4/10/2013 8:43:00 AM Commentary Paolo Soleri was a man far ahead of his time
Heidi Dahms-Foster Special to the Tribune
If ever a person was way ahead of his time, it was Arcosanti founder Paolo Soleri. Soleri passed away Tuesday at 93.
I don't think I had heard of Soleri until I came to work at the Tribune in 1989. Tooling around the region looking for stories, I came across his prototype community in the desert a bit northeast of Cordes Junction. I was fascinated from the beginning.
Simplifying it to the extreme, Soleri's contention was that if people would confine their living spaces to a more concentrated area, they could keep the surrounding open spaces pristine for everyone. Arcosanti, the prototype that never truly got off the ground, so to speak, was planned to those specifications, and it still is surrounded by some stunningly beautiful, and beautifully preserved, high desert landscape.
Prescott Valley officials realized some years ago that the community lacked a downtown. The Fain family brought in one of the top urban planners of the day, William McDonough, who told the Fains and town planners that they had a unique opportunity - 500 undeveloped acres in the center of town on which to create a more sustainable community center.
What was born out of that and further planning meetings through the years was a downtown in which people can park and walk to entertainment, education, medical care and apartment living. This plan has weathered time, and a recession, but it is still coming together - a direct shift to more central living.
During that time it struck me that McDonough and Soleri had the same general idea. Soleri, however, was running against a tide of individualists hungry for their own slice of land, and he was a purist. The twain didn't meet in Central Arizona's high desert.
A little study will amaze anyone who measures the influence that Soleri, small in stature, but huge in ideas, had in his lifetime. A world renowned architect and planner, locally he mentored some of our top green builders - Prescott's Jeffrey Zucker of Catalyst Architecture, for one.
Long after Soleri's earthly body is laid to rest next to his wife Colly's at Arcosanti, his body of work will continue its worldwide influence.