John Cobb, Paolo Soleri and Arcology
My review of John Cobb’s book, Jesus’ Abba, The God Who Has Not Failed appears in the current issue of The Christian Century. In sixty years of thinking and teaching and writing, Cobb addressed the central problems of human civilization.
Jeff Stein, director of the Arcosanti Foundation, wrote to tell how Cobb praised Paolo Soleri’s vision of arcology. Here is an excerpt from an article entitled The Christian, the Future, and Paolo Soleri, from The Christian Century, 1974.
Paolo Soleri, architect and prophet, sees the profound connection between cities and civilizations, and he affirms both. Our problem, he says, is not that we have become urbanized but that we have built our cities in such a way as to sacrifice our relation to nature for the sake of urban values; and the ironic result is that for most of their inhabitants our cities no longer provide even urban values. Cities have become agents of dehumanization as well as of denaturalization,
Soleri believes that the fundamental problem of the city is that it is only two-dimensional — a thin web of human life and human construction stretched over a large area. As it spreads it destroys both the natural surface and the possibility of rich interrelationships among its people. Thus it alienates the affection and loyalty of the inhabitants and at the same time becomes more and more inefficient in its use of energy and raw materials.
Soleri recognizes that our cities are strangling themselves and ruining their environment. But he does not for that reason turn his back on the city as such. He prizes the humanizing power latent in urban life. And to make that power manifest he proposes a radically new kind of city, an architectural ecology or ‘arcology.”
The image Soleri holds up is an image of hope. For one thing, an arcology would largely do away with environmental danger, because it would use only a fraction of the space, energy and resources required for building or maintaining our present cities. Problems of waste and pollution could be solved with relative ease. For instance, the waste heat from underground factories would provide the energy for the businesses and homes above, and the air would be kept unpolluted by making the automobile a rare plaything rather than a necessity. For within the arcology everyone would have convenient access to all its inner facilities, as well as to the world of agriculture and wilderness outside. Also, everyone would have ample opportunity for interaction with other people and for participation in decision-making. Residential segregation by race, age or social or economic class would no longer be a major problem, for the whole city would be a single unit.