Arcosanti, a 1970s "urban laboratory" in the desert seventy miles north of Pheonix, Arizona, was founded as a bulwark against "the problems of pollution, waste, energy depletion, land, water, air and biological conservation, poverty, segregation, intolerance, population containment, fear and disillusionment." This city's founder, Paolo Soleri, is now 92 and is struggling to define the city's future:
Mr. Soleri originally envisioned a series of greenhouses that would occupy the hill below the complex. Hot air would rise from these conservatories into a complex of tunnels that could heat the East Crescent. At present, two trial greenhouses have been finished. For now, a single volunteer has been charged with growing what she can. For better or worse, the national food-gardening craze seems to have skipped Arcosanti.
Meanwhile, the project has only dabbled in popular technologies like solar panels, rain barrels and composting toilets, off-the-shelf gear that can be applied on a small scale.
“I should have them,” Mr. Soleri said during a recent visit to the project. Yet for most Americans, he maintained, chasing these technologies can become a game unto itself. “We are passionate collectors of gadgetries,” he said. “We can’t resist.”
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