IMO those values not only make sense from an ethical/moral/spiritual standpoint, they are precisely the values it is hoped and believed arcology can promote, will help to impel.
The values of arcology are important if there is a drive, an imperative - as I believe there is - to demonstrate its usefulness, which is a reason I'm awful pleased to have come across an essay I began writing some ten years ago about its culture. The essay is in several parts, all of which I'm confiding to this blog entry. Introduction goes like this: Over 7000 people have worked and lived at Arcosanti over the course of its 'lifetime' to date They range in age from infancy, youth, adult through middle age, and on into elderly. Their experience, backgrounds and intentions are varied. They were raised, have lived, worked and studied in countries all over the world, experienced and/or trained in a broad spectrum of disciplines including Humanities and Sciences (Anthropology, Geography, Music, Education, Business, Social Work, Engineering, Fine Arts, Crafts, Architecture, et al. (You name the filed, chances are there's an Arconaut who's in it.) What they hold in common is respect for Paolo Soleri along with regard for the promise of the "urban laboratory" we all call Arcosanti.
An idea of mine has been to bring people together into a work/study group to pool ideas, energy, resources, disciplines: the expertise needed to research and write a cultural study of Arcosanti. That ambition emerged from a simple expectation that an academically rational critique, open to review, would aid and abet the continued growth of Arcosanti, make it more available to those most in need of it. (Disclosure: I concur with Soleri in supposing that the size of that needy group is a very large number, particularly across the developing world. In fact, where in the world is "arcology" NOT needed? ) In any case:
Such a study would, I feel, make use of a Material Culture perspective, which is defined as a field of study concerned with:
a) What methods of analysis should by employed or developed in order to produce documentation of learning processes evolving from activities based on sensuous orientation where the process is constantly a symbiosis between concrete action and theoretical reflection;
b) How the formation of Self and Identity develop during the process of the making and creating of material objects. [vi]
Arcosanti In Context:
In 2003, seven of the major institutions comprising North America’s art and cultural "establishment" acknowledged Paolo Soleri's status as a master of architectural design when they (MoMA, National Gallery, CCA, Getty, Smithsonian, Taliesin, and Eastman House) agreed to serve on a standing advisory committee to the Soleri Archives, the collection of Soleri’s works that has been and is still being inventoried at Arcosanti. (There may well be some other institutions that could or should be on that committee, but that one looks to me like A Good Place to Start.)
Soleri’s merit as an artist may be globally acknowledged but his writing [i] is not nearly so transparent. Upon examination, I will suggest it fits nicely (if not always neatly) in the class of moral discourse. His vocabulary is replete with borrowings (albeit not referenced in his writing) germane to that concern. Self-transcendence, for example, a frequent Soleri phrase, brings to my mind Erik Erikson’s theory of psycho-social development, Erickson's view that a criterion of self-transcendence is definitive of mature personal (i.e., fully human, ethical) development.
The realm of morality (questions like “What is “right?” What is “wrong?” What is “good?” What is “evil?”) is of significance to all people, no matter what era they live in, no matter what their socio-economic status and/or cultural background. In part, that is because human history is the story of conflicts and the outcomes of conflicts between opposing forces.
Dialectical considerations with respect to conflict identification and conflict resolution are important insofar as they impact upon how we perceive human social organization. Consequently, we are confronted with the fact that despite ourselves or in spite of ourselves, morality has “everything to do with it.”
Therefore we must ask what is this “it” we call "morality" which affects us all?
According to Harrod,[ii] 'morality' incorporates three interrelated concerns:
- The conviction that an essential ingredient of what is meant by “human” is a hunger for meaning at levels that transcend individual existence. This implies
- The importance of the 'human center,' described as “the power of consciousness to form and re-form a world in association with others.”[iii]
- The outcome of this urge is the desire to draw others into a field of personal consciousness and attempt to develop the outlines of a view of social reality within which action governed by moral intentions can be understood.
Other questions I have are pragmatic, relative to the fundamental one: How will the 'community of Arcosanti" develop itself, manage itself?
Background – Who is Paolo Soleri?
