Heartland Utopias Part 7: Conclusion

A white building with an orange roof. Windows are arrayed along the front, and a small tower is set in the center of the roof.

The variety of Iowa’s intentional communities on display throughout this series is stunning. From Icaria to Vedic City, each had their own philosophy and reasons to come to Iowa, but some definite themes emerge. The key similarity between most of these communities is simple: timing. Utopianism in Europe peaked during the 1830s and 1840s – the same time that settlement in Iowa was hitting its stride. These communities, secular or religious, sought out cheap land free from outside influence, and Iowa was the place to be.

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Heartland Utopias Part 6: Maharishi Vedic City

A white and yellow building marked as the "Capital of the Global Country of World Peace." Two flagpoles out front display the American and Iowa flags (on the left), and the GCWP flag (on the right, a yellow flag with a pink sunburst design).

In the southeast corner of Iowa, near the small town of Fairfield, lies the state’s newest utopian community. Here, followers of an Indian guru have built their own city, following ancient traditions with modern twists. 3,000-year-old Sanskrit texts guide everything from meditation to architecture, but solar panels are visible around almost every corner and an accredited university runs its film school out of the city. And all of this has developed in the last 70 years.

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Heartland Utopias Part 3: Lost Utopias

The view of Iowa prairie and fields from the French Icarian Village near Corning, Iowa.

The Icarians may have been the most successful secular utopians to settle in Iowa in the mid-1800s, but they were far from the only ones. Many groups saw the newly opened state as a prime chance to test their particular political theories on the frontier. For most, that test proved too much, and their utopias collapsed within a few years. Today, little remains of these communities but their stories.

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Heartland Utopias Part 2: Icaria

The French Icarian Village near Corning, featuring the communal dining hall to the right, the Icarian schoolhouse, center, and the Icarian graveyard in the trees to the left.

Adams, in southwest Iowa, is the state’s least populous county. It’s also home to an exceptional piece of history: Iowa’s Icarian Colony, the longest-lived non-religious communal experiment in American history. The community, near Corning, was perhaps the most successful piece of a complex effort to build a society of “one for all and all for one.”

Icaria’s 50-year journey began in France and made stops in five states before its slow dissolution in the 1890s. Although there are few physical reminders of the movement, its impact is still felt in Adams County and every other place it touched.

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Heartland Utopias Part 1: Introduction

The view of Iowa prairie and fields from the French Icarian Village near Corning, Iowa.

This post marks the start of a project I have been working on for almost a year. The project, Heartland Utopias: Intentional Communities in Iowa, is a deep dive into the range of utopian, communal, intentional, and otherwise unique communities in my home state. It also happens to be my honors project, as I prepare to graduate from Iowa State University.

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Decentralization Integration: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City

The model of Broadacre City, as seen at the Museum of Modern Art in 2014. Credit: Shinya Suzuki on Flickr

In the aftermath of personal scandals and the 1929 market crash, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright saw a sharp decline in paying clients. With a creative lull, he took the opportunity to begin something new: Broadacre City, a plan he hoped would change the shape of not just architecture, but land use and society across the United States.

Wright outlined the proposal in the 1932 book The Disappearing City and followed it in 1935 with a 12-foot by 12-foot model exhibited at the Rockefeller Center. The core concept is simple, if radical: completely disperse the modern city and give each family at least an acre of land. The details and the defining ideals behind them are considerably more complicated.

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Arcology, Arcosanti, and Paolo Soleri’s Evolution of Cities

The iconic ceramics apse at Arcosanti, where wind-bells are made. Credit: By CodyR from Phoenix, Arizona, USA - arcosanti apse on Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3428917

About 110 km north of Phoenix, Arizona, in the middle of a semi-arid desert, you’ll find an odd sight: a community of rough concrete buildings sitting on a mesa. Inside, brass and ceramic wind-bells are cast and sold, construction on the development continues, and, in theory, all the needs of a modern city are met with minimal environmental impact. This is Arcosanti, the brainchild of Paolo Soleri, built to prove his vision of architecture and ecology working hand in hand. Read more