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While many efforts toward conservation focus on making transportation more efficient, Paolo Soleri’s urban laboratory, Arcosanti, demonstrates that biology holds the answer to our conservation woes. His alternative to urban sprawl is based on evolution and likens the cityscape to an evolving organism: “In nature, as an organism evolves, it increases complexity, and it also becomes a more compact or miniaturized system. The city too . . . must follow the same process of complexification and miniaturization to become a more lively container for the social, cultural and spiritual evolution of humankind.”

Essentially, Soleri proposes that condensing where you work, live, and play will drastically reduce your impact on the environment while helping to reinstate a sense of community and connection to nature. Located in the Arizona high desert, Arcosanti forms the prototype for Soleri's vision of a condensed city, but like vertical farming, its practical application has yet to be fully realized. Construction of Arcosanti began in 1970 and still continues today. Criticized as a “moldering relic of impractical idealism,” Arcosanti has not exactly been financially sustainable. Work is slow because Soleri has a reputation of making no compromises and, according to some critics, because there is not much to offer for potential investors.

Despite the criticism, Arcosanti may become a template for city planning as sustainability moves to the forefront of consciousness. Soleri’s vision of a city in harmony with nature may not fully materialize in his lifetime, but the foundations are laid for an urban implosion.

Creative Commons image: Cody R on Flickr

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