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.

Further Reference

Event page

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.