Experimental City: Arcosanti Attracts Tourists and Residents

About 40 minutes past the city of Anthem, there’s a place that combines the past and the future, equaling something that isn’t quite the present. In the experimental city of Arcosanti, everything — from the architecture to the plants grown on the property — promotes a sustainable lifestyle. With ever-growing concerns about the environment, we may need their help, and soon.

The long and dusty road leading to Arcosanti doesn’t yield much of a preview, or any sort of “view” for that matter. In the summer, cows graze alongside passing cars and stare dumbly at the chunks of metal clunking through their pasture. After a series of turns, the first concrete buildings of Arcosanti begin to appear.

From the parking lot, the city looks almost like a futuristic ghost town. A white concrete dome pokes out from under the landscape, and sunlight bounces off the glass from the surrounding buildings. There are no real roads and no telephone wires and, at first, no people in sight. However, the guts of Arcosanti aren’t hungry for human attention.

Approximately 20 guests visit the town every night, possibly hoping to learn of a solution to our planet’s environmental problems. For those who are truly serious about committing to sustainability, it’s even possible to become one of Arcosanti’s residents. Currently, about 75 people live and work in this sustainable experimental city.

For those who are just taking a day tour or spending the weekend in the on site hotel, the visitor’s center and cafe is the first stop of the journey. The flight of stairs leading up to the art gallery where your tour begins is drenched in sunlight, and spectacular views of the mountainside accompany you upward.

Arcosanti is famous for its bronze bells and ceramics. Inside the gallery, there is no shortage of either.

There is also no shortage of history in Arcosanti. In the 1970s, during the time of social revolution and flower children, Paolo Soleri created Arcosanti with a goal in mind — to create a city for the future.

A student of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his solution to the ever-expanding suburbs was to build a place where there wouldn’t be a need for automobiles or other CO2-emitting vehicles. Instead of driving, people could easily walk from their home to their work, school or anywhere else in the city.

Soleri’s vision would first need a test run, so he created Arcosanti as a model for future societies. Residents would grow most of their own food, reuse and recycle most of their materials and live a fairly minimalistic lifestyle.

From these principles, he created the concept of arcology, or the study of archeology and ecology.

The construction of Arcosanti began in 1970, but it continuously undergoes renovations. From an outsider’s perspective, few things have changed.

Today, Arcosanti still upholds the values of its founder, but has found ways to incorporate modern technology into its seams.

While on a tour, don’t expect to see men and women examining sun dials to check the time or catching pigeons to send their mail. Rather, you’ll see people using iPads, laptops and other hallmarks of modern society.

Sean-Paul VonAncken, a public relations specialist and current resident of Arcosanti, said they’ve been able to use WiFi around the site and typically use an app called Slack, which connects members of a group by organizing digital conversations into different “channels.”

Plus, with the invention of the internet, VonAncken said Arcosanti appeals to many far-away and foreign people who want to improve the way they live and the way the earth is being treated.

For VonAncken, the decision to move to Arcosanti was simple: if he wants to save the planet, he needs to take action.

VonAncken found himself working for Arcosanti’s public relations department after completing the city’s five-week workshop program.

“People learn firsthand what it’s like to live here,” VonAncken said.

An important step in alleviating the world of human pollution and joining the ranks of Arcosanti: ditching your car. Although the city is still small and manageable by foot, Arcosanti hopes to one day expand on its “pedestrian city” principle.

“Everyone walks from point A to point B…everything here is really simple,” VonAncken said. “You don’t have to develop some high technology…we call it ‘appropriate’ technology.”

These “appropriate” pieces of technology include covering 15 percent of the site in solar panels, a basic grey water filtration system and architecture that’s meant to replace air conditioning/heating by capturing the low winter sun and blocking out the high summer sun.

Indeed, places like Arcosanti have helped inspire a new generation of architects and construction workers. Tom Geusz moved to Arcosanti from New Mexico after hearing about the projects happening in the experimental city.

“One of my dreams is to build my own living space,” Geusz said.  “The architecture is really inspiring to be around. It really gets into your bones.”

It is unclear what the future holds for Arcosanti. As global warming continues to expand its sweltering, unwavering grip on our planet, it’s possible more people will turn to experimental cities like Arcosanti for help or inspiration.

“We think that given the kind of precarious circumstances in the world we become more relevant,” said VonAncken. “It’s good to be honest about where we’re at, and we do believe we’re in a state of urgency.”

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