I've written several posts now on Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti, and his vision of cities as mostly-self-sufficient, compact communities instead of sprawling and isolating urban blights that consume and destroy the land they're on. I've also mentioned some of my agreements and doubts with what I saw in Arcosanti (as a concrete entity somewhat separated from Soleri's vision), and some speculations on what exactly community was. I muse here on Lupin Lodge as an example of community — since I believe it definitely has more of a community feel to it, both by Soleri's definitions and by my personal experience.

To be fair, Lupin Lodge is — as I've mentioned previously — 77 years old; it has had more time to grow into community than Arcosanti (you can read more about Lupin's history here). It is, in fact, a bit comfortably shabby in places, with the dust and accumulated debris of years of use. On the "breaking community" side of the equation, they had a bit of a run of bad luck in the early-to-mid 00's (the noughties? :), with an unscrupulous manager absconding with several months' worth of profits. Also, apparently last year the county told them they could not use their pure water wells for showers, which means they have to pay for a new and expensive water tank system, and that there are polite signs everywhere asking you to please help conserve water.

However, on the "building community" side, there are still two showers next to the pool which work just fine. Also, the residents still live there in their varied parked RVs and yurts and other housing, and member-visitors do still come, and there are still various types of meetings and programs you can attend, with friendly and relaxed people there to meet and talk to, and it's really pleasant and relaxing. The land is beautiful, shaded and rolling green and full of wildlife. The main building is new as of the '79 quake, large and clean and airy, and the food is excellent.

I think that's part of the difference, actually, at least for me: for all that Lupin Lodge is clothing-optional, there seemed to be very little issue with whether you wore clothes or not. There was no… no judging that I could feel. It may be completely incorrect, but a shy person in trendy clothes or work clothes feels more judgmental, more distanced to me — than a similarly shy person when we're both sans clothing. This could be totally psychosomatic on my part, but that's how I felt. Further, people were friendlier at Lupin Lodge — when I looked lost in Arcosanti I had to just wander until I figured out where I was going. There were a few folks who smiled in greeting, but when I was in Lupin Lodge just about everyone I passed waved and smiled. It's almost as if removal of the shield of clothing — which does not stop, for example, rude leering — means the responsibility of being courteous is firmly pushed back onto those it truly belongs on: those in a more powerful social position. Further, it's probably harder to feel socially powerful when nude. Even if someone manages that particular rudeness, the anti-predatory rules at Lupin are strong and firmly enforced — which I, as a woman, deeply appreciate.

Speculating freely here as I type, I suspect another large part of the lack of community feeling I got at Arcosanti is that it is still a construction site, even though people live there. As I've mentioned previously, the core group which stays there is quite small — no more than 25 or so usually, according to the gentleman I spoke to at breakfast — and augmented by the volunteer interns, who come and go on a weekly basis. That's certainly enough for a community, but I think having folks stay for just a week probably makes that connection correspondingly more difficult. Lupin Lodge, on the other hand, is a place where several families live, and visitors are members who consequently probably care more about the property. My thought is: that's got to feel entirely different to those living there — it's their home.

Hmm… thinking about it now, I'd have to say for me personally the terrain also made a huge difference. I can admire the desert's striking beauty, and appreciate its spare, efficient evolution, but that doesn't mean I want to live there. I love trees — big overarching trees with greenery thriving all around them — and those types of trees just cannot exist in the desert. Further, in the desert the rains sometimes seemed almost more an enemy, what with their washing out roads and messily re-modeling carefully built-up earth terraces. I had to smile at seeing a permanent water brake in one of the Arcosanti roads — it had been painted and decorated by children, which gave me an idea of how constant an issue this was.

Further, people were doing the best they could to grow things at Arcosanti, but their dam broke from floods last year, leaving them with little water due to sun-bake. The sun's constant exposure is a tough environment for people as well as water-thirsty plants. There was a feeling of tiredness, of exhaustion from the constant and blistering heat sometimes, that I got at Arcosanti. Is it harder to create community in a desert, I wonder, or is it just that it's easier for community to break down there?

That feeling of work-related heat exhaustion was completely absent in Lupin Lodge, though; it was clear the folks at Lupin were there to relax, or were already home. The temperature might have been the same in both places — lower-to-mid 90's — but how people reacted was far, far different. In Arcosanti the work teams got slower and slower, but kept chugging determinedly (if exhaustedly) on. In Lupin Lodge we went and hung around at the shady pool, swimming or sunning or reading or chatting — whatever pleased us — until dinnertime. It was really quite lovely.

I've mentioned the one family with children at Arcosanti; there were at least two in Lupin Lodge that I saw, and possibly more. The children were older in Lupin Lodge, I think, and they and their mothers wore clothes. However, I suspect the mothers did so more in order to accompany the children, so they would not feel awkward about being clothed — since in both cases the women wore simply a muumuu style wrap. Lupin Lodge also allowed well-behaved pets, which Arcosanti did not; speaking for myself, I know having my beloved pets with me makes me feel better — more at ease and more comfortable. Though I do not have any pets currently (sob!) they have always been, in a sense, part of my family. Consequently a community that received them with open arms would also make me feel more welcome.

It is perhaps unfair, but I cannot help wondering if the fact that I was alone at Arcostanti, but not at Lupin Lodge, is also affecting my sense of comfort and community in each place. I cannot say for sure, but I'll throw it out for speculation, since this post is effectively my brainstorming on creation of community. I also participated in an interesting class at Lupin, and had pleasantly courteous physical contact with others; I suspect that too affected my sense of personal comfort there. To be fair to Arcosanti, it does hold community events, but I was not able to attend one.

I think that pretty much sums it up for me, actually. Adding somewhat to Soleri's initial statements, I believe the real magic of community occurs when:

  • People gather or cluster together for a purpose — which is not simply economic benefit,
  • Which includes families — hopefully several generations' worth,
  • All of whom teach and promote a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the environment (whether virtual or physical),
  • Further, that environment is beautiful and pleasant and relaxing; a place for emotional renewal,
  • Segregation or separation is actively discouraged, while friendly tolerance is promoted,
  • Wasteful processes — such as commuting or individually owned appliances — are eliminated or somewhat negated through procedures such as either "work on location," or shared communal spaces,
  • Complementarily, the community actively promotes personal traits such as ethical self-discipline, encouraging the learning of these qualities of good living and working; and finally…
  • There is a concomitant growth of cultural capital within the community, through shared history and cultural events which embody Soleri's social-wealth-producing "move towards the spirit."

What do you think?

 

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