partnership society, that is, a new heterosexual model between the sexes?
After completing the dissertation, I sent Soleri a copy, but he never responded to it. I wondered if he saw no merit in my feminist theory of arcology or maybe he had no time to read it. Whatever the reason was for him giving me no feedback, I learned to cope with my heart-felt work being ignored even though I could not help but wonder if my work had anything worthy to contribute to the theory of arcology. Unable to receive recognition for my work in architectural theory and not having the personality or resources to start my own arcological laboratory, I realized that I must abandon my own vision and work for Soleri. But what I actually longed for was for us to work together as colleagues. But unless we were able to establish a dialogue, I did not see how this could happen. And who am I but a nobody woman? How could a nobody woman be able to dialogue with a man of Soleri's stature? After all, can a woman achieve genius levels of creative awareness?
Joining the Paradox workshop, I was required to work 5 hours in construction or other job areas such as gardening and 3 hours on the computer working with one of the Paradox's jobs in Cyberspace. Since I was desperate to begin working with a group of like-minded people on a project that could affect the future of humanity, I got over my fear that I would not have time to further develop my philosophy. The reason why I moved to Arcosanti was because I felt that working as a independent theorist was moving me nowhere and that evolutionary change could only occur through the group process since it was the collective vision that was missing from my life. In my journal I wrote that even if Arcosanti fulfilled on 1% of my expectations, then the journey would be worth the effort because on the psychological level, the world of the post-modern city fulfilled none of the needs of my soul.
Inside I was bankrupt. Through my eyes, the outside world was vile and ugly. All I could see was that I was part of a massive death-wish going on against humanity as I filled my car's tank up with gas on my way to my lonely apartment in an old run down farm house in Amherst, Massachusetts. I no longer bought into the idea that the meaning of life was created through homeownership, traditional marriage, birthing two or three children and the pursuit of money. I saw this lifestyle as a slavery, not a liberation. I was unable to form sexual relationships because I saw intimate relationships eventually leading to being bonded to house, the symbol of my oppression. In The Future of Love, authoress Daphne Rose Kingma has a similar feeling. She writes,
The American vision of marriage is the vision of consumer bliss. The encouragement we have for this is the seduction that sadly claws at us from every corner, from every web site, TV, and billboard, in which we are told every which way that we will be able to indulge ourselves completely and therein we will find happiness. But all the things we seek to possess are literally, and only things-objects, credit-card bills, possessions. These things don't reach into and touch the velvet lining of our souls. They keep us hooked on the material world, enticing us to believe that it is really the stuff we can amass, and the love we feel or the level of consciousness we can attain, that is really of the utmost importance.
I had come to realize that the meaning of life is to create Arcology. Finishing writing in my journal, I called the number of the Arcosanti cafe for someone to pick me up. A Mexican architect who had been working on the project for a number of months came to pick me up at the Junction. And so, my life at Arcosanti began!
The Paradox Workshop
The first week on the Paradox Workshop we were introduced to the various departments at Arcosanti. We took tours of the ceramics foundry, the bronze foundry, the bakery and café, the garden at Camp, and finally we were invited to an open house to view the apartments of residents. During the five week Paradox workshop, workshoppers lived in the Green House Rooms, spaces akin to spartan hotel room. During the standard workshop, workshoppers live at Camp. Camp was the first living site of the workers who did the initial construction of Arcosanti. The concrete cubes built at Camp were never designed to be permanent living spaces, but since the building of Arcosanti has been so slow, Camp has become an equivalent to a suburb. Spiro Kostof describes Camp in his book, The City Shaped,
"They are called "workshoppers" people with little or no construction experience, who pay to attend five-week "seminars" or workshops mostly consisting of doing unpaid labor. One of their members describes the breed, self-importantly, as "construction worker, new age visionary, monk-builder, consciousness pioneer, evolution's own awareness of itself." They live in a base camp down in the valley, while the residents use the housing in the arcology itself. In the future, Soleri's world will be classless. "The Foundation of equity is granted." But in these imperfect beginnings tensions have already surfaced. Some workshoppers see the residents as aloof hill-top dwellers, segregated from the camp. "They seem to consider themselves upper class citizens."