Soleri was born and raised in Italy; a war objector (he served in the army in his native Italy during WWII but was opposed to fighting, left the service and went across the border into France), he finished architecture school (a PhD with highest honors at the Polytechnic Institute of Torino) after the end of WWII and after winning a prestigious competition, an award for a bridge that he designed, he came to the USA to study under Frank Lloyd Wright. After leaving Wright’s atelier, he met and married Corolyn (“Colly”) Woods, an American from Pittsburgh. He brought her to Italy where they designed and built a ceramics factory for the Solamene family on the Amalfi coast, returned to the USA, lived briefly in New Mexico, then settled in Arizona where they raised their two daughters while developing their craft business - initially textiles, then sculptured clay and bronze wind bells. Their craft industry was successful enough to free Soleri from the usual constraint of having to solicit clients, enabled him to devote his energies to drawing, writing, model building, construction on their own property. They established a 501-3C educational non-profit Foundation to co-ordinate, administer and develop a “workshop” program, analogous to Wright`s but based entirely upon Soleri’s philosophy of design.
Throughout his life, Soleri was preoccupied with what can be called, in a nutshell, “the immorality of consumerism.” A quiet but consistently impassioned response to the conspicuous consumption he witnessed globally (and overwhelmingly in his adopted land) was to try to integrate and codify the personal philosophy he called “frugality,” to turn it into a material artifact.
What Soleri called his “Lean Hypothesis” is being carried out at Arcosanti, the “Lean Alternative” “urban laboratory” under construction since 1970 in the high desert at Arizona’s geographic epicenter on 800 acres of “marginal” land. Construction of Arcosanti continues to this day.
What's the Central Issue?
Many people around the globe agree with Soleri on one central point: hyper-consumerism is a serious problem, of global concern. And although Soleri shunned most market-based schema to attract people, still, some 50,000-80,000 per year visit Arcosanti and Cosanti (the antecedent construction, north of Scottsdale). Over 6,000 (18 + years of age, many of them college or university students at the time of their stay) have volunteered their labor to the 'Arcosanti workshop program' to the benefit of ongoing construction, maintenance, upkeep, and repair of Arcosanti, especially its permanent structures. Over the course of Soleri's lifetime, their labor appeared to have little immediate impact on the administrative infrastructure. I will address that, to explain why I think so, later, in a review of Arcosanti's history.
The moral dilemma to which Soleri insists Arcosanti is an answer is not something new or strange. It is the immemorial stuff to which the Great Traditions (the main strands of the world’s enduring religious teachings: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, et al) make cogent responses. What distinguishes Soleri’s response to the moral quandary posed by materialism is his patent rejection of all of the Great Traditions, practically in their entirety. Dismissing them all as “animism,” Soleri was convinced that his Lean Alternative is a reasonable – perhaps the only, alternative to such “theological constructs.”
But while it is possible the Lean Alternative demonstrated by Arcosanti could attract more converts – preferably at least a few wealthy ones, as Soleri had on occasion suggested should be the case, he continued to persevere with only a modest number of enthusiasts to directly support him. Arcosanti’s year- round population has usually numbered less than 100 since the early 1980s. The reasons for this will be also addressed later, in a review of Arcosanti history.
Soleri sought out but did not fight for academic approval of his idea, nor for his methodology, an iconoclasm from which I will most certainly diverge. The critique being undertaken, in addition to examining the range and effect of moral discourse on the material culture construction of Arcosanti, will utilize the concerns of a range of subject areas, especially the disciplines of Anthropology, Material Culture, Environmental Psychology, Social Work, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Urban Development, Fine Arts and Architecture...
One difficulty not greatly elaborated upon by Soleri is the fact that moral systems readily engender conflicting points of view. Urban economist and writer/activist-observer Jane Jacobs[iv], who was not an architect, was also critical of the abandonment of cities. Jacobs noted conflict between two moral syndromes she identified as: a) commercial (a morality for people engaged in commerce); and b) guardian (a morality for people in government and the military).
Jacobs said both those moral syndromes contain opposing principles; i.e.: people in commerce are expected to engage in trade; people in government are expected to avoid trade and be loyal, serve the institution they belong to. These are actually competing moralities. Although the conflict between the commercial and guardian camps has been repeatedly demonstrated in the USA over time, an increasingly oligarchic culture blurs those boundaries, particularly in recent years. Oklahoma passes a law taxing solar power users. The US Supreme Court declares it unnecessary to limit how much money individuals and/or corporations can give to politicians seeking election. That macrocosm is a contentious arena, yet I still find it surprising to see it replicated in a microcosmic one:
In 2003, those two conflicting syndromes were in play at Arcosanti when four of the fifteen individuals who served as Trustees of its governing body had their feet planted in both camps: in addition to serving on of the Board of Trustees (therefore subject to the “guardian” syndrome) they were simultaneously employees of its for-profit arm (Cosanti Originals) or its non-profit head (Cosanti Foundation). Using Jacobs' analysis, those individuals were therefore subject to the “commercial” syndrome. (While exacerbation of that symptom may have been an outcome of a mass resignation from the Board a few years later, that has not been conclusively determined.)
