Paul Ray's Opinion on Arcosanti/Arcology



Are you familiar with the work of sociologist Paul Ray? I heard him speak last night at a co-housing gathering in Tucson. He has written a widely read book called Cultural Creatives. At the end of his presentation, I talked with him about what he thought about Paolo Soleri and Arcosanti. I knew that he had been one of the speakers at the Paradox conference, which was held at Arcosanti in 2001.

I wasn't surprised when he said that he thought that Soleri's architecture is fascist. Ray is not some novice in terms of his knowledge of architecture. At one time, he had a professorship at a university teaching urban design. Maybe, he said, smaller arcologies could lead to a good place where people could manage the society without an overbearing bureaucracy, but he felt very strongly that bigger arcologies, the ones envisioned in the City in the Image of Man, were fascist.

He said that as a community Arcosanti fails miserably. He talked to many folks who had lived there and they all reported the lack of workers rights and freedom.

It has become very difficult for me to defend the Arcosanti project because of the authoritarian spirit I encountered there. However, I still feel that with a different form of government managing Arcosanti, or for that matter a large arcology, the experiment in urban living could be saved. My argument to Dr. Ray was that size doesn't determine whether or not a place is run fascistically. Arcosanti, with only a population of 60 people when I was there, was fascist and undemocratic. If the leadership is fascist, then the city will be fascist no matter if it is a small village or a giant arcology.

I agree with Dr. Ray on many levels. Certainly, one man's vision isn't going to transform society and a group effort is required. Nevertheless, I don’t want to believe that arcology is generally a bad idea. I feel that arcology could be a model of both sustainability and personal freedom. I agree with him that Arcosanti hasn't fused these two ideas together and that it now only symbolizes the problem of dictatorship and community impoverishment.

I asked him if he had informed Soleri of his educated opinion about the place. He said that he felt it would have done no good to confront him. He thought Soleri doesn't have that much influence in the world. The only people he thought were influenced by him were a few architectural and design students and that intelligent people who came to visit Arcosanti would see on their own how it was run and that it didn't succeed as a community or as good urban design.

Perhaps Dr. Ray is wrong about Soleri's influence since he influenced Jon Jerde who then created shopping malls based on arcological theory, corporate partnership, and the religion of consumerism and global capitalism.

Ray felt that a new architectural design would arise from the grassroots effort of a lot of "cultural creatives" coming together. He feels one man can't start a movement or create a city. Only the effort of many people will make a new pattern of development that is sustainable and that protected civil liberties.

The model I think is more persuasive to the public about the benefits of arcology is seen along the highway from Arcosanti. A place like the Native American archaeological site Tuzigoot seems to be a better model of arcology than Arcosanti. Tuzigoot was sustainable for hundreds of years. Arcosanti has never been sustainable.

We don't know a lot about the social architecture of Tuzigoot. We can only guess that the structure allowed for individual freedom and wasn't run by dictatorship. Perhaps if we knew what type of social structure Tuzigoot was founded on we could determine if the idea of arcology is basically fascistic and will only lead to individual alienation, suppression, and censorship, or if the collective structure of an arcology could lead to democracy and a reverence for life. What we do know is that the contemporary idea of arcology came from an individual who is a self-defined dictator and the community that he has created isn't a happy, healthy, open, free. Nor is it a loving environment that is fully conscious of itself.

Maybe taking the time machine into the future would reveal more. If the arcology of the future is the ultimate gated community, a live-in shopping mall/resort for the privileged while the rest of the unemployed and working poor are forced to breathe polluted air and drink unsanitary water while living in shacks outside the gates of the arcology, I wouldn’t want my time machine to break down there.

But if the arcology of the future were one where the population was under control by their own inner wisdom of building a sustainable culture where human rights are the order of the society and compassionate justice rules with the balance of Gaia, I wouldn’t mind if my time machine broke down there.

Time takes me back to the present moment where we seem to be at a pivotal point in history when this generation will determine if an arcology is developed and what kind of society it will create. Will it be a eutopia (a good place) or will it be an environment of class warfare, material elitism, and spiritual denial? In a way we do create our own reality, but only collectively can we build an arcology for the good of all people.

Human Extinction or Lovolution?