If a workshopper chooses to stay on after the workshop, then s/he can either find full time paid employment in one of the departments, or either s/he can volunteer. Volunteers receive a place to live and a reduction on food at the Café. Housing is based on seniority. At Arcosanti there are several spacious communal living type apartments as well as private dwelling spaces within the multi-use East Cresent complex, where I got a place to live. No one owns or rents an apartment. The space is owned by the Foundation. Residents who are employed by the Foundation pay a co-use fee of 110 dollars a month for use of the on-site facilities.
After my workshop, I had the financial support to continue working at Arcosanti as a volunteer in the Paradox Project. But going back to Massachusetts to move out of my apartment to then drive across the country to then move into a communal apartment at Arcosanti felt like a big risk! While in Massachusetts, giving away most of my possessions, I wrote the following to the Arcosanti Alumni Egroup list:
Subject: Virtual VS the REAL
After two days of travel, I am back at my apartment in Massachusetts. In some ways it feels so good getting back to MY office, my files and books. I have my own phone line and I don't have to share my space with other people who are making noise in the Paradox room! I don't have to be bothered with resident friends coming in and asking me if they can use my computer to check their email. Now at my private office, I don't have to be confronted on a daily basis with the class division at Arcosanti between the information-haves and information- have- nots! I hope this problem will be solved as soon as we get a community computer, one that has the power to surf the Web.
The Paradox room is not ideal to be a computer lab. After all, it was not designed to be a lab! It is right next to the community room and a "community kitchen" (actually a kitchen which five people use). At times the room can be noisy so that it is difficult to concentrate! To come up with original scholarship takes hours of concentration which I have not had! Sometimes I like to stare at the screen for hours meditating on ideas before I write a word. But at Arcosanti, there is little time for that since I get up at 5:30 in the morning to pick weeds in the garden.
There are mornings pulling weeds in the garden at Camp when I look up at the Castle on the Hill and wonder if I have been here before. I have this overwhelming feeling that I have experienced former lives as a peasant! I ask myself, do I like being a peasant again in Lifetime 2000? Is this the reason why I am here again to be a peasant girl to the Philosopher-King who controls the castle? The truth is, I like doing garden work part of the day so that I get my hands in the dirt before doing the mental work at the computer. It helps me be in touch with the Earth and to deeply understand the labor needed to eat. In the past, I have spent too much time in virtual space and not enough time with real people! But I don't like it when the powers that be tell me that I can not write about the politics of Arcosanti or that it is against my job description to talk about the Green Party or working to get Arcosanti a NGO (non-governmental organization) status. I can not exist without freedom of speech and action. And I HATE having to be afraid to write what I feel because if I say something critical that the Arcosanti hierarchy might not like, then I could be fired.
Since I have been to Arcosanti, I have not been able to concentrate on two short essays that I have started! Also I have not found anyone interested in reading and proofreading my writings about the place. Maybe it will take more time for me to establish an intellectual relationship with someone at Arcosanti who will help me with my writing. Sometimes I feel that I have accomplished nothing there and have actually lost my creative self since I have to sacrifice myself for Paolo's vision. I ask: must I dump my ecofeminist neutopian vision in order to promote arcology? Or, can the two find a harmonious creative balance for the good of all? Someone in the hierarchy even said to me that it would be better if I did not use my name Doctress Neutopia when I am representing the Paradox Program. Why is it so difficult to be me in the Urban Laboratory? If this is truly an urban laboratory I should be free to develop my personality the way it needs to develop in order to be an asset to the society! Why is it so troubling to people when I don't use a Christian name?
