Tuesday, August 22, 2017

By Gretchen Gano and Cynthia Selin (Center for Nanotechnology in Society, ASU)

On Sunday, five of us traveled north from Tempe on our way to Arcosanti: architect Paolo Soleri’s experimental town in the desert of Arizona, built to embody his concept of arcology – the fusion of architecture with ecology. We were lucky to have a group of folks engaged in some of the most cutting edge informal science communication projects out there today: plays and performance, experiments in new forms of public engagement, forums and science cafes.

Where do ideas of utopia come from and how do they inform the ways that people engage with science and as citizens? Our free flowing conversation revealed personal ideas of utopias, beginning with home, gardening, neighbors, collaboration, self-sufficiency versus infrastructure.. We considered qualities in global cities from food deserts to the food package pastorale, (the idea that the cow in the field on the milk jug is the place where this dairy comes from). Our initial discussion worked to characterize emerging urban structures and the drivers underneath community transformation.

Released from traffic on the I-17, our seat belts and the sealed conditioned air of our van, we emerged from the ‘edge city’ utopias to the planned community of Arcosanti.

After the bone shaking trip down the gravel road away from the highway and into the high desert, we burst out of the controlled environment to an azure day of sun and wind to explore on our own, and then later with a formal tour, this curious place meant to be home to 5000, but today home to about 70. Were we intruding? Or in the town square? Is this a new kind of city, or a side note? We prowled the shade under the vaulted silt-cast archways in what is otherwise a construction site. Between the bronze bell foundry and the amphitheater, we watched parents play with their children, heard a rock band busy practicing, noticed the lending library open, and noted an item prioritized on the town meeting whiteboard — “pillow fights”.

Our reflections drew out the tensions between individuals desires and social organization, how orchestrated a society can be and privacy and security in contemporary urban spaces.

We survived the experiment, a little sunburned and more aware of utopias and their threats and opportunities.

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