About 70 miles north of Phoenix, literally out in the middle of nowhere, is Arcosanti, the brain child of Paolo Soleri. I stopped by there once and I hope that I never have the misfortune of going there again. I felt like I was in a cult compound or an Alcatraz surrounded by desert. Arcosanti was an experiment to test Soleri’s theories about architecture and ecology, or arcology as he called it. If your idea of good architecture is living in dome shaped mud hovels with spiders then this is the place for you. Personally I find it aesthetically offensive. I love cities, specifically dense cities. I believe cities are one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. But to build a master-planned community miles away from civilization in the middle of nowhere and call it “urban” because there are no cars doesn’t jive with me. An urban area (i.e. a city) also requires industry, technology, culture, and intellect. There is no benefit to being able to walk to work if there are no jobs. I understand that only a fraction of the project was ever built so I suppose one could argue that the vision was never fully realized. I tend to think that the rest was never built because the part that was completed, failed. I admire Soleri for thinking outside the box. But I do reject the notion of treating human-beings as some foreign entity that is to be merely tolerated while trying to live “as one” with nature. Humans have specific needs in order to survive since Nature has not endowed humans with the ability to simply adapt. Man has to discover what he needs and alter his background to produce it. Walking around Arcosanti, I felt like I was some unnatural phenomenon, defiling the earth for existing.
While there I stopped into the local bakery and the most illuminating conversation ensued between me and the crazy lady, excuse me, the baker, who was working there.
“Do you live here?”
“Do you ever… leave?” I asked.
“Sometimes I have to go up to Prescott Valley, when I have to.”
“So what do you do for fun around here?”
“We have a symphony.”
“So where are you from?” She asked.
“Ugh. It’s just terrible what they do down there. They built that Hohokam Expressway and tore up the desert and built over all those Indian burial grounds! And that Tempe Town Lake is such a waste!”
“I like Tempe Town Lake.” I told her. “It makes my life more enjoyable. I like to watch the sun set there, I like the civic events that happen there. It makes life more exciting and fulfilling.” I didn’t say that I also like how it is a billion dollar economic engine that brings a lot of people to our city and has resulted in in-fill development and more sustainable living within an already existing urban environment.
“Well, what do I know. I’m just a baker.”
I hurried back to my car and turned down the dirt road leading away from Arcosanti with no plans to ever return. I prefer a skyscraper in a truly dense and urban core over a futuristic hippy compound in the middle of the desert any day.