In Amherst, I can be independent scholar, stay up late writing and surfing the Net, and do research in the library which is in walking distance. This small college town in New England offers the best the capitalist city has to offer: free plays, foreign films, dance performances, political activism, festivals in the Town Commons. I am an elected member of the Town Meeting and I have very good friends here. And there is one dear old woman who loves to read my writing. She is the only person who I know who has loved me for years because of my creative work. She sees her work in my work. Isn't this the way it should be when people are working in cooperation with Gaia, the work of one is the work of all? Plus, this time of year in Massachusetts it is so green and lush! I am tempted to follow my friends to Cape Cod and forget about moving! In Massachusetts, I don't have to worry about a tarantula crawling up my back or stepping on a rattlesnake at night or being eaten by a mountain lion while I am walking alone on the mesas.
So why am I leaving this academic bourgeois paradise to travel 3,000 to a strange place in the middle of a desert? I mean it is not like I have a lover or family at Arcosanti drawing me to the place. But at times it feels like the residents of Arcosanti have a more evolved level of communal bonding than nuclear families which is what I love about the place.
There have been some nights and days at Arcosanti where I break down and cry and cry. The sobs start out with feelings of being unloved and not appreciated by my fellowman. Then it becomes a universal cry for all the suffering of the world. Why am I cut out to live the neomonastic lifestyle that Arcosanti demands? Was I nun in a former lifetime content with living in the virtual "Kingdom of God?" No one else on the Alumni list seems called to live at Arcosanti. So why me? George even stated,
I don't really think that the urban lab and the success/failure of Arcosanti has much to do with the residents currently at the place at any given time. I've concluded over the years that it is so intense to live there and there is so much to deal with just trying to live and work and keep your life together in relative poverty, that it is way too much to expect much else.
George, it is not the relative poverty that is the problem. When people love and care each other, things do work out. What is more of a problem is education and communication at Arcosanti. At this moment, being in the comfort of my apartment, I wonder if my job with Arcosanti really only exists in Cyberspace. Everything that I need to do can be done over the Internet except for working with Rob on the Daily Progress reports.
As you stated, the success/failure of the project my not be determined by who lives there. They can keep hiring outside workers who don't live there to run the place. Several of the main staff people don't live there. Maybe with Cyberspace the importance of space has been eliminated. As long as one has connection to the Internet that is enough to move us into an Age of Arcology.
It almost seems unfair to expect the 40 or so staff and managers currently there to take the responsibility for the current state of the alleged experiment, and not wonder what in the world the other 5000 have been doing for the last 29 years.
The staff is down to something like 30. I suspect the other 5000 have been building professional careers or being starving artists or middle-class professors. They have been struggling to pay the rent or planning out ways how to become richer by building more ugly non-arcological architecture or doing a dry study to achieve tenure.
So, if I can do my work on arcology here in Massachusetts, why should I go back to Arcosanti? Maybe I am falling back into my old apathy. Maybe I don't have the support systems I need to make a radical move in my life. You see, the reason why I am moving is because my research led me there. After years of looking around the world for a model that could lead to a sustainable future, I always came back to Arcosanti. It is the only intentional community I know that has a long-term urban vision for the future. I could not get Soleri out of my head.
Why virtual place is inferior to real life is because of the power of place. In order to make my research real, I have to live it. Since Arcosanti is a prototype, there is no other place where I can attempt to make my words real. To live out a philosophy is much more difficult than talking or teaching it in a classroom. In the end, there is no escaping the need for a real life model. I am beginning to realize that true educators are those who practice their knowledge by living out their dreams.
Life at Arcosanti
Arcosanti have been mostly supported by the sale of bells that are made at the bronze foundry at Arcosanti and at Cosanti. Paolo lives most of the week at Consanti in Scottdale, Arizona. He has been criticized for not living at his laboratory since not being a full-time resident he is unable to know the social dynamics that are happening within the prototype. Arcosanti also attracts 50,000 tourists a year. Tour guides tell curious tourists the story of the building of Arcosanti and the principles of Arcology.
