Rob Jameson: Hi every­body. So, nice to meet you all. I should just cor­rect and say there aren’t two thou­sand peo­ple that live at Arcosanti yet. There’s a mas­ter plan, but I’ll get into that in the talk. 

So this is a talk on the city as an organ­ism. About a year ago I came to OuiShare 2015 and I was begin­ning a jour­ney. And I was­n’t real­ly sure where I was going to end up. My back­ground is as a tech cofounder in a com­pa­ny, and I was look­ing for a place where I can do user test­ing and under­stand the impacts of a net­work for crowd­sourc­ing for groups of people. 

I began a road trip that last­ed about six weeks. And com­ing from New York City, the place that I wound up of Arcosanti, I thought that I knew a lot on what was pos­si­ble in cities, and it turns out that I was real­ly wrong. 

So, I arrived at this place here, ArcoSanti. Arcosanti was start­ed in 1972. The founder Paolo Soleri iden­ti­fied that soon, over 50% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, which we’ve now had, has moved into cities. And because of that, we had to rethink the way we live togeth­er. The city is car­less. The idea is that it fus­es archi­tec­ture and ecol­o­gy togeth­er into a self-sustaining ecosystem. 

It is an archi­tec­tur­al mar­vel. It’s very beau­ti­ful. And as was men­tioned ear­li­er, it was built all by vol­un­teers. Nothing was con­tract­ed out. Basically what hap­pens is you come, you go into a work­shop pro­gram. You’re trained by the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. And then every­one con­tin­ues to build and iter­ate over and over and over again. So it’s a very fas­ci­nat­ing case study for me. And I became the tech­nol­o­gy man­ag­er there, and I did­n’t ful­ly under­stand at the begin­ning how pow­er­ful this expe­ri­ence would be for under­stand­ing what’s pos­si­ble collectively. 

So, Paolo Soleri the orig­i­nal archi­tect passed on two years ago. And he designed a city that was for four thou­sand peo­ple. But cur­rent­ly there’s only about eighty peo­ple that live there. It’s fan­tas­tic in that almost every­thing that we have is in the com­mons. We have way more resources than we know what to do with, from art spaces, and enter­tain­ment, and food, and learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. But why, if you’re in a com­mu­ni­ty that’s fol­low­ing the prin­ci­ples that the shar­ing econ­o­my talks about, why is it not thriv­ing? Why isn’t it mas­sive and why does­n’t every­one know about it? And that’s what we’ll talk about. 

So first let’s rede­fine what city as an organ­ism” means. When Paolo used this term, he was refer­ring specif­i­cal­ly to the impact that archi­tec­ture had on the envi­ron­ment, on the liv­ing envi­ron­ment of peo­ple. But now that we have new capa­bil­i­ties with tech­nol­o­gy, we’ll rede­fine this as a com­plex sys­tem seen as a sin­gle enti­ty, whose needs are known, empa­thet­i­cal­ly felt, and met through cen­tral­ized and decen­tral­ized coor­di­na­tion. And we’ll go into how we’re exper­i­ment­ing with this shortly. 

So, being the tech­nol­o­gy man­ag­er, I start­ed first to move the city as organ­ism con­cept ahead through tech so that peo­ple could under­stand the col­lec­tive use in the city. I broke it down to mind, body, spir­it; I thought it would be an inter­est­ing way for peo­ple to relate this that were non-tech. 

The first thing we did was we intro­duced Slack. And inter­est­ing­ly enough, Slack is now used by over 80% of the peo­ple that live there. Which is pret­ty phe­nom­e­nal con­sid­er­ing that peo­ple range from ages five to about eighty. From there, that gives us a very clear insight, dai­ly, on all sorts of con­tent that are con­cerns for peo­ple. We do things like doing dai­ly health checks of where are peo­ple at phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly each day. We extract needs that are expressed on Slack and then put them in dif­fer­ent needs lists. So this has real­ly cre­at­ed this kind of noos­pher­ic lay­er of under­stand­ing the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness of the community. 

Next is Internet of Things. We have dif­fer­ent mea­sur­ing devices that mea­sure the util­i­ties and the flow of peo­ple. One sta­tis­tic I learned was that there’s over 570 thou­sand local gov­ern­ments in the world. Only 2.5 thou­sand are pur­su­ing Internet of Things cur­rent­ly to mea­sure the way all the dif­fer­ent util­i­ties are used. As we begin to intro­duce more of this infor­ma­tion, it’s view­able on a pub­lic dash­board that we hope that oth­er peo­ple can see and help us hack how effi­cient the city is. 

