The apse at Arcosanti. The Arizona eco-village was one of the projects discussed during Saturday's TEDxCity2.0 in San Francisco. Photo courtesy Wikipedia
San Francisco architects, permaculture experts, and a smattering of hopeful utopians gathered on Saturday in the Mission District for TEDxCity2.0—one of countless TEDx powwows held in nearly 70 cities worldwide. From Omaha to Oslo, these independently organized events invited urban innovators to imagine the future of their cities in the classic 18-minute TED Talk format. In between servings of vegan donuts, nut-free sorbet, and fizzy kombucha wine, attendees were treated to talks on a concrete dome home in Florida that survived Hurricane Ivan in 2004, a Santa Barbara food bank that operates as a free grocery, and IwamotoScott Architecture's speculative design for San Francisco in the year 2108 (look out for a post on the firm's fog-and-algae-powered city later this week!). Of course, no discussion of the future city would be complete without a trip back to the 1970s, when the designer Paolo Soleri hatched his plan for a carless eco-city in the Arizona high desert: Arcosanti.
Looking like a cross between a desert ruin and the friendliest construction site ever, Arcosanti is an urban laboratory where architects and students continue to carry out Soleri's vision for blending architecture and ecology—a concept dubbed "arcology"—to create a city organized around people instead of cars.
"Do you think it's our destiny to be relegated to staying in millions of little boxes scattered around the surface of landmasses, separated by roads and parking lots and cars?" Soleri's successor at Arcosanti, Jeff Stein, asked the crowd. Stein, a former dean of the Boston Architectural College, came on board last year to preside over the Cosanti Foundation, stump for the eco-city, and attract people and resources to keep Arcosanti going. (Soleri, now in his 90s, retired in 2011).
To make his case for carless communal living, Stein suggests that the compact design of our own neural pathways is the model that should replace our current system of sprawling arterial roadways:
"Imagine our brains like most cities and suburbs, only a few cells thick: they'd spread out for hundreds of feet on all sides of our heads. The cost of hats would be prohibitive. The time it would take an electrical impulse to get from one side of our brain to the other—the time between "Hmm, I'm thirsty" to actually getting a drink—would be too long to have sustained us as a life form on Earth. [...] Think about what happens to life in the absence of density, when the hyperorganism that is the core of many cities surrenders its makers and dwellers to the dimly alive sprawl of the suburbs, a kind of death comes about because of that, too. No eco-thinking can ignore density, crowding—the maker of life."
In that spirit, Stein also discussed the Cosanti Foundation's model for new urban construction, the Lean Linear City. The concept proposes narrow, modular "ribbon cities" 20 stories high that wind through the landscape, rely on walking and trains for transportation, and offer an immediate respite from the density of urban life with exits to the countryside on either side of these urban trails. With an emphasis on community over motorways and skyscraper-stoked isolation, the Lean Linear City is Le Corbusier's tower in the park tipped on its side.
The Lean Linear City. Renderings: Young Soo Kim