After 30 years, the sale of bells has proven that, along with the workshop program, it does not have the ability to finance the completion of Arcosanti 2000. Arcosanti seems to be at a standstill; unable to realize even 1,000 people to reach a critical mass to make the Urban Effect come alive. Even with a tiny population of 40 or so people, at times, one can experience glimpses of the vitality filled lifestyle that would be part of the Arcology. One can only imagine the dynamic interchange people would encounter within a completed Arcosanti. Soleri writes, "From the very beginning, the intent has been to make the project a "center for the arts" (not, however, a craftsman's community). But the fundamental intent needs qualification; radicalization, as defined above. It is hoped that the habitat itself is not just a device but also an (aesthetic) expression, not only an instrument, but also music itself."
Most of the people who live at Arcosanti are highly creative. On their off-hours, woodworkers are painters. Maintenance workers are also science fiction writers. Cooks are dancers. Construction workers are organizers of performance art pieces. Office workers are also musicians. Arcosanti attracts creative people, people who are frustrated with the status quo and who have a deep longing to make the world a habitable place for generations to come. But even with all the creative people, only two artists a year are selected by Soleri to show in his gallery. It has taken years of struggle for the Arcosanti Gallery to finally allow two resident artists a year to show there. Still there is no resident gallery onsite. Some residents feel that the reason for this is because Soleri does not want other artists to compete for sales in the gallery, since money from the sell of bells is needed to finance the construction work. Others feel that residents have not taken their own initiative to start a resident gallery.
For the last thirty years Paolo has said that Arcosanti is not an intentional community. He sees it as a construction site. His reasoning is that the "music," that is, the community, can not be heard until the "instrument," that is, the architecture, is built. Many problems arise from such reasoning, such as, the division between people and property. Low-paid workers become a means to the end goal of building Arcosanti 2000. Residents are seen only as temporary, not on a long term basis as life committed citizens of Arcosanti. This leads to a lack of long-term commitment to the project among those outside the hierarchy as well as a sense of housing insecurity among the residents. Seeing Arcosanti only as a construction site also leads to not being able to establish things that make up a city: childcare centers, schools, hospitals, recreations facilities, businesses, places of worship. Arcosanti becomes a "company town." If a resident is terminated from her or his job and can not find another job somewhere else on site, then s/he is forced to leave their housing and, consequently, their circle of friends.
The Need for Economic, Social, and Political Development
At present there is no room at Arcosanti
for residents to have independent means of employment outside of the
Consanti Foundation. There is no way that alumni can buy or even rent
an apartment and then set up an independent business. When I asked Paolo
about why enthusiastic alumni who want to move back to Arcosanti can
not buy/rent an apartment which could be a way to finance the building
of Arcosanti, he said that there were complicated legal issues involved.
But more than that, if the project took the form of a condominium development,
then residents would also demand more democratic rights. He felt that
following such a path could kill the idea of Arcosanti being an urban
laboratory for what he calls the
One of Soleri's goals in building Arcosanti is to be an example for the world of a Lean Society, a culture that does not partake in the hyperconsumerist lifestyle of Corporate America. At Arcosanti, the architecture is designed to encourage sharing of resources and the recycling of materials. There are community kitchens and community rooms where people get to know each other. Since Arcosanti residents work where they live, they do not have to spend hours a week commuting to work like the majority of American citizens have to do. This allows more time to develop friendship, socializing, education, and to engage in individual creative projects. Even though the Arcosanti workforce is relatively poor, the sharing of resources and the building of friendships makes Arcosanti a place rich the in spirit of sharing and caring.
On many levels a sense of loving community is present at Arcosanti. People not only get to know their neighbors, they work with them. Some residents complain that living and working with one's neighbors is too much since one can never get away from either personal or work related problems. Living in a container means that it is difficult to escape issues that need to be addressed when they come up. At Arcosanti, there is no where to hide. Word of mouth news travels faster than even email! If one has a substance abuse problem, the entire community is effected. But because of Soleri's denial to see Arcosanti as a prototype community as well as a construction site, social and economic development has not been seen as important to further the cause of arcology.
