Monday, August 30, 2010

'Utopian' Arcosanti near Mayer still uncompleted

I first heard about the Arcosanti project back in the mid-'70s while still in Michigan, and if we'd been able to scrape up a few bucks in those days of inflation and unemployment, my best friend and I would have been there helping build. Many years and happenstance eventually brought me to Prescott, and one of my first local trips was to visit Paolo Soleri's urban experimental laboratory.

The feature on Arcosanti casts the project as incomplete, "utopian," and cultlike, none of which is fair. The writer ignores or doesn't understand its context and important influence in the development of modern architecture and urban design, preferring to reinforce the derisive narrative that has helped keep the project small and grossly underfunded for decades.

While it necessarily has an overall design, Arcosanti is a laboratory and prototype, not a town, and its success cannot be measured in terms of "completing" the evolving design. Because of its rural location, high ideals, radical vision and participation by young people, the media have regularly painted it as some sort of hippie cult in the desert, which is where the "utopian" idea comes from. Soleri's vision is central to the experiment and he exerts firm control over its expression, and that has drawn both fair and unfair criticism, but he's an internationally respected, award-winning artist and educator, not a cult leader. The unnamed writer mentions his "workshops," but not his faculty position at ASU. Why is it "near Mayer" in the headline rather than "at Cordes Junction" or "on I-17"? All this would seem calculated to minimize if I weren't so familiar with the Courier's general disinterest in research.

Arcosanti is not about the buildings or its population, it's about the ideas. Much like Prescott College, it is underappreciated by most Prescott residents as a value feature, educational resource and attraction for our area. As Soleri nears the end of his life, major change is certainly coming for the project. The value we place on it as a community will have an effect on what it becomes going forward. This would be a worthy subject for newspaper coverage, also ignored here. Even the many arts events that Arcosanti hosts are left out.

The big question for me is why this story now? What's the news value here? And why didn't the Courier add local knowledge to this wire piece?

Update, Tuesday: Today's editorial offers a defense of the project (which only needs defending because the editors failed to deal with the bogosity of the AP story), touching on several of my points. Oddly, the editor still insists (twice!) that it's "a stone's throw from Mayer." (My maps put them about nine miles apart. Perhaps the editor is better at throwing stones than I'd imagined.) How about "on the edge of the Aqua Fria National Monument" instead?

1 comment:

coyoteradiotheater said...

Yeaaaah, not so much a stone's throw from Mayer. Actually, a more interesting comparison would be to Cordes Lakes - the failed subdivision which stole the name of a respected local citizen - Henry Cordes and his family - erected by a group of snake oil salesmen and then foisted on the community association when the state started indicting snake oil salesmen.

The modality of Cordes Lakes solves none of the problems facing our country even then - it is absolutely dependent on cheap oil, plentiful water and jobs somewhere else.

If Arcosanti is the future unattained, Cordes Lakes is the future ignored.