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Deep in the Arizona Desert Lies an Unfinished City of the Future That Time Forgot

The city designed for 5,000 now only counts 80 residents.

Deep in the Arizona desert lies a city once built for thousands that now holds only a few dozen inhabitants. Called Arconsanti, it was designed by the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri and despite having begun its construction in the 1970s today it is only 5% complete.

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Soleri conceived of Arcosanti as a city where people lived in harmony with the natural environment. “We’re here imagining cities are the newest thing,” Jeff Stein, co-president of Arcosanti, told AD.

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“Cities happened only 7,000 years or so ago. We haven’t had time to design them properly for human evolution.”  

Soleri's dream was to develop an urban laboratory where all activities could be sustained by Earth's natural resources. Rooms would be lit by the sun and vegetation would provide much-needed shade and cooling.

Soleri was an early proponent of ideas that are now considered the basis of eco-friendly design such as local food sourcing, solar energy, and small neighborhoods. These ideas today can still address global warming.

Soleri purchased the land for the city with a loan but managed to get free labor from dedicated followers. Unfortunately, his ideas were difficult to finance and over time the site's construction waned.

Support waning

Even his loyal followers seemed to give up on him after a while. "The original people working there either got frustrated and left, or stayed there and got older and settled into their cozy, Soleri-designed apartments to live a pleasant, hippy-dream life," James McGirk, a former attendee of an Arcosanti workshop, told Gizmodo.

Today, the remaining of Arcosanti's 80 residents earn a minimum wage working for the Cosanti Foundation, the group responsible for building the city. They put in 40 hours a week of on-site work in such areas as construction or administration.

The city will likely never be ready for the 5,000 people it was intended for. But for the few that remain, it is is a perfect abode.

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