Reconsidering the Idea of the Suburb within Arcology

Soleri says Suburbs are bad or at least he seems to use the word as if it is something totally negative. I understand what and why he is saying/thinking that but I think he loses sight of the idea that the suburb is a reflection of the need for human gradients in the flow of things. Indeed this is in my interpretation a Taoist idea. More practically in permaculture design one of the basic laws is all of nature operates from gradients and if you will vortexes. The patterns most obvious in the weather such as the difference between high and low pressure weather systems are a major morphological event in the cast of the reality of earthly life. Yet I would say that gradations in relation to the design and observation of systems and most specifically in relation to built environments – geography – go beyond weather.

We have urban gradients that stem from natural features but also from decisions people make as they evolve the built environment.  These urban gradients have led to a natural diversity of density within the urban space.  Suburbs descend from this reality as growth increased exponentially during industrialization and traditionally urban cores overflowed. Soleri argues that suburbanization is a violation of natural law and is explained in his Arcology CMD thesis.

I would say that partially yes he is correct. However, suburban Taipei in the form of Dongshui is very different than say suburban Phoenix in the form of Scottsdale. The question I guess is whether over the next 100 or so years, we will want to revert to a super-compact urban core and abandon the suburbs. The practical question is what would get people to do such a thing? Soleri might say if we make the urban effect of the Arcology powerful enough that will do it. Let’s say just to give him the benefit of the doubt – yes, we have this massive reverse migration to the urban core over the next 100 years. Suddenly we have miles of suburban wasteland and trillions of dollars of wasted infrastructure investments globally. What do we do with it; with all this mess of rusted infrastructure and debris? Yet I see the need for a different approach. Suburbs are here they are a reality. we must learn to live with them and possibly even embrace them. How do we make them better and more sustainable with an eye on making them more compact with cores for shopping and work that are neighborhood friendly, have many natural corridors and provide ample alternatives to the car and its ecologically burdensome support structures.

I guess I am still not completely sold on the idea that seems to the major focus of the project I now live and work at. Yet, honestly coming to Taipei I see that the beauty of the urban form cannot and has never been about the work of one person. It is about collective IQ and creating a culture in a society where people come together to play the music from a mosaic of past experiences. Taipei has inspired me in that I see it as a success in that it enables people to play their music in relation to the larger sum of the city.

Taipei has developed an urban vibrancy through the proliferation of the many different perspectives being allowed to mold and evolve the urban reality and experience. So that creates a richness in the urban space that facilitates the urban effect. Without that richness of the diversity of past human experiences that carved out the urban space there would not be for me that sense of an urban effect.

Thus, it is problematic this idea that one person (or even for that many by some urban planning committee) could design an urban architecture at a very large scale (such as a Lean Linear City) that would go on for many miles and house many thousands of people and would have a monolithic design. The idea of the monolithic form in architecture won’t facilitate the Urban Effect. Indeed monolithic forms only foster a culture or more precisely a cult of bigness and have historically been a way to promote a centralized system of command and control in a society or civilization. This is not to imply that Soleri is trying to create a cult, but rather consider this idea that the worship of large things in our society is indeed a cult in that it reflects a monoculture way of thinking. Such thinking does not have never promoted and facilitated that inherent diversity of life. Who and what we are as human beings which is seeking to coming up and from us indeed reflects the overall diversity of the universe. As progressives and visionary idealistic thinkers, we need to ask ourselves do we really want to live in a space that is monolithic form rather than something like what we see in Taipei or New York? So in considering Arcology, we might do well to ask ourselves how might an Arcology either be a smaller scale development within the city or even as a stand alone settlement in a rural area, where it can demonstrate the benefits of a more integrated approach to development in relation to sustainable development.