The Democracy/Meritocracy Model
The way I interpret the "internalization of arcology" is that arcological social structures work differently than in a post-modern sprawling city. Arcology is more than as one Arcosanti alumni described it, a "San Francisco without cars." San Francisco, or any other American city, was built in pieces, not only physical pieces, but through philosophic pluralism. Arcology is a holistic concept in which space is not divided between the sacred and the secular. Soleri writes in Arcosanti An Urban Laboratory? "For a democracy of excellence," the goal is not to pull things down to a common denominator but to pull things up to a shared worth. The city is the producer and the marketplace, but the city is also the temple, the city is the palace, and the citizen is the sacred carrier of well being and of grace to be. To build Arcosanti should be to build the church and the palace as one. This is where I hope, again, that the physical structure of Arcosanti is not just an instrument but also music."
Soleri is both the philosopher-king as well as the pope of Arcosanti. He admits that he is Arcosanti's benevolent dictator. He writes in "Esthe-quity: The Omega Seed Hyothesis-A Trans-Ecological Project,"
In the Thirties, Mussolini II, "Duce," declared the autarchy of the new Italian Empire. Bananas and dates moved swiftly onto the black market, a small but telling consequence of the regime, one that made an impact on the mind of a young Italian boy at the time. Autarchy is one of my problems. I do reject the autarchy paradigm, but I tend to apply it!
Is autocracy the best form of governance structure to build Arcosanti? From what I have witnessed at Arcosanti, I feel Soleri fears experimenting with a form of power that might lessen his control of the project. At Arcosanti there can be only one visionary genius, Paolo Soleri. In Utopia, Ian Tod and Michael Wheeler write, "In 1970, the Cosanti Foundation, a non-profit-making body set up in Arizona to test Soleri's ideas by experiment, bought land to begin work on the thirtieth arcology-Arcosanti. They meant to test, with a population of 3,000, whether people can really live in the close proximity envisaged by arcology. The successful utopian experiments of the nineteenth century were those that possessed a strong to dictatorial leadership, demanded absolute religious faith, and engaged in a heavy building programme. Arcosanti would appear to have all three in abundance."
Soleri is now in his eightieth year of life. He has seen Arcosanti grow as much as it is to grow in its present form. As the Millennium turns, he has recently realized that in order for his idea of arcology to grow, something transformational needs to happen at Arcosanti. There has been talk of building an "ecological golf course" on the border of Arcosanti's land to work as a buffer zone between Arcosanti and the urban sprawl of Phoenix which is slowing creeping up highway North 17. At night while standing on the Vaults of Arcosanti, one can see the glow of the lights of Phoenix. We encroached upon by the very thing we have been working against. One must ask, are we loosing the great effort to bring sustainable habitat to the Earth? The unsustainable growth of Phoenix has far exceeded the growth of the alternative vision of development that Arcology provides. So what is stopping us from being a new prototype?
Some hold Soleri responsible for holding back the progress of Arcosanti. Having total control of the future direction of Arcosanti means that it has been difficult for people to form co-creative partnerships with Soleri. He has taken on the archetype of the solitary genius rather than finding a way to create synergy between like-minded people who may have different important parts to play in the puzzle of building the world's first arcology. However, within the last three years, Soleri has begun to show a new openness to collaboration. For example, the fledgling "Paradox" program initiated jointly with the help of Paradox's director, Ron Anastasia. Ron, together with Board of Trustee member, Michael Gosney, has organized two very successful Paradox Conferences to explore the connection between arcology and cyberspace.
The possibility of alumni who want to live at Arcosanti, start cyberbusinesses, and enter into the global market place is now being considered. Bringing in more income into the community could mean that Arcosanti could become an experiment in alternative forms of economics based on sustainable development. Since arcology is a container based on a holistic vision, not a sprawl where each man or woman owns his or her own castle, is it now essential that a new economic order be developed at Arcosanti, one that allows for free economic and social development within a container. Such an experiment would entail creating an economic system that allows no one to get "filthy rich" or desperately poor, a "lean society" where all are cared for from the cradle to the grave.
