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The CT’s Review of Sunday Travel Yields… Arcosanti

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

“We read them, so you don’t have to.”
Note from the Alpha Contrarian: As most of you already know, newspaper travel sections, overwhelmingly, suck for Contrarian Travellers. That said, they occassionally have useful info. So each week, in our constant quest to search all corners of the globe for those increasingly elusive contrarian moments, we assign one of our writers the onerous task of reading the dailies…

This week, Young Rob Jordan, our longtime Metrosexual Editor and South East Asian Correspondent recently returned from a month-long trip to South East Asia and safely ensconced in his South Beach pied-a-terre, is serving as “Contrarian Watchdog.” As such, over the weekend, Jordan scoured the travel sections of American dailies for Contrarian Travel nuggets.

At first, Rob was nearly seduced by the allure of Kim Il Jung, but — he’s too smart, too jaded a Contrarian to be duped — he moved on. Finally, he discovered an intriguing possibility in the least intriguing of sources.

Take a look at Rob’s report — and let us know what you think of Arcosanti. If Acrosanti is deemed a possible CT destination, we may dispatch Lael Powell-Rushing, who is standing by, for a site report.

A story that ran in the travel sections of several papers in the McClatchy newspaper chain (the Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune) focused on North Korea — yes, that’s right, North Korea, the land of Kim Il Sung, North Korea, one of the last anachronistic gasps of the Cold War, North F’n Korea. Sounds like perfect fodder for the CT’s media review.

The workers’ paradise is the inspiration for Arcade Fire lyrics (”I know a place where no cars go”), so it must be pretty cool. But, nothing sounds worse than being subjected, as the writer was, to “the largest choreographed gymnastics and dance display in the world.” And, besides, North Korea is so contrarian that it’s not really contrarian at all. Too obvious.


So, relax your shakras as we journey to Arcosanti compliments of the New York Times. Now, the Times is, of course, a publication so inherently non-contrarian that it might as well be contrarian.

Arcosanti? A Greek island, perhaps? A new Starbuck’s breakfast sandwich?

Nothing of the sort.

Somewhere north of Phoenix, long after the neon has faded from the rearview mirror, there’s a gravelly road that leads to a sprawling lost civilization, a dream not quite swallowed up by the desert. Intended, at its birth in 1970, as a model of ecologically sound community planning, Arcosanti never quite got the money it needed to come together. Nowadays, it’s a kind of half-built ghost town of space age concrete architecture populated by fewer than 100 earnest souls who toil gradually at finishing the idealized community.

The article’s author, Chris Colin, lets his contrarian flag fly early when he relates his reaction to a local McDonald’s employee’s judgment of Arcosanti. The woman warned of something “very bad,” maybe a cult. Colin’s response: “Sold.” (Full disclosure: I met Colin a few years back on a cheap and dangerous Chinatown bus from Washington to New York. We chatted about Joan Didion’s Miami, which I was thumbing through at the time and made some other small talk before I dozed off.)

There’s a lot of sharing going on at Arcosanti, but commune and cult seem to be verboten words there. Which is cool, because if you’re going to attract the planned-for population of 100,000-plus, you’ve got to market yourself to more than just the Burning Man crowd.

Italian architect Paolo Soleri, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright dreamed up Arosanti. Massive parts of his plan – such as a kilometer-high apartment tower – have yet to break ground. They likely never will. Acrosanti may never be completed, but it will long be something utterly unique – a quiet swan song for one man’s vision, a modern ruin.

For more information on Arcosanti, check out this article on Soleri’s dream in another stalwart of the Contrarian press, CNN. Or check out the Arcosanti site

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