Innovative that idea certainly was. As a hypothesis, who could argue it was not OK for its time?
But then was then, now is now and IMO it's become very, very clear the original hypothesis can be neither proved nor disproved. It was half-right but also it was half not-right. My reasoning goes like this:
The construction of the "urban laboratory" was intended, as I said, to test Paolo's original hypothesis. We are now more than 40 years later yet we are nowhere near being able to prove or disprove that original hypothesis. With great respect, it seem obvious (to me, anyway) that the original hypothesis needs to be revised, for a number of reasons. I'll identify some of them.
The original hypothesis did not take into account the need to:
a) challenge the water economy of Phoenix
b) challenge the structure of the Phoenix power grid.
c) challenge the economic development plan of Phoenix (assuming Phoenix even had one: prisons have become a growth industry in AZ, which can only increase the dependence on a garrison economy - an economy of decline, according to JJ).
What came into my mind, pondering this, is that what is needed at Arcosanti (I dare to suggest) are 2nd generation hypotheses.
Those, I think, can be formulated most simply if the Urban Laboratory makes use of Jane Jacobs' thesis, which specifically and totally rejects the assumption that cities are built upon a rural agricultural base. JJ proposed that the 'cultivation of plants and animals is *only* city work;' that the sine qua non of city life is that it is 'a trading settlement, providing a dynamic environment for incidental seed exchanging and selective breeding, and greater opportunities for specialization, development and spread of technique.'
I happened on that statement, taken from Jane's book The Economy of Cities, in a book by Sandor Ellis Katz called The Art of Fermentation, which I'm reading because I got re-interested in fermentation recently (not just beer; compost is also a form of fermentation) and because I'd been mulling over how to improve (make that: transform - as in "arcologize") the economy of the little village in the West Kootenays of BC from which I now write, in which I've been residing once again since Dennis died.
Incidentally - speaking of beer - thinking about fermentation brought to mind Francis Ford Coppola's suggestion, when he came to Arcosanti to talk w/ Paolo, that Arcosanti could develop a splendid brewery. The suggestion could very well have been offered because FFC himself has a veddy fine vineyard or two, producing some veddy nice - (I daresay quite profitable) - wines, which one could buy @ CostCo last time I was in one.
Might be a good thing to develop, a microbrewery. There are good ones in lots of places. So long as you have fine water, surely you can brew - right?
But to get back to Jane Jacobs and the Urban Laboratory's hypotheses: What struck me about JJ's assertion - with respect to the revision of Arcosanti the Urban Laboratory's working hypothesis - was the reference to animals. Animals are interesting.
Some years back, I looked into the possibility of raising, as a component of Arcosanti Organics, a rare breed of pigs, having learned there is an Italian one that's practically an endangered variety. Getting a breeding pair looked like an ideal, tailor-made opportunity to enlarge and enhance the "Italian connection" Arcosanti had been developing over the years. That didn't pan out but the principle motivator for my investigation (this was between 2003-2006, while I was helping Paolo with some of his writing, living on-site) was a long-standing interest in cultivating plants and raising animals for fiber as well as food.
This was also connected to how I'd been heartened, during a mid-1980s sojourn, to find the looms Haystack School had left behind after its workshop program at Arcosanti ceased. Sherry Gilfoy and I put one together, set it up in the Crafts III Visitors Gallery, took turns weaving on it. It was great good fun for us and, I daresay, interesting for visitors to watch a loom in operation.) In any case, given my own interest in textiles, it was natural for me to be thinking about fiber cultivation. Especially since, having raised Angora rabbits, the wool of which is incredibly soft, warm, and non-allergenic, I also imagined the establishment of some such program at Arcosanti.
As the I Ching says: Perseverance Furthers. During that same sojourn, Paolo had OK'd my request for permission to use his designs for textiles as well as notecards. At that time, I was thinking pillow covers, art-bags, shower curtains. Imagine: City in the Image of Man arcology designs printed on clear plastic or good cotton to hang on your bathtub curtain rod! I had orders for them before I got anywhere near actually making any.
My focus then was how to tie what we were already doing at Arcosanti into already-underway (therefore maybe readily available) economic development, which seemed to me to present a number of possibilities. At that time, the Arcosanti peach orchard was functional so it seemed fairly obvious to me that if we planted quince trees beside them in the orchard, Randall Schultz's jam factory at the junction would be able to experiment with an Arcosanti-labeled product in addition to the Desert Farms ones he acquired along with the jam business. The idea rolled around in my head for quite some time; then I bought a quince tree, donated it to Arcosanti Organics.
Unfortunately that tree got planted in an odd place where it did not survive. Now the peach orchard is no more, which means that particular experiment has to wait.
But if Jane Jacobs is correct - even if it is necessary to revise her hypothesis as I'm suggesting it is with Paolo's original one - if all the arconauts can abet evident striving that will make clear what is being tested, what the hypotheses of the "Urban Laboratory" are meant to be, Arcosanti actually wil be able to provide collect-able data to any/all "interested parties."
Once that can be done, the Urban Laboratory will stand on a much sounder footing, materially and philosophically, than it has been standing on, to date.
May this suggestion be of benefit.