I have concluded another week (and weekend) here at Arcosanti, and I would like to report that in a general sense my experience here has been a fulfilling and successful one. However for a few reasons I have decided not to complete the full five week workshop program and instead head back to San Diego to pursue other life adventures. As such this will be my last blog on Arcosanti, but hopefully not my last with Local Earth. Here’s a summary of this last week at the experimental Arizona city as well as some thoughts on the place, the people, and the community as a whole. Hopefully you have found these posts somewhat informative and/or entertaining, and of course if you have any questions about Arcosanti – or anything in general – please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me as I love to talk about, well just about anything.
So with Monday being a holiday the week started on Tuesday down at the original Paolo Soleri property, Cosanti. Cosanti was where Paolo began his experimentation, as well as his bell making business before obtaining the land of Arcosanti and refocusing his efforts on his vision of building an Arcology.
– side note: The word Cosanti is a conjunction of Cosa: things, and anti: against; so in general Cosanti is really a term that focuses on less material consumption and waste in society. Arcosanti is a conjunction of Arcology – Architecture + Ecology, and Cosanti – so in general the focus on how architecture can help sustain our ecosystems without unnecessary consumption and waste. All in all, a pretty noble vision in the 60’s when people weren’t necessarily as focused on long term environmental problems and materialism.
Tuesday and Wednesday we spent our time down in Scottsdale at Cosanti and around Phoenix. At Cosanti we took a tour, swam in the pool and did a little bit of work fixing up some things and doing general maintenance around the facility. It was hot (100-105) so work during the day was limited. Additionally the workshop took a three hour tour of Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright’s property and architectural school. The tour was long and while I could see it being interesting for architectural students, in general I was pretty bored and wishing I was spending the time back at Cosanti – or better yet Arcosanti where it was 10 degrees cooler. Aside from Cosanti and Taliesen we also drove around Phoenix, saw the Soleri commissioned bridge in town, saw one of Paolo’s scultures and visited the Phoenix library. These were all very interesting to see; however for a community that is so focused on getting away from our reliance on the automobile it is pretty ironic that we spent about 3 hours in the car on Wednesday driving around to see all of these places. I guess it’s a testament to how necessary a car has become while living in the Phoenix area, and a good example of what Paolo Soleri wants to get away from.
Thursday and Friday we were back up at Arcosanti and spent the mornings working to help build a several acre terraced greenhouse that will grow food as well as provide heat for the main part of the city (if it works). The work was hard and it was hot, but it was great to be outside sweating, feeling the sun on my back and working to build something that will one day provide local organic food for a community of people.
The highlight of the week for me was friday night, the talent show, where I got to show off some of my passions. We started the talent show in the main cafe building where Worm (a 3 year resident of Arcosanti) and myself repelled down three stories to land in the middle of the audience. A variety of acts were performed including education on making rope from plants (Cottonwood, Dogbain), guitar, tap dancing, a backflip off of a 6 foot ladder (scary), myself juggling, Halley doing a handstand while naming all 55 counties in West Virginia, three of the workshop girls (Halley, Nicky and Karla) naming all of the countries in the world on a blank map, and the grand finale – yours truly spinning fire poi on a slackline while Jonas played amazingly on a grand piano on stage. I must note that this was the first time I had every tried, let alone performed with the fire poi lit on the line so it was a bit scary and exhilarating for me. I wish I had pictures and/or video for everyone (and myself) but unfortunately nobody was filming.
On Saturday I was also able to hike out to some of the rock (Basalt) faces on the property, setup some top ropes and do some climbing. It was crumbly at some points, but I was able to find some nice clean vertical faces that presented some challenging (5.11 or harder) climbing. After that it was saying goodbye’s and Sunday morning I got in my car and headed back to San Diego to ground in and start planning my next adventures.
Aside from just reporting on the week I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect a little bit on the community, other aspects of Arcosanti, and ultimately why it was time for me to leave.
Camp: Down the hill from the main structures of Arcosanti lives camp, where a less conventional lifestyle flourishes. This is not to say that people down at camp are that different than those living in the general community, but camp seems to attract a younger and more hippie-esque group. While camp offers less “conventional” and much simpler accommodations, for the most part it seems that those living down at camp have chosen to be there (I did hear that in some rare cases particularly rambunctious and potentially troublesome individuals were “banished” to camp for a period of time). Camp in general is a more laid back, less tidy, and less monitored lifestyle and as a result is home to much of the late night scene that takes place at Arcosanti.
