Allison Arieff Calls Out the Car

Allison Arieff Calls Out the Car
Jeff Stein

Allison Arieff: you know, founder and past editor of DWELL magazine; currently editorial director for the urban planning and policy think tank, SPUR / San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. She writes about architecture, design, cities and technology for the Opinion section of The New York Times. In the TIMES Sunday OCT 6 edition she points out that we need fewer cars, not smarter ones. See her article here:

“I used to think calling cars “death machines” was kind of extreme. Then my niece was hit by one.” She writes. “She was only 9 years old, out with her family in Los Angeles and running toward an ice cream truck. She was hit with such force that most of her front teeth were knocked out. She is lucky to be alive.

Thinking about my niece made me recall all the other times members of my family had been injured by cars. My husband’s grandmother was killed. My aunt and uncle were seriously injured. I was even involved in a hit-and-run in a crosswalk in front of my school when I was a kid and broke my leg. Most of us have stories like this — a car coming into our lives and unleashing horrendous damage on our loved ones, friends, family and even ourselves.

Cars are death machines. Pedestrian fatalities in the United States have increased 41 percent since 2008; more than 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2018 alone. More than 4,000 American kids are killed in car crashes every year – I am thankful every day my niece wasn’t one of them.” Including the drivers and their passengers themselves, of course, more than 40,000 people were killed by cars this past year.

But Arieff is focused on urban dwellers, people who aren’t car drivers themselves. Her solution: Rethink urban land use. Oh! That has been our solution, too, at Arcosanti, for the past 50 years. Let’s see what we can do with this idea in the next 50.


Jeff Stein

Now look here, and as you do, please find a couple paragraphs that describe Charles King’s new book about cultural anthropology and the small group of people who, nearly 100 years ago, made it both a discipline and a game changer in western civilization. I send you this, on a perfectly fine end-of-September afternoon, because I think where these people were back then with Franz Boas’ idea of cultural anthropology is where we are today, nearly 50 years on, with Paolo Soleri’s idea of arcology, ie, a group of folks just about ready to (somehow!) double down on an idea that has the potential to change people’s attitudes and behavior. Just in time!

Charles King (Doubleday)

The rise of cultural anthropology is the subject of King’s book. It’s a group biography of Franz Boas, who established cultural anthropology as an academic discipline in the United States, and four of Boas’ many protégés: Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Cara Deloria, and Margaret Mead. King argues that these people “were on the front lines of the greatest moral battle of our time: the struggle to prove that – despite differences of skin color, gender, ability, or custom – humanity is one undivided thing.”

Cultural anthropologists changed people’s attitudes, King believes, and they changed people’s behavior. “If it is now unremarkable for a gay couple to kiss goodbye on a train platform,” he writes, “for a college student to read the Bhagavad Gita in a Great Books class, for racism to be rejected as both morally bankrupt and self-evidently stupid, and for anyone, regardless of their gender expression, to claim workplaces and boardrooms as fully theirs – if all of these things are not innovations or aspirations but the regular, taken-for-granted way of organizing society, then we have the ideas championed by Boas’ circle to thank for it.” They moved the explanation for human differences from biology to culture, from nature to nurture.

And for our part – and I mean you reading this (I’m smiling as I type…) – the work of the Cosanti Foundation, continuing your pioneering work of the past (almost) 50 years, intends to nurture the idea of arcology in the next 50 years to bring it to real fruition in the a world that is rapidly changing to require it.




Johann Haslauer, Landshut, Germany
Arcosanti Alum

What is Paolo Soleri’s philosophy?
What is the philosophy of Arcosanti?

For his investigation Johann Haslauer from Landshut, Germany, tries a kind of “deconstructive” approach: Not through academic analysis of Paolo’s writing but through his very personal encounters with Arcosanti. That means to also interpret the built work as text, and not to see only Paolo Soleri as the author, but also all participants of the Arcosanti project. And it is a “second order observation”, aware of being an observer of itself and the own operations…

Click here for the Rest of the Story.


