Arcosanti, USA
Arcosanti is located in the high desert of central Arizona in the transition zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Colorado Plateau, and is home to an ecologically important but degraded riparian corridor. As a prototype arcology, Arcosanti is combining architecture with ecology.
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Overview & Impact

Arcosanti is located in the high desert of central Arizona in the transition zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Colorado Plateau. This region was once inhabited by native peoples of the Hohokam, Yavapai, Apache, O’odham, and other tribes. The Agua Fria river and its rare and ecologically important riparian habitat span for 3 miles within the 860 acre property. Unfortunately, centuries of poorly managed grazing and land practices have degraded the riparian corridor. This has lead to soil bank erosion, water pollution, an increase in invasive species, and a lack of new vegetation growth. By building new wildlife-friendly fencing to keep the cattle out of the riparian habitat and by planting cottonwood and willow trees along the river bank, these practices will allow for vegetation and young trees to become established. This will provide habitat, shelter, and food for the multitude of species who depend on riparian habitat, such as the threatened southwestern willow flycatcher, coatimundi, and Sonora mud turtle. This increase in vegetation will also benefit the ecosystem during floods, by slowing down the flow of water to increase both the rate of groundwater recharge and water quality. The removal of invasive species, most notably tamarisk and giant reed, will protect the ecosystem from further spread of these detrimental species that compete with native species. Overgrazing by cattle has also lead to the encroachment of acacia shrubs on a former grass field. Arcosanti’s goal is to remove the acacia and increase the biodiversity by planting mesquite, agave, and native wildflowers. These plants will sequester carbon and provide habitat, pollen, and nectar for bats and other species.

Arcosanti is a prototype arcology, the combination of architecture with ecology. Part of the Cosanti Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to build and inspire resilient and self-sustainable communities using minimal resources, Arcosanti is an educational institution that hosts tours, workshops, and public events. Construction began in 1970 and has continued over the decades with the help of over 8000 volunteers from all over the world.


Impact story

Arcosanti was founded on the principles of sustainability and innovation. Since construction began in 1970, it has been a place to learn and share ideas. Arcosanti has historically hosted workshops, events, seminars, and talks. Although conservation is woven into the ideals of the Cosanti Foundation, the official establishment of the Land Stewardship Program in 2022 keeps these restoration efforts at the forefront. Since then, with the revitalization of the Agriculture department in 2022, Arcosanti has a food forest and wildlife monitoring program, and is developing a seed library of indigenous seeds, and a riparian restoration project. Through these initiatives, Arcosanti is regenerating the local ecosystem and sharing the knowledge and efforts through workshops, public outreach, and collaborations.


Achievements & Partners

Arcosanti is built on, and surrounded by, grazing lands. They have replaced 700 feet of old and dangerous fence with new wildlife-friendly fencing, with more fencing in the pipeline. Multiple pollinator gardens have been established around site to bring back biodiversity harmed by overgrazing and human disturbance. A seed library has been established to increase resilience against future climate change. Arcosanti collects and saves seeds from local wildflowers, and also partners with organizations to grow out and save indigenous seeds to conserve crop diversity. Four wildlife cameras have been installed along natural water sources so they can make more informed restoration decisions. In addition to the activities of the Land Stewardship program outlined above, the organization has a substantial agricultural program with multiple greenhouses, planting beds, a young orchard and a food forest. Arcosanti also hosts 6-week Farm-to-Table workshops focused on establishing and maintaining various food systems in the desert.

Arcosanti partners with both individuals and organizations. They have a partnership with the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Services), a federal agency, that helped them develop and is providing partial funding for a riparian restoration project on the property. Their relationship with Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a professor at the University of Arizona and indigenous Hopi farmer, led to their involvement as a demonstration site for a pilot project on the revitalization of the American Indian Food System by growing climate-resilient indigenous seeds using traditional native and regenerative agriculture practices. This project is a partnership between the University of Arizona and Rockefeller Foundation with demonstration sites on the Hopi Reservation, Arcosanti, University of Arizona main campus, and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. They partner with Native seeds/SEARCH through their Partner Gardener Program to grow and save indigenous seeds for conservation purposes. In 2023 they planted and harvested ordoño chile pepper, Paiute brown bean, and Apache dipper gourd. Arcosanti is also involved in the Upper Agua Fria Watershed Partnership to connect with local landowners to protect and steward the Agua Fria river and its watershed. Over the years, Arcosanti has had many partnerships with universities around the world, often hosting week-long workshops about sustainable design.

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