The first thing my friend and I realized as we started the tour at Arcosanti was that visitors who were not on the tour were not allowed to walk freely through the community. I understand the reasoning; I’ve worked in the French Quarter and know that dingdong tourists running around the neighborhood can be a giant pain in the ass. I understand that people live at Arcosanti and the people living there don’t want visitors wandering into private areas. What I don’t understand is why the guy on the phone made it sound like we could see whatever we wanted for free if we didn’t want to take the tour. My friend and I later agreed we were glad she’d gotten the Culture Pass and glad we’d gone on the tour. I would have been sad had we gone all the way out there and only seen the Visitor Center Complex.
The next thing my friend and I realized was that the senior citizens on the tour knew very little about intentional communities and cooperative living.
I’ve never lived in co-op housing, but through the years, I’ve had several friends who did. I understand the basic concepts.
The Fellowship of Intentional Community website says,
An “intentional community” is a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values.
This definition spans a wide variety of groups, including (but not limited to) communes, student cooperatives, land co-ops, cohousing groups, monasteries and ashrams, and farming collectives. Although quite diverse in philosophy and lifestyle, each of these groups places a high priority on fostering a sense of community–a feeling of belonging and mutual support that is increasingly hard to find in mainstream Western society.
Among secular communities, the inspiration [for launching a new community] is typically based on bold visions of creating a new social and economic order–establishing replicable models that will lead to the peaceful and ecological salvation of the planet.
This is what Arcosanti says about itself:
As an educational organization dedicated to learning-by-doing, developing the community is an important component of creating this urban prototype. We are not a planned community, but as Arcology city design suggests, as our diverse group of residents live, work and play in this integrated setting, culture and interaction are encouraged vs. dissipated.
Several of the senior citizens referred to Arcosanti as a commune during the tour. The use of the word commune to describe Arcosanti showed the preconceived notions of the visitors, because our tour guide never once used the term. The definition I found for commune (a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities) is only 2/3 correct for Arcosanti, because while the folks there live together and share responsibilities, I don’t think they share possessions. (Well, maybe they share the means of production, but I don’t think they share personal property.) And the way those senior citizens said commune, it was obvious they were thinking free sex and reefers.
The first community area we visited was the foundry. The Arcosanti website calls the foundry,
a beautiful open air studio overlooking the Agua Fria River valley, shaded by a Siltcast Apse.
We did not see a bronze pour on the day we visited, but because of my recent visit to Cosanti, I had a pretty good understanding of how the pour worked. If I hadn’t already been to a pour at Cosanti, I would
have felt a bit confused by the information given and disappointed to not get to see the molten metal which forms the bells.
The next place we went on the tour was an area consisting of an amphitheater ringed by living quarters. This is where the senior citizens asked a lot of questions and I lost what was left of my patience.
At some point in the tour, someone asked about car ownership at Arcosanti. Our tour guide said not everyone in the community owned a car, so folks carpooled when they went into town. This seemed to concern many of the folks on the tour. I didn’t own a car until I was well into my 30s, so carpooling doesn’t seem so strange to me, but some of these folks acted as if sharing a car were on par with several people sharing one pair of shoes.
Later, while the group was standing near the amphitheater, someone asked if there were any children in the community. Our guide said there were. In fact, she told us, three generations of a family live at Arcosanti. People in the group wanted to know if there were a school in the community. The guide said the children go to the nearest public school. But how do they get to school, someone asked with just the slightest edge of panic in the voice, if there aren’t enough cars? Our guide looked genuinely perplexed for a moment, as she had never said there weren’t enough cars. She’d only said folks shared cars and carpooled, but somehow that had been translated into a dearth of cars. Does the school bus come down that terrible road? someone wanted to know. (Much grumbling about the awful dirt road followed. I thought the road wasn’t so bad. Folks who thought that road was terrible better stay out of New Mexico.)
One woman had been looking at the living quarters which form a sort of open half circle around the seating area and stage. She voiced her concern about the sliding glass doors at the tops of the living quarters. What was to keep someone from simply walking out of those doors and falling two stories, she wanted to know. Our guide explained the sliding glass doors were not level with the floor, there was a barrier of a couple of feet between the bottom of the doors and the floor. Well, in California, there are codes! she said. That’s where my patience ended and I muttered not quite under my breath, That’s why we don’t live in California! My friend looked at me and said, This is the Wild West, baby! Then she pointed the thumb and forefingers of both hands like six shooters and used them to shoot imaginary bullets into the air while saying Pew! Pew! Pew! (That’s her sound for bullets being shot.) She and I started laughing, and I didn’t care what the senior citizens thought.
This is what I don’t understand: if a person thinks the way s/he lives is the only correct and proper way to live, why would that person bother to leave his or her neighborhood and look at anything else? (But I digress.)
After the tour, my friend and I thought about eating in the Arcosanti cafe. The food smells coming from in there were so good! I was ready to plunk $10 for the lunch buffet. My friend went and checked it out and didn’t see anything on the line that fit into her dietary restrictions, so we headed out
I did enjoy my visit to Arcosanti and applaud the work being done there
to embody a “Lean Alternative” to hyper consumption and wastefulness through more frugal, efficient, smart, yet elegant city designs.