Arcosanti Power Structure, A Better Kind of Wrongness?

An ArcoFeminista by Doctress Neutopia

Sunday, November 05, 2000


Since its creation Arcosanti, the world's first prototype Arcology, has been ruled under a dictatorship, a times benevolent, at other times, not so kind. Paolo justifies his dictatorial position by saying that he is the genius who came up with the idea of arcology and so he feels it is his responsibility to rule it. Therefore, he became the undeclared king who runs his kingdom through his loyal servants, onsite coordinators, Mary and Tomiaki and through the labor of thousands of idealistic workshoppers who have worked on the project since its thirty-year history. Also in his patriarchal court are his lawyer, Art Allsworth and chairman of the Board of Trustees psychiatrist Mel Roman. Out of the Executive Board, only Tomiaki lives part time at Arcosanti in a private apartment, but on weekends he escapes to his house in Phoenix. [Tomiaki explained to the community that he takes care of an elderly friend on weekends. Arcosanti is no place for the elderly.] Not even the Founder lives in the communal apartments he has built into the prototype to cut down on waste, but in a private single-family house at Cosanti Foundation in Scottsdale, AZ.

At Arcosanti, Mary Hoadley's onsite apartment goes unlived in and serves to store her stuff when there is a housing shortage, especially for couple apartments at Arcosanti. This is quite a contradiction to the official rhetoric that Arcosanti is a model of the lean or frugal society when apartments become places of storage. Her office reveals that she is a "pack rat." It would appear that only Tomiaki has chosen to live in the prototype, even though the rest of his court says that they are devoted to the idea of arcology. Newsweek called Arcosanti the most important experiment in urban design in a lifetime. But how much of an urban experiment is it when the leadership does not or cannot live on site?

Mary Hoadley calls herself a pioneer to a new lifestyle when she commutes two hours a day and to work and back just like any other average American when the Arcosanti tour guides are told to tell visitors that one advantage of the Arcosanti model is that people can walk to work since work and living spaces are together. Her reason for not living at Arcosanti is because she has a daughter to raise. Since Arcosanti has not developed an education program, families with school age children need to move on or commute hours a day to drive their children to school. So most of the leadership live the American Dream lifestyle and send their children to the "best" schools that teach hyper consumptive values that they say the Arcosanti model is trying to change!

Since I have been at Arcosanti a few of us have been trying to change the official policy that Arcosanti is indeed a community, not only a construction site. But so far this change has been impossible. Since more than half of the Executive Board does not live full-time at Arcosanti, then it is easy to understand why they cannot see Arcosanti as an intentional community, but only as a construction site. After thirty years of being a construction site and only 2% completed, one would have to say that it has failed to be much of a construction site as the urban sprawl of Phoenix, the problem we are trying to solve, is in the process of surrounding us!

I feel that the reason for this failure is because the community development part of the project has been push aside as if it is unimportant to its success. Even though Paolo says that it is up to the community to play the "music," the metaphor he uses to describe the governance structure, the truth is that he and the Executive Board rule Arcosanti making long term decisions for the project without concerns for what is best for the present community members. Since they do not see the necessity of forming a prototypical community to make Arcosanti a place for 7,000 people, then why would it matter what the people who live at Arcosanti think? Present resident/workers are not considered the real citizens of Arcosanti since workers now who are building it are doing it for the future citizens who will inhabit Arcosanti after the container is finished. What this implies is that the administration thinks workers are just dumb, ignore people who are sacrificing their lives to build Paolo's prototype, who do not have the intelligence to make important decisions that affects their lives. The way the Executive Board thinks and acts is that only the wise old men and their one token woman, Mary, who sit on the board have this knowledge.

Even though Paolo talks about Arcosanti in terms of a "democracy of excellence" in his book Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory?, he says that he does not want a democratic model to rule over Arcosanti. If workers were allowed to invest in the project, making homes here where they can make long-term commitments to the project, then he says they would want a say-so in the governance system. So the model Paolo uses when talking about Arcosanti's political and economic structure is the university model where people do not own or rent places where they live. Having no equity in one's living space means that one does not have any security over decisions made by the landlord and could be asked to leave at any time if disagreement arises or if the project is sold on the market place.

