What came to mind as I puzzled the strata of social relationships across North America's history - including the "Who are they?" stratum of humans comprising the ethnosphere of Arcosanti - was Canadian poet Milton Acorn's observation about the "layers" you see in "complicated vegetables" (like lettuce and cabbage). Which got me to thinking again about demographics. Who are all the humans of Arcosanti's ethnosphere? What have they in common? How are they different?
A major impetus behind my asking Arcosanti's builders about their time at Cosanti and Arcosanti was my curiosity about their experience, my wondering if had made a difference, professionally and/or personally, in their lives. Paolo, when interviewed by David Licata in the preview clip of his film (see link on this page), assumed it would be a positive experience but we have little evidence that his assumption was being monitored. I figured it would be interesting to investigate that, and that's what I set out to do.
As naively as I could, not assuming I could predict exactly how anyone would respond. Maybe some would say No, it didn't, Maybe some would say Yes, it did.
Which meant I could start with a simple, direct question: Did it? If the answer was Yes, I could ask: How? If the answer was No, I figured there could be a way to get a handle on learning Why Not?
For sure whatever I was given would be a challenge and, since I had to start somewhere, that's where I started. But once I started asking, what I found surprising (although at the same time, it wasn't a surprise) was the emotional intensity of responses I was starting to document.
What I was being told was that working, living, participating in the workday realities of ArCosanti had been an exceptional and memorable experience even for those who hadn't remained in touch with the place, with people they'd met there .
Pretty intriguing. I could see I'd have to probe deeper to find out What about the place, the experience of being there, had made it so intense? I could also see that such probing could quite possibly get complicated. Every place has a global context as well as an historical one. While media perception of Arcosanti might call it and its leadership group, Cosanti Foundation, a "planned community developed by architect and philosopher Paolo Soleri" and an "experimental community designed to be in harmony with the environment" (as the NY Times did in its 2002 obituary for Dr. Mel Roman, who'd been a Trustee), the fact is that Paolo Soleri resisted that "community" label. "Construction site" was fine; "construction site" he understood. "Community" was trickier to clarify.
Whatever 'Arcosanti community' now exists, whatever community has ever existed there, exists by virtue of the fact that one has been spontaneously generated by ArCosanti people. What's making that happen?
Even if Captain Jean-Luc Picard's "Let it be so" comes to mind, ArCosanti is not a made-for-TV fiction show. It is not being built in or for outer space. Its crew is altogether human: given to human joys, human pleasures, human sufferings, human sorrows, human failings.
Whatever commonalities its humans share, whatever their similarities, whatever their differences have been, whatever they've disagreed about, it seems to me it will be necessary to contextualize their relationship with ArCosanti in their respective socio-political arenas. How will all those who have participated at ArCosanti please be counted, be accounted for?