After the Paradox 1999 conference, Soleri announced at a meeting with Arcosanti residents that he is now willing to allow and acknowledge the role which community development plays in building Arcosanti. With tears in his eyes he confessed that since the idea of arcology had come through the individual, he felt that he must be the one responsible for seeing to its creation. He believes that arcology is such an important idea for the evolution of humanity that he could not dare give it over to democratic forces. This, of course, meant that he was the sole director in order to make sure that the project did not get side-tracked or compromised to death. But now he realize that it is time for a change. He is now willing to allow the community to start playing the music. He is willing to seek partnerships with other architects and investors in order to build Arcosanti 2000.
Since 1991, the formation of the Arcosanti Community Council has been trying to be a source of governance and policy for the Arcosanti community. But shifting some of the decision-making power away from Soleri's hierarchy to a democratically elected council system is difficult to accomplish when the founding hierarchy who has been controlling the project for 30 years is still in place. Some people have conjectured that such a shift in the order of things will not change until Soleri's death. But for the residents at Arcosanti, even with Soleri's death, the Board of Trustees will have the power to determine their fate. Only one of the board members, on-site coordinator, Tomiaki Tomura sleeps at Arcosanti during weekdays. So with most of the political power dwelling outside the borders of Arcosanti, what chance does building an arcology with the principles of the Lean Society have when only a few of the Board of Trustees members are actually living the revolutionary lifestyle that Arcosanti demands? How many of them are willing to give up their cars, sell their houses, close down their private businesses in order to be pioneers in building an arcological lifestyle? Is it fair that Board of Trustees members will determine the fate of Arcosanti? Trustee members allow themselves to take part in the "American Dream," contribute to the sprawl as well as have the opportunity to own private businessess. Arcosanti residents are required to sacrifice traditional values that are the cause of the urban sprawl such as the accumulation of private wealth and live in relative personal poverty.
When the Virtual Arcosanti Model is complete, people with Internet connection from around the world will be able to come together in virtual space/time to experience the Arcosanti simulation. But when the world is on the verge of ecological destruction, is it enough to only be involved with the Arcosanti project on a virtual level? In the world of e-commerce and globalization, again I ask in this essay, how important is the power of place?
Being elected a member of the Arcosanti Community Council, I understand that the Council must work in harmony with the Arcosanti hierarchy in order for there to be clear vision of how Arcosanti must proceed into the 21st Century. When Soleri writes about the "democracy of excellence" I understand this to mean that what is needed is both democracy and meritocracy, what I call the democracy/meritocracy form of governance/education. One without the other only leads to an unbalanced system of governance that does not breed excellence, but leads to a mediocrity where the lowest common dominator rules.
In a meritocracy, the sovereign selects the chosen ones within the hierarchy. If there is no a way for the people, the political body, to rise into positions of power as democracy allows, then people who deserve power but whom the sovereign ignores for whatever reason, do not have a way to achieve it. Both the individual and the society greatly suffer from this oversight. So a democratic body is necessary in order to keep the meritocracy from becoming stagnate, incestuous, and corrupt. I can understand Soleri's being leery of allowing democratic rule because without a meritocracy working as visionary guides to the future, the body politic has no head! "Without a vision, the people perish." Individuals who make up the meritocracy are the guardians of the vision and it is their job to keep the people educated and informed about the vision.
Since Arcosanti is not a utopia, democracy is needed to assure free speech remains a treasured value. As long as we live in an imperfect world, there will be a vital need for poets and critical thinkers at Arcosanti so that it will have a channel for self-revelation. But unless poets have more economic security such as a law that declares that living at arcology is a human right for all, then poets and poetesses might continue to encounter difficulty in finding a place at Arcosanti. Isn't it time we liberated the feminine and build an arcology of love?
Human Extinction or Lovolution ?