In most universities, professors buy houses off campus and commute to campus. It is not a live/work space except for the transient students who live in dormitories or other student housing. So on a theoretical level, the university model is only a fragment of a city and so cannot work as a model of holistic city making that building an arcology requires. Perhaps the real reason why Paolo embraces the university model for Arcosanti rather than the intentional community model is because the university model is based on patriarchal hierarchy, dictatorship, technocracy, that is, the belief that science holds the supreme knowledge, and elitism, values that have proven to be nearest to his heart during his School of Thought sessions.

The intentional community model is trying to break us free from such oppressive forms of power that have dominated our world for thousands of years. Values some intentional communities incorporate are sustainability, in-come sharing, egalitarianism, and gender balance that create an extended family model that allows for diversity. Education for personal grow and common dreams are the bases of this social justice movement, unlike the university model that works to uphold the status quo of corporate America.

It is clear to me that Paolo wants total control over the project. When a dissenting opinion arises from the peasant class, then he simply tells them to get off his mesa. Dissenting voices, for the good of the people, are not welcome at Arcosanti. It is "Paolo's place." Another common slogan among brainwashed residents is, "Paolo's way or the highway." In such a worldview Arcosanti does not become a project for the survival and benefit for humanity, but a project to serve Paolo's megalomania. Arcosanti becomes Paolo's capitalistic mansion where he rules over his servant class of bell makers and domestic workers, rather than an Urban Laboratory in a new way of life that does not rely on the automobile and whose ultimate goal is to emancipate workers by fulfilling their universal dreams of living and working in an environmentally sane architecture.

No wonder there is a question mark at the end of the title of his book, Arcosanti an Urban Laboratory? because one has to seriously question if Arcosanti is a laboratory for human evolution. Is Arcosanti a place where we can develop a lifestyle of equity and peace in high population density, or is it a company town for the aggrandizement of Paolo Soleri's memory? If it is truly a project that transcends the ego of its founder so that it can really be a model for social justice and peace within the revolutionary container of arcology designed to support the Urban Effect, then it must become a place of democracy as well as meritocracy (government by virtue and talent). Only then will Arcosanti be able to be an experiment in an urban design that unites love and work.

After living under Paolo's regime, I can understand why he does not consider Arcosanti to be a eutopia, that is, a good society because the fact is he has created a dystopia, a bad society, a culture of hedonistic self-indulgence and quick sex rather than learning, creative synergy, and duration. So how can we go about creating a model that not only creates a meritocracy, but also has a democratic body? The way I am suggesting doing this is by creating a Community Web presence where we can have a place to talk freely and truthfully about the Arcosanti project, a place where we can build a social movement with the purpose of building arcology. Isn't the goal of a scientific or social laboratory to seek truth, not perpetuate lies?

The main building of the structures at Arcosanti happened because of the energy generated from the early '70's social movement, the movement towards civil rights, women's emancipation, ecological awareness, and the peace movement. Arcosanti was primarily built through a grass roots movement which was symbolize through the faded green grass blades on the Vaults which Paolo denies are blades of grass. It is this revolutionary energy that happened in the late '60's and early 70's that we must capture again if we want to see our dreams manifested in steel and concrete.

My feeling is that the universal power that gave Paolo Soleri the gift of arcology to bring to the world was doing it so that social enlightenment through constructing a culture of love could happen. But Paolo has greatly abused his gift to humanity by ignoring and not feeding the communal part of the project. The way to correct this mistake by undoing the "better kind of wrongness" is to allow positive ideas to flow within the container or womb. This act would release the feminine energy necessary to open the blockage. Isn't it time, Arcosantians, that we embrace the freedom of our own collective empowerment rather than accept the slavery of one man's social and architectural blueprint?





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