Finally—this actu­al­ly just began last weekend—We’re using aug­ment­ed real­i­ty to allow the dream of what Arcosanti can be to be vis­i­ble to far more peo­ple. So like I’d said the city has been designed for four thou­sand peo­ple. And now with an app for any smart­phone, you can scan a track­ing point and then see the future parts of the city that don’t exist yet. And this is real­ly pow­er­ful because pre­vi­ous­ly, if you were an archi­tect you might under­stand the ulti­mate vision. Or you might be able to pick it up and look at it two-dimensionally in a book. But now for zero car­bon foot­print, we’re actu­al­ly able to see the designs, have peo­ple with all dif­fer­ent medi­ums and back­grounds cri­tique it, and dis­cuss cul­tur­al­ly what would hap­pen if these build­ings were actu­al­ly built. 

So I want to talk about what hap­pens as more and more peo­ple start to become in sync with the idea that the city is an actu­al organ­ism. And I’ve chart­ed out the basic steps that I’ve observed so far. 

First of course you have to have every­one’s base needs met. If peo­ple are going hun­gry, if they don’t have a place to live, it’s real­ly hard to tran­scend your indi­vid­ual iden­ti­ty into a col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty. You have to have a strong com­mons. So like I men­tioned, about 70% of the phys­i­cal spaces and resources are in the commons. 

After that, start some­thing that’s more of an inter­nal par­a­digm shift. And we see this as peo­ple come and vis­it and stay with us. It’s the begin­ning of the my body/city body inter­re­la­tion­ship. At this stage, peo­ple don’t regard oth­ers as oth­er. They start to just say you know, we’re all part of this col­lec­tive unit. One exam­ple just to show how rad­i­cal this can play out is, com­ing from New York City it would be the equiv­a­lent of if you’re walk­ing down the street and you see garbage on the side of the road, you would say, Oh, that’s like garbage in my liv­ing room. Let me pick that up because this is a reflec­tion of myself.” And col­lec­tive­ly at Arcosanti this is where every­one is at. 

Beyond that, this is the stage we’re at now, is the the needs and resources of the col­lec­tive organ­ism are made vis­i­ble to every­one. This allows all sorts of dif­fer­ent spon­ta­neous orga­ni­za­tion. We call them syn­er­gies, where peo­ple are just act­ing ran­dom­ly to help the col­lec­tive thrive. 

The next phase that we’re start­ing with right now also is auton­o­my in par­tic­i­pa­tion. What that means is once peo­ple skills are clear­ly iden­ti­fied and they’ve been vet­ted as being respon­si­ble in the com­mu­ni­ty, rather than work­ing in a spe­cif­ic depart­ment they can float freely and meet needs as they come up. 

And final­ly, I’m call­ing it tele­path­ic and syn­chro­nis­tic real­i­ty. We’re begin­ning to see the very edge of this right now. And by that what I mean is peo­ple’s needs are com­mu­ni­cat­ed with­out the need to even do it ver­bal­ly. So just from some­one’s eyes, you can under­stand what it is that they’re need­ing and then act. And some peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty are exper­i­ment­ing with this, and I’m excit­ed for next year to do more exper­i­ments there. 

So, as we’ve been mov­ing towards this new par­a­digm, which takes the city as organ­ism from archi­tec­ture and now with tech­nolo­gies bridg­ing the gap, there’s three core lessons I’ve learned I want­ed to share with everyone. 

The first is where you focus. In the begin­ning, I thought that the goal would’ve been to focus on col­lec­tive hap­pi­ness. But what I found was you can actu­al­ly give some­one every­thing that you would think that they need to be hap­py and they’ll find ways to be unhap­py. And fur­ther, they actu­al­ly will be more unhap­py because once their basic needs are met, they start going high­er up the Maslow hier­ar­chy of needs into self-actualization, and those become more and more dif­fi­cult from a cen­tral­ized, orga­nized body to pro­vide for peo­ple. So rather than focus­ing on hap­pi­ness, the goal now is focus­ing on col­lec­tive aware­ness of what the city organ­ism needs. From there, peo­ple under­stand that they have a sense of pur­pose. They under­stand that their unique skills can actu­al­ly con­tribute to the city thriv­ing. And because of that, they get a sense of joy, indirectly. 

