I arrived at Arcosanti a little over 2 months ago keen to experience an alternative urban form. Just how alternative Arco is depends on the day, but so far I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. The surrounding natural landscapes remain intact, providing residents with beautiful views and easy integration with nature. At a 1 hour drive to the nearest big city, it's remote enough to feel spacious, has beautiful star viewing at night, while also not feeling too isolated. Not only for proximity but also visitors. Around 30,000 people visit Arcosanti each year. So although we are far out into the Arizona desert and grasslands, the world comes to us. I regularly meet new and interesting people from all over the world whose responses to this place range from curious wonder to infatuation and even repulsion. Yes, not everyone who comes here gets enchanted. But it seems that most do.
The community of around 70 residents consists of people from every imaginable background. Former college professors sit next to tattooed 20-somethings in the cafe. Retired firefighters and former corporate slogs commingle with the self-appointed Arcosanti jester (and electrical expert), Dr. Sparks. The community gets along quite well, the feeling here tends to be familial, if not tribal. It takes no time at all to form bonds since we see so much of each other. All this despite that the cast of characters present at Arco is constantly shifting. There are many seasonal and temporary residents. But the show always goes on.
There is a real sense of community here, although the leadership would insist that Arco is not an intentional community. But at the very least, it’s a community that’s semi-intentional. The founding principles of this place must resonate with each member, some more than others, but they function like a purpose-net upon which we are all holding a corner. What are we catching exactly? Hopefully waves from the future.
These foundational principles are things like elegant frugality, that is, living a rich life without necessarily being rich. Lean alternatives, doing more with less. Building in 3D, preserving nature by building up and in, creating mixed-use spaces so that nothing sits empty and unused for long. All noble and thoughtful tenets to build (a city) upon.
Even with these progressive ideas at its core, Arcosanti is anything but idealistic. The community suffers from all the usual ills: communication breakdowns, interpersonal drama, differing visions colliding, etc. For some residents, this place is a refuge from the world where they can live their lives simply, quietly, and away from the raucousness found elsewhere in society. In other words, there are some folks hiding out here. Nothing about this place is perfect, and yet it remains so, so beautiful and welcoming.
Last weekend we hosted a large scale music festival called FORM. Not only was it a ton of fun, it also felt like a preview of whats possible for Arcosanti, as a meeting place for people from all over the world looking for a new kind of community experience.