My personal feeling is that there's a prerequisite that hasn't quite been met simply because it couldn't be safely or cogently addressed during Paolo's lifetime. That prerequisite is, essentially, its community's core value. For Soleri, the word "frugality" summed it up; but that does not tell the whole story.
Because Soleri, as much a cultural phenomenon as Arcosanti, his lifework in sum, was also constructed. Product of his time as much as anyone is, an ethnographic study of his production is incomplete without a material study of his constituencies. I must submit that he himself was as much his own invention as any human can be. My own subjectivity cannot help but identify my biases; that's a given, now, in anthropology. A socio-cultural study, to make any sense, must be personal. (Why else would anyone want to read it?)
The grim truth is that if your desire is to construct an environment purposefully, explicitly as a means and way to reformulate a "community" population that can experience it as a meaningful, purposeful reward for what Buddhism calls "right conduct," all the people who are willing to share your vision of it have to feel it's a safe place to live. By that I mean not just physically safe, although of course that's needed, but also a place in which the emotional security of lifetime tenancy is also assured.
Emotional security is a requirement as an underlying presupposition. Certainty that where you live is a safe place to express yourself is required in order for you yourself to take part in turning that place into one in which you can "Just be yourself." That's a core factor for most societies, is it not? Including, I respectfully submit, almost any formal social organization, including the "Mom and Pop" models that Colly and Paolo Soleri inherited, perpetuating those which served them purposefully. I'll identify and eventually examine some of those models; but first I'll focus on the subtle distinction between "emotional security" v "just being yourself." I'll do that because I feel it's an important element in this discussion.
What that distinction means, what it entails, is, I will argue, a validated incorporation of your community aociety's planned objectives. Those can include options to increase social consciousness, positive support for a variety of habitats, all of which will provide demonstrably reliable support systems for peace-oriented, peaceably maintained inter-generational. multicultural, multi-ethnic, linguistically diverse neighborhoods. Tall order, indeed!
Soleri was not indifferent to community-building. he had an idea about what he thought the one he wanted to build should encompass: The departments delineated on embossed stationery for his then- newly established Cosanti Foundation imagine the priorities he believed would matter for his place; They were (in alphabetical order (not how they appear on the letterhead):
This is a deconstruction problem of some magnitude, worth considering. I'll start with Habitat.
In view of my initial premise here, vis-a-vis every form of safety, some questions arise immediately:
- Is Arcosanti a habitat that's as much about the fostering of constructive interpersonal relations as it is about structural security?
- Is it a habitat in which moral support for each and every individual can happen?
- Is it a habitat with an acute sense of psychological purpose?
- Is it a habitat capable of housing every possible demographically significant population?
There is some irony that this is just the sort of problem for which Paolo felt he had little aptitude, as aspect of development he himself was disinclined to patiently handle at close range. This was in part due as much to his micro-management style as to his conceptualization of how his Mom and Pop organization must function. Delegating was not, in some respects, a task that came easily to him. He was, baldly, not especially encouraging towards those who wanted to take time, energy (much less, space) for it.community relations outside of work he personally supervised. He did consign work to his wife, who typed his word output on a Selectric typewriter, made Gestetner copies of countless pages. Although he was considerate and aware of others who worked closely with him, he was engrossed in his own expression, could get almost savage when he thought it might or could somehow be taken from him.
"A man is a man for a' that," Robert Burns' poem says; Paolo's likeness to "a'that" was evident insofar as, although he attracted good minds, great minds, by the score (Cosanti turned fairly quickly into a kind of Mecca in the early '60s as Paolo's design genius became known), he drew a hard line in the sand if he suspected or sensed there might be some sort of threat to his dominion over "his" mesa. Whether any such challenge (intended or not) was issued by friend, family, feline, fortune, or fickleness, although the range of expression he employed was broad enough, his reactionary response was the same: No.
As I said in a recent online group discussion and also in an earlier blog entry, I myself see some steps that can be taken to move respectfully away from that precarious, dangerously sharp edge of his legacy. The first is to restore the Lab Building to its original purpose. That's my personal favorite place for "where to start" because it only requires going about the business of building a real home for a Maintenance team and Maintenance-related tool users. Relocation of those particular humans and their tools will allow the Lab Building to recover its place as the central entry into Arcosanti for all visitors. It's a move that can only substantively and dramatically change the outlook of the place for the better, and it was Tomiaki Tamura, Paolo's Director of Special Projects, who put this bug in my ear, years ago.
I've held onto it for over a decade, now I want to run with it. See others run with it. I take it seriously because it seems obvious how much it will enhance Arcosanti. Forming a worker cooperative (to get the Lab Building's recovery going) looks to me like a possibility but I'm sure there are other ways to help make it happen. However it can and does, it seems to me much can be accomplished by consulting with as many people who stand to benefit from helping to make that happen as will speak for their own interests. That's why I outlined a few months ago, some steps that might help bring it about.
Neil Urban pointed out that it only takes a population of 500 for Arcosanti to have "city" status in AZ because it is within 10 miles of a National Monument. Such status reduces, big time, the number of people needed for the dreamed-of starting-point "critical mass" to be achieved. In the State of AZ, "city" status gets you an awful lot of goodies, financially. Road paving, help with a new sewage system, for example; both of which are bottom line for expansive construction, leading to: much mo' better bike paths, pedestrian paths, a transit link - all kinds stuff like that...which males it a good time for the Foundation to support sound, alumni-involved policies that will facilitate adoption of a Strategic Plan, as the Board has committed to doing.
My vision of the place to date has been rooted in my experience of Arcosanti's history, so of course I can't help but want to embed my ideas in ways that allow for/encourage mass participation. Which is, incidentally, why we - me included - insisted on (and persisted in) getting an 'alumni network' going, back in the day.
I do mean 'back in the day.' When I said, in the mid-1990s. "We have to put the alumni list together," Rafael Pizarro (I'm pretty sure it was he) avowed it would take a year. I couldn't help but try to say I thought it could take longer, which turned out to be *much* longer. More than a decade later, in 2013, with a lot of effort later on the part of a goodly number, the alumni website is launched. Although, as Gordon Butt once said, "Everything takes longer" the Arcosanti Alumni Network has a *presence* on the WWW (see link below).
I'll conclude this ramble with some jumbled-in questions of sorts:
Why couldn't people who want to build some corner of Arcosanti with straw and rammed earth set up construction workshops to explore that methodology? A few feet down the road, Arcosanti has the perfect proving ground for people keen about straw bale and similar experimentation: the Ranch, which still looks to me an ideal site to locate a handicap-accessible day camp and site-based school.
Any such initiative naturally needs a cohesive, workshop-wise infrastructure, as does planning all the details for construction of a new Maintenance Shop. Maybe especially to plan such a new structure?
Since Paolo's envisioned people entering Arcosanti through what we call The Lab Building. I'd like to see what happens if that design is utilized as he envisioned. He may not have been a maven of organizational development, but the guy could draw, he could design. He really, really could. Let's see what happens if we actually follow that design plan?
I've been examining, for a couple years now, a building that's used, on an everyday basis, opposite to the way it was designed. Instructive, it's been, to see how a small design change can make a space (or a gadget) work better. People, too? (Ya think?)