Next is democ­ra­tiz­ing the edges. So, one thing I’ve seen at Arcosanti and oth­er larg­er orga­ni­za­tions that I’ve worked with is that the busi­ness pro­to­col and oper­a­tional pro­to­col is usu­al­ly dic­tat­ed by a core group which is con­ser­v­a­tive. And in Arcosanti’s case that’s made growth more dif­fi­cult. We have forty thou­sand vis­i­tors per year. We have an archives depart­ment which has an incred­i­ble amount of data on exper­i­ments that’ve hap­pened. But it’s most­ly not been bene­fi— It hasn’t…the ben­e­fits haven’t been extract­ed to real­ly help us do what we want to do. 

So if you know about per­ma­cul­ture, the idea’s that where two ecosys­tems over­lap, there’s the most bio­di­ver­si­ty and the most val­ue can be cre­at­ed. From the city con­cept, the idea is that where peo­ple inter­act with our media, where peo­ple inter­act with our resources from the periph­ery, we want to be as demo­c­ra­t­ic and inclu­sive as possible. 

One exam­ple of this recent­ly. This is an over­head shot from about five days ago. We had a large event called FORM which had Skrillex and Bonobo and a whole bunch of large acts come. And a lot of the things that hap­pened dur­ing that event were not decid­ed by a cen­tral­ized author­i­ty, they were decid­ed ad hoc because we did­n’t have time. Because of that, there was way more inno­va­tion that would hap­pen than if we had meet­ings about meet­ings about meet­ings and tried to get the the cen­tral­ized decid­ing author­i­ties to allow a lot of the things that ulti­mate­ly went down. 

And the final is cen­tral­ized val­ue lists. And this is per­haps one of the largest coun­ter­in­tu­itive lessons that I’ve had in this process. About four months ago, I start­ed to meet with the man­agers of all the depart­ments and iden­ti­fy every­thing that they need. And it was…surprisingly dif­fi­cult. It’s not easy for peo­ple to just answer, Oh, I need this, I need this.” There’s often feel­ings of inad­e­qua­cy that come up. Feelings of feel­ing unloved. Feelings of being fired or that they might get rep­ri­mand­ed in some way. 

But what we found was once the needs were iden­ti­fied clear­ly, they were able to be met by oth­ers with­out cen­tral­ized orga­ni­za­tion. So sim­ply by express­ing what’s need­ed, once you’re at this lev­el of con­scious­ness of the city as an organ­ism, the edges of the net­work start to fill in all the gaps for you. And that thing that’s a need, that could’ve been per­ceived as a weak­ness, is actu­al­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty for participation. 

So here’s a quote that I tru­ly believe that I think sums up a lot of this. Cities have the capa­bil­i­ty of pro­vid­ing some­thing for every­one, only because, and only when they’re cre­at­ed by every­one.” And obvi­ous­ly this is what we’re liv­ing at Arcosanti as every­thing is built and run by volunteers. 

Talking now about what we’re hop­ing to look at next. Many of us still work in the forty-hour work week. There’s a a con­tin­u­ous dis­cus­sion on under­uti­lized skills and spaces. Like I had said, we have forty thou­sand vis­i­tors per year that are com­ing to this urban lab­o­ra­to­ry that we’d like to engage with more effec­tive­ly and put them to work. Increasing the pop­u­la­tion; get­ting this unstuck from the cur­rent eighty to a hun­dred peo­ple that are there. And final­ly, find­ing a way to build the city, build the mas­ter plan in what I hope will be the first exam­ple of a crowd­sourced city in the world. 

And my final point is I’d like every­one here in this room to one day have the expe­ri­ence that I had when I first wound up at Arcosanti. There’s a sign right at the front when you come in that says urban lab­o­ra­to­ry” with a ques­tion mark. As in they ques­tion every­thing to the extent that they even ques­tion the term urban lab­o­ra­to­ry.” And that to me, being in a start­up, that was gold. That was the most wel­com­ing feel­ing. It’s not a per­fect place that we have. It’s not a utopia. But the abil­i­ty to exper­i­ment and peo­ple know­ing that they are part of the exper­i­ment changed my life, and I think you can change many oth­er peo­ple’s lives as well. So, it’s my hope and invi­ta­tion that if you have the need for a test­ing ground with any ideas or the­o­ries that you’re work­ing on, feel free to con­tact me. And hope­ful­ly we can all cocre­ate the next iter­a­tion of what Arcosanti can become. Thank you.

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