The Urban Planning of Burning Man
By Anastasia Tokmakova via Archinect
As Burning Man is taking it’s 31st annual round, Wired takes a look at how the famed festival occupies the land of the Black Rock Desert. While temporary and free of the bounding presence of permanent residents and buildings, it nevertheless bares some resemblance to a city. Springing out of nothing-ness with no need for professional builders, the settlement still conforms to some rules—the Bureau of Land Management has had a firm hand in guiding Burning Man since the mid 90’s, imposing the basic half-moon grid layout, developing plans to deal with sanitation, emergency services, security, camping, traffic, parking, water, food supplies, communication, lasers, and fire. In the event of bad weather or ‘social’ unrest the Bureau will step in again.
Black Rock City has essentially built up its own bureaucracy—the Nevada Department of Transportation helps the 70,000 attendees get in and out of the site and the Department of Public Works paints, welds, re-jiggers, and outlines the clock-themed street grid, which has named streets identified by “time” and letter. The BLM officially deputizes an in-house DMV—Department of Mutant Vehicles, natch—to hand out “playa only” documentation. “Non-confrontational community mediators” nicknamed the Black Rock Rangers serve as informal police. There’s also Black Rock City “hospital”, and even a Kidsville. (Just over 1 percent of 2016 participants were under 19 years old.) A few years ago a group of longtime Burners launched the Black Rock City Ministry of Urban Planning, which is presented as an unofficial design competition, seeking to conceptualize the shape of Black Rock City.
Kerry Rohrmeier, a geographer who studies intentional communities like Burning Man at San Jose State University argues that Burning Man might look different, physically, if many more sorts of people made their way to the playa. Seventy-nine percent of last year’s participants were white, and their median household exceeded $94,000 a year, more than double the county’s median. Fifty-seven percent of 2016 Burners were male. “It’s rare today to see in Black Rock City something that’s really pushing your design expectations,” says Rohrmeier. “You see a lot of replication of low density strip development.” The city even has its own “suburbs,” where more spread out, self-contained communities can isolate themselves from the rest of the event-goers.
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