What is Community? part 3: Soleri’s definitions
So does CoH qualify as a community? Does Arcosanti as it stands today, or Lupin Lodge?
Paolo Soleri (who is still alive, though I speak of his writing in the past tense) devoted quite a bit of thought to community. According to him, there is a “magic of the big city” (23) as much as of the village or small town, which should help draw a community together. Further, economics is not the source of that magic: “A culture is not just a by-product of economic proficiency” (23). However, glancing through Soleri’s somewhat obscure, poetically written Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory? (3rd ed. Scottsdale, AZ: The Cosanti Press, 1993), I find myself laboring to pin down precisely what he believes creates that desired culture.
People clustering together — what Solieri refers to as “crowding [as] an indispensable asset” (27) — is definitely one such element. Arcosanti is planned to have no roads, since Soleri considers “the richness of crowding lies in its being the intrinsic facilitator of connectedness, i.e., coherence and sensitization” (27). After reading swiftly through the book, I think by coherence Soleri means extended families (i.e.: three or four generations) living close together once more, which will also allow for more connection to and responsibility for stewardship of the natural environment. By sensitization I believe he expects exposure to a wide variety of human types will help eliminate all forms of segregation: “the most pervasive threat to the dignity and well-being of the individual and the group” (35). Having people live close to their work or school also dispenses with the wastefulness of commuting and integrates “living, learning, working” (32).
It would appear Soleri also believes living so will encourage the growth of a healthy sense of self-discipline, ethics, and self-reliance, as opposed to the resource-wasteful concepts of self-sufficiency, nationalism, militarism, intolerance, and consumerism. This community-encouraged “move toward the spirit” is exemplified by “social, cultural, mental, aesthetic, and environmental wealth” (47). I am not completely sure, but I think Soleri also expects there to be an intellectual depth and complexity to living so which is not really perceptible in today’s “sound-bite” culture, with its near-hysterical emphasis on false dichotomies.
The City of Heroes community
Under these precepts, I’d have to say CoH and Lupin Lodge qualify as communities, while today’s Arcosanti does not. CoH’s magic is the superheroic game itself, and people cluster virtually together for the love of the game, rather than for economic benefit. I suspect Soleri would consider everyone being at their widely separated computers to be a form of isolation, but at least people are connected and communicating, living and learning even if they are not working. Connectedness is subtly emphasized, in fact: I have heard of families where several generations are playing the game, and I have read on-line of at least one family (Mercedes Lackey and her husband) who keep contact with her father-in-law through this game they share; I’m sure there are more. Further, the virtual visuals mostly alleviate potential segregation.
I would love to see if an on-line community can actually encourage the growth of Soleri’s posited healthy growth of self-discipline, ethics, and self-reliance, as exemplified by social, cultural, mental, aesthetic, and environmental wealth. However, my initial thought is no, since the game is designed primarily as entertainment, and it would be difficult for there to be physical results of virtual gaming. Also, since CoH is unfortunately being shut down, I won’t be able to ask around amongst the players to find out.
Arcosanti today, to my knowledge, does not really have “clustering,” what with only 25 people living there full-time, nor are there any multi-generational families living there. I was told, in fact, that there was but one family with children present: one child was too young for school, while the other attended the little school in the nearest town. There may be a magic that still draws people to Arcosanti, but those people are either tourists, or interns who only stay for only a week. The interns come for the learning, pay to attend and to assist in construction, and then depart — hopefully to pass on the learning elsewhere.
Further, while I suspect it was unintentional, the lack of easy access within Arcosanti acts as a form of segregation against the disabled, while the need to pay and to assist in construction means the interns are almost uniformly young and (I’m guessing) at least middle class. For example, I did not see any Hispanics or Blacks while I was there; interns were all White or Asian. On the other hand, there did not seem to be much — if any — gender segregation: a woman led the kitchen crew, but a woman led the construction crew as well. Indeed, I saw a woman driving the snorting, clanking crane and a woman assisting in the mostly male brass pouring crew.