An Urban Laboratory
Deep in the barren desert of Arizona, beneath the sweltering heat of a blazing sun, lies a secret utopian eco-city that holds a secret piece of my heart. Clusters of stucco-clad buildings peek out from behind sandy dunes and massive, jagged rocks. A rusted metal sign greets visitors and bears the city’s name: Arcosanti
The work of Italian architect Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti was constructed in the early 1970s, during the height of the Utopia movement. Despite being nearly half a century old, the community is very much alive. We call ourselves an urban laboratory; an environmentally sustainable alternative to typical suburban sprawl.
The city’s design minimizes destructive impact on the earth while maximizing social interaction with other community members. They pride themselves on being compact, pedestrian, car-less. It resembles something out of a science fiction film, with its’ large dome-like structures painted to resemble the churches of Rome.
Population is constantly fluctuating with new faces coming and going each and every week, although on any given day there’s probably close to 60 residents. For such a small population, the diversity is astounding. Each individual seems to possess a different reason for coming to the little community. I desired to seek out each and every one of their stories, eager to listen wide-eyed as they told me of their native countries, family members, or traveling tales.
Thoughts and Reflections
I wanted to know the story behind the man who couldn’t speak a word of English, but played the guitar for hours each evening. I wanted to know what was in the minds of the woman who wore a dazzling wedding ring, but had arrived at the community alone.
I was raised to accept each and every individual who came into my life. But the level of acceptance at Arcosanti is something truly unique. There’s no one dominating race, culture, or class. The diversity of the community is celebrated, with individuals speaking and acting freely.
I imagine what childhood would be like there. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what about an experimental town with a molten bronze bell casting business?
On days when my college courses take a toll, I daydream of an escape to a mystical place in the depths of the Southwest. When the cold Iowa winds sting my cheeks, I imagine the hot, Arizona sun beaming on my face. When the hustle and bustle of city life leaves me drained, I long for the romantic notion of living in a secret oasis overlooking the vast desert.