Jeff Stein



“This is not a pipe”
Rene Magritte




The artist Rene Magritte (1898-1967) worried about his fellow humans misunderstanding the world by experiencing it only through images. “The treachery of imagery” he called it, and made this painting that describes his concern. Of course the issue for Magritte was: it’s a PICTURE of a pipe. An image. Two dimensional. Only experienced by sense of sight. Overly simple. Whereas, an actual pipe is a 3D object, you can hold it in your hand, feel the smoothness of the briar it is made of, feel it warm to the touch as the tobacco in it burns, smell the aroma of that tobacco, taste it as you bring it into your mouth. A real pipe and its relationship to the human body is complex. Plus, of course, there was the physical exertion to make the pipe, to purchase it, to select the tobacco, and even after it is smoked, the pipe is still lying around the house. As for the image of the pipe, you may have just happened upon it accidently; and if you click a mouse / turn the page, it will disappear. All of which brings us to Arcosanti.




“This is not an Arcology”
Paolo Soleri





True, this is a powerful image, yet here online it is just a picture. Striking, but again, 2-dimensional. Colorful, yes, but onscreen, unlike the real place, you are not surrounded by that color. Visually stimulating, perhaps, but the real place stimulates many senses: you can feel the materials, the temperature changes from sun to shade, from day to night; smell the desert after a rain, delight in the aroma of dinner cooking in the café, feel the humidity of a greenhouse, hear the windbells(!), hear the neighbors, and on really good days, hear the sound of performing artists in your midst. And all the while there is the haptic, real physical experience of three-dimensional space itself.

In addition, of course, Soleri had no illusions that what we have built so far is actually an arcology. A kind of laboratory, yes. A series of prototype buildings that, while sustaining a learning community now, point to an arcology in the future, certainly! On its mesa in central Arizona, Arcosanti is an architectural document about the relationship of humans and nature, architecture and ecology, a foundation the next generation can build on, shoulders we can all stand on. But photographs alone do not really convey its complexity, the sensuality of what is there now, and of what is to come.

The difficulty of representing architecture in two-dimensions, through photography, is not limited to Arcosanti. It is endemic, throughout our culture. As a result of learning about architecture through photography, a core understanding is lost. That understanding, strongly evident at Arcosanti, is that architecture is three dimensional, spatial; architecture is about space not surface. The complex, connected, prototype buildings at Arcosanti constructed over time on a really tight budget, embody that three-dimensionality as well as any architecture on earth.

Reading this you should make a note: come to Arcosanti for a visit, experience this architecture, this place with all your senses. Go past the flat screen image to the actual; remind yourself what body-knowing – as opposed to just thinking – is all about, and experience the sort of architecture that we imagine could help all of us realize the fullness of our humanity.

New Horizon



Jeff Stein

Doug Aitken and Zach Tetrault; these two are old hands at Arcosanti. Over the years, both at Arcosanti and beyond, they have proclaimed in print and through their work how the power of Paolo Soleri’s ideas has made a big impression on them. You may have seen the YouTube / Sundance interview that Aitken did with Paolo Soleri a few years ago – click the link here:

Or perhaps you have seen his feature-length films, one of which was created partly at Arcosanti; maybe you were at FORM | Arcosanti 2 years ago (you really should experience a FORM | Arcosanti) for a detailed public conversation about art and architecture and meaning with Doug and Zach and Jeff Stein.

Now here’s what those two, Aitken and Tetrault, just did in Massachusetts this past month:

Like the work at Arcosanti itself, their Massachusetts project explores new ways of seeing the world and of being in the world. Aitken’s hundred-foot-tall silver mylar balloon cruises above the New England landscape, between earth and sky, giving those of us on the ground a startling and unexpected new look at both. When the balloon lands, Tetrault has assembled some of Arcosanti’s favorite performers — in addition to a stellar group of thinkers — to create a powerful series of exchanges of ideas and music. It is a way to enliven the whole state.

I’m listening to one of the NEW HORIZON performers right now. It’s Arcosanti favorite (and recent MacDowell fellowship recipient!) Moses Sumney. You can too:

Now that it has been tried in the East, NEW HORIZON would be great at Arcosanti, don’t you think? Except of course, for the wind; hmmmm…yes, that wind. In fact years ago we had our little experience with hot-air balloons at Arcosanti and we are not about to repeat it.

So there you go. What a couple of guys are doing in the world when they’re not at Arcosanti. You’re doing something too. Let us know how it’s going! It need not involve balloons. Important work is happening everywhere, and as an Arcosanti alum each of you is in a particular position to affect it. Wendell Berry put it bluntly: “Every generation is a bridge between something that’s past and something that’s coming.” That’s us; it’s you: you were at Arcosanti, and now you’re on to the next thing. As you cross that bridge stay in touch, will you?