As capitalism and globalization grow increasingly unpopular, new economic and social models are popping across the world – including India. But they don’t always pan out as well as their founding ideals. Case in point is Auroville, a city designed to be a grand utopia without money or government. Mirra Alfassa founded the community in 1968 on principles such as ongoing education, human unity, and research. She worked with French architect Roger Anger to design a galaxy-shaped spiral city that could inspire other “beautiful cities where people sincerely looking towards a more harmonious future will want to live.”
Inspired by her relationship with Indian guru and philosopher Sri Aurobindo, Alfassa built Auroville based on a charter that includes four ideals, chief of which include: residents “must be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness” and that the utopia would be a place of “material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.” Today the Indian government supports the utopian experiment with over $200,000 yearly. While the town was designed to hold 50,000 people, around 2,500 permanent residents dwell there (although some put that number closer to 10,000), with 5,000 visitors.
Architecture research is included under the vision for Auroville. According to the city’s website, “The dream of building a new city for the future on a clean slate, with the purpose of promoting research and experimentation alongside integral development, has been attracting architects and students of architecture from all over the world ever since Auroville’s inception in 1968.” Architects in Auroville are encouraged to experiment with environmentally friendly designs, building materials, and technology.
However, it’s not always peaceful in paradise. Faced with crime, residents often experience a different reality, even as many in the community continue to work towards Alfassa’s dream. Sexual harassment, robbery, and murder are among the crimes that have been committed in Auroville. One resident told a reporter for Slate, “When you start to scratch the surface of Auroville, it’s a lot more ugly than from the outside. You start to see all the problems here, and it’s deeply layered.” The no money idea hasn’t quite panned out either; while town visitors must buy a Aurocard with cash, some businesses prefer cash to the Aurocard.
It’s not an entire failure. Auroville is home to the Matrimandir, a lovely two-story gold building designed for meditation and reflection. Many of the residents and visitors seem to strive for peace and unity. Half of the city gets its power from solar panels. Free education, organic farming, beautiful buildings, and art are among the community’s accomplishments.