Responsibilities: It goes without saying that any community has to divvy up a range of chores in order to function properly. This is no different at Arcosanti, and aside from work-shoppers getting involved with some of the building, we were also assigned to cafe duty and recycling duty sporadically during our stay. The various jobs at Arcosanti include bell making (foundry – bronze, as well as ceramics), construction, planning, management, IT (basically the web site as well as anything else electronics related), marketing / PR, workshop coordination, general maintenance / landscaping, greenhouse (plants and chickens – and taking care of a peacock and peahens recently obtained), cooking, and cleaning (mostly guest quarters). Many of these jobs are paid, many are work trade (exchange for rent and/or food), some are done by work-shoppers (mostly construction) and some are volunteer. As far as I could tell during my stay the jobs are well organized and things get done efficiently. While I was there the meals were always on time, the place remained immaculately clean and well maintained, everything functioned smoothly (with the exception of a minor freakout by the cook during the BBQ before a concert hosted on site), and people seemed to be punctual and responsible.
Community: While several claims were made during my stay that Arcosanti is not a community of people who hug and talk about their feelings, the actual truth is that Arcosanti is a community with 40-70 people living on the land at any given time, and as a result it is a place where people begin to look at each other as family – even if only temporary – and yes, hug and share an intimacy that does not exist in a more formal work environment. Compared to my experience at an Intentional Community in Sonoma county, Arcosanti is by no means as “communal” or focused on the establishment of sustainable living in a tribal, back to the land type of mentality. But to say Arcosanti is not trying to be a sustainable community is just wrong, as many side conversations take place almost daily talking about how food should be locally grown and organic, more animals should provide the people with meat and dairy, energy should be locally generated if possible, more composting should take place, etc, etc… While I was there I took part in a first meeting of a non-violent communication group that was reading Rosenberg’s book on how to better communicate. This is a similar exercise to what took place during my stay on the “hippie commune” up in Northern California, and in that general sense I could see that many people at Arcosanti were trying their best to really root down and establish a more structured support system for the community as a whole. My only real concern about the way that Arcosanti was moving forward with their community development was in the fact that not all were participants, and many of those not actively involved were some of the longer term and more senior members of the project. This to me presented a warning flag as I fear that the work being done to lay a better foundation for community will be wasted if the core members of the community are not directly involved.
Sustainability: I just wanted to make a quick note regarding the long term sustainability of Arcosanti. In a general sense I was a little bit disappointed in Arcosanti’s overwhelming focus on architecture at the expense of supporting projects that I believe are critical to any community, urban, rural, farming, or even establishing colonies in space. I’ve already mentioned the fact that food comes from Cisco and for the most part is not organic or locally supplied. The current project to build a greenhouse to grow their own food is a great step in the right direction, but in the meantime I would hope that the community would support putting more financial support into organic and local to offset the carbon footprint of long distance conventional agricultural methods. I also was a bit disappointed that there was not more of an effort to generate more energy locally (there were very few solar panels and no wind turbines – although I was told they had one which was blown down and is under repair), Arcosanti is very much on the grid and therefore taking part in the burning of coal and natural gas to generate electricity. I also felt that the current system of watering with hoses could have been easily solved by incorporating a greywater system into the plans that would utilize shower and other “waste” water to irrigate, rather than spreading potable water by hand.
During my stay I was told that a LOT of food goes to waste, when I’m very confident many of the people at Arcosanti would be happy to eat more leftovers – especially if it lowered their food costs. I also found out that the food from the kitchen does get composted, but the composting operation is way down the hill by camp and the transfer of material as well as many other operations often involve the driving of trucks up and down the hill. I may be being overly harsh on some of these issues, as they are the focus of many of the inhabitants and people are trying to push change in these non-architecturally focused areas of sustainability, but for someone like me that is more interested in learning about how a group of people can attempt to live in balance and harmony with the earth and the ecosystems of this planet, Arcosanti is not exactly a place of higher learning.
It is important to note that up until recently Paolo Soleri was very much the leader and sole decision maker with respect to how Arcosanti functioned and what work was done on the land. Now that Paolo is 93 and the decision making has been distributed across a more diverse group of educated and sustainably minded people, I have great hopes that Arcosanti will develop into something more resembling an urban example of how we can thrive on this planet in balance with nature and earth’s systems. However given that this is not yet baked into the Arcosanti experience I ultimately have decided that the two weeks spent on the land was long enough for me to learn about the place, the man behind it, and make connections with people that I look forward to cultivating in the future. Who knows – maybe I’ll be back in Arcosanti in time, but for now my home is San Diego and I’m going to try to dive in and make a difference here.
Until my next adventure – live consciously and thrive harmoniously. Peace and love – Brian