Another difficulty Soleri’s theorizing faces was his absolute belief in “the city” as the apex of achievement for humankind. That argument, based on his vision of the Greek polis, is confounded by the fact that American cities, all of which are relatively young, have evolved somewhat differently than have the European ones that shaped Soleri’s youth.
Small towns dominated much of the American landscape until the 20th century and, unlike Europe where cities fomented intellectual pursuits, to some extent it was those small towns which shaped progressive thinking in North America. The great (some say the only) truly American philosopher, John Dewey, grew up in Burlington, VT, the population of which in 1880 was 11, 365 - quite a large number in its time. Others ranged in size from 300 to 10,000 and in such settlements as those, where nearly everyone knew everyone else, the social norm, the model, in a general way was that an individual could know very well his/her own community and its people.
While that kind of intimacy may at times have been resented, it also could produce a sense of belonging to a particular group, often one in which “neighborliness” usually meant an informal network of mutual aid. The positive side of being with people who busied themselves “minding everyone else's business” was that illness or distress could be quickly known and quickly responded to. Social work pioneer Jane Addams noticed positive uses of village gossip: It kept men informed about who needed help, enabled them to assist those who did. In emerging American cities, such informal channels of communication were prone to disappear. Along with them went the “easy neighborliness of Main Street.”[v]
Seen in this light, Soleri, while alert to economic development forces influencing political decision-making (particularly the successful lobbying of the auto industry), managed to omit the social context in which the American post-war “flight from the city” occurred. He was not able to address them because (as he admitted) he was not a social critic. His fervent denunciation of “ex- and suburban development” (a dominant theme in his descrying the state of the world) therefore ignored the evidence that post-war cities were abandoned also because it was felt they were (could only be) “less than friendly” places for children to grow up. Cities were seen as too busy, too cold, too fast, too poorly maintained, too dangerous – to a certain extent, some still are viewed that way. Despite the consequences of various ensuing ill-considered urban renewal programs, the first post-war “garden” communities of Holly Park, Levittown, and their ilk were attempts to re-create the small (albeit idealized) kinds of village communities that would let “common people” recover a cherished sense of intimacy, which city life seemed almost to have effaced.
A second discontinuity stems from Soleri’s social and psychological distance from the progressive or pragmatic ideologies which emerged from the American small-town ethos. That ethos includes: a positive emphasis on widespread participation in community public affairs; a strong desire/need for feelings of intimacy; a sense of classlessness; and, since the advent of “Green” politics, an inclination to embrace consensus models for social decision-making. It is that ethos which has to a great extent shaped the value systems of Soleri’s followers; he himself encountered it openly but passively, and embraced it at best reluctantly, at worst with contempt.
Soleri personally largely rejected most attempts to increase (in some instances, even to incorporate) adoption of particular social models into Arcosanti’s administration. He was, to say the least, not eager to incorporate specific humanistic principles in planning the “village” of Arcosanti. One might ask: Did residents show a tendency to reflect his rejection of them by being unable to consistently determine how to include them?
Residents of Arcosanti have a Community Council, which elects members for a six-month term. ArcCC handles instances of violence (there is a “no-violence” policy), noise (“no noise” after 9 pm weekdays, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays unless special permission is sought and granted). The Community Council's authority was limited to residential matters during the entire lifetime of Soleri. It remains to be seen what role it will play in a post-vivo Soleri environment.
[i] Soleri: Toward a Human Ecology, Iolanda Lima
What If? Collected Writings of Paolo Soleri
What If? Quaderni. Mayer, AZ: Arcosanti Publications, 2000-2004
[ii] Howard L. Harrod, “The Human Center: Moral Discourse in the Social World.” JRE: 5.2, Fall, 1977
[iii.i] Elemer Hankiss. Fears and Symbols: An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization. Budapest: Central European University Press. 2001
[iv] Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. New York: Vintage Books, 1992, p. 197
[v] Jean B. Quandt, From the Small Town to the Great Community: The Social Thought of Progressive Intellectuals. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970
[vi] Research seminar sponsored by Øresund University and Danish University of Education in 2003)