April 20th, 2010  |  Filed under Building BRC

Welcome to Metropol – The Story of a City

April 20th, 2010  |  Filed under Building BRC

Black Rock City, 2007

Black Rock City, 2007

[This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

According to my dictionary, a bohemian is “a creative person, as an artist or writer, who lives a free, unconventional life.” When bohemians gather, they tend to form ‘scenes’ — loosely knit societies that often coalesce around a meeting place; a salon, a club, a neighborhood or bar. Burning Man emerged from just this sort of boho scene in San Francisco. Such scenes have given rise to avant-garde and counter-cultural movements that have profoundly influenced the evolution of modern society. However, just as frequently, the interactive and communal aspect of these scenes has proven fragile and short-lived. Seen against this background, Burning Man may claim one novelty: it is the first bohemian scene to turn itself into a city.

This city that seldom sleeps, a place in which the pulse of life is so distinctly urban, isn’t powered by a traffic in commodities. Although the theme camps lining Black Rock City’s streets resemble retail outlets, they function to distribute gifts created by our city’s citizens. Likewise, many of our city’s services, such as the ritual lighting of street lamps, or the informal transit system provided by art cars, are contributed by Burning Man participants as acts of self-expression. This preoccupation with aesthetics, personal initiative, communal effort and the sharing of gifts is exactly what might be expected of an urbanized Bohemia.

BRC Department of Mutant Vehicles

BRC Department of Mutant Vehicles

In tandem with this culture, Black Rock City has also spawned a host of public agencies. These address such needs as health and safety, communication, conflict resolution, art and theme camp placement, land use planning, and the construction and maintenance of civic infrastructure. Our Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) and Department of Public Works (DPW) are institutions such as one might find in any normal city. The melding of this governmental infrastructure with a deeply rooted ethic of participation makes our city an intriguing model that can be applied to urban planning in the larger world.

Black Rock City Blocks

Black Rock City Blocks

Metropol will tell the story of how a very unorthodox camping trip managed to morph, over the course of 20 years, into a 5 square-mile metropolis. An introductory essay by Rod Garrett, Designing Black Rock City, will provide us with a very useful guide to understanding our city’s history. Written from the aerial perspective of a urban planner, it describes many of the key design decisions that have shaped its growth. Accompanying essays by Burning Man Project staff members will detail the reality of what it means to build and operate a city that must serve the myriad needs of a heterogeneous population. We will also include accounts by theme camp organizers, as well as stories by participants who have applied what they have learned from Black Rock City to the life of their hometowns.

The text that introduces this year’s art theme, Metropolis – The Life of Cities, quotes the inimitable Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She observes, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Jacobs began her long career as an urban activist in Greenwich Village, a bohemian neighborhood in New York City. By an unparalleled act of imagining she used this experience to examine all of the jostling forces that generate urban life.

In this spirit, we invite our city’s citizens to join in this discussion. If Black Rock City is a hive, it’s always been participants who make its honey. Tell us about the life on our streets as you have experienced it. What does it really take to make a neighborhood? How can the needs and aspirations of community be served by civic planning? How might we perfect our urban model, and what are you willing to contribute toward making this happen?

23 Responses to “Welcome to Metropol – The Story of a City”

  1. John Glueck Says:

    Thought this might be an appropriate link to share – MIT has an open course available on their website, free to all. The course is given by Prof. Dian Davis & Prof. Lawrence Vale. Here they discuss the vision of cities, both past and present.



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  2. LYNETTE Says:

    What are the dates of this years Burning Man?

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  3. Dan Swain Says:

    I first made the journey out to Black Rock City in 2006 at the urging of some friends who were attending as part of a bachelors party. I had heard many rumors of what went on in the desert and frankly, it did not seem like something I would connect with. It was with more than a little trepidation that I decided to go. In the run up to ’06 I started reading about the event, the city plan, and started to hear about this almost mythical urban fabric that would arise from the dust for a brief moment and then disappear without a trace once again. As an Architect I was intrigued by this idea and was increasingly amped up as the date got closer. I headed out to the desert that August thinking I had a pretty good, well researched handle on the event. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Nothing could have prepared me for the impact of the city. I was stunned in many more ways then one by the intense vibrancy of life coupled with a strong awareness of the powerful urban design that supported it in the midst of a brutal stretch of searing desert. It was amazing, completely new, and familiar all at once. In my work in the default world we often rail against the imposition of zoning on our work and truly it is often intrusive and counter productive but in Black Rock City, the planning supports and encourage diversity, self expression, and interaction. Not the conformity, dullness and isolation imposed on our urban experience by most of our modern city plans.

    I have returned to the desert every year since, will be there this year and years to come, to participate in and witness Black Rock City’s rise from the Playa. It has become something that I must do and each year my belief in the potential of the built environment and the human community it supports is renewed by the experience. I am more amped this year then ever before to be part of what Black Rock City is and to make my own contributions to its incarnation.

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  4. larry harvey Says:

    This is in response to Dan Swain’s post. One passage in your post jumped out at me, “In my work in the default world we often rail against the imposition of zoning on our work and truly it is often intrusive and counter productive but in Black Rock City, the planning supports and encourage diversity, self expression, and interaction. Not the conformity, dullness and isolation imposed on our urban experience by most of our modern city plans”. This is high praise – coming from an architect – and it made me think about some of our zoning practices.

    For example, we aggregate theme camps. Roughly speaking, these extend to a one block depth along a zone that immediately fronts the open playa. These line our Esplanade, forming a downtown district, and they are meant to attract and support high levels of interaction. However, by 1999 we realized that at larger scales this had begun to produce “conformity, dullness and isolation” – the social numbing you refer to. Vast tracts of inner city blocks had become semi-anonymous bedroom communities. We responded by extending theme camp zones backward into the city along radial streets at 9:00 and 3:00. These were highly trafficked pathways extending via lamp lined avenues straight out to Burning Man, aligning with a grand civic axis.

    During one of these early years, I conducted my own private tour. I strolled along the 3:00 arterial, talking to theme campers, asking them about the neighborhood. At one stop I spoke with a resident who said, “You should have been here yesterday! We all got together and threw a block party!” Viola! – I thought – we had created a new neighborhood. It was also apparent that this sense of community extended outwards, as if by tributary streams, to the entire district. Four years ago, we added theme camp zones along 7:30 and 4:30 – each with public plazas on the Esplanade and with lesser plazas at their opposite ends. All of these are smaller versions of our primary plaza, Central Camp and it’s Keyhole . In other words, there is a fractal process taking place here in which the lesser mirrors the larger, forming an organic fit.

    There is one other zoning process that isn’t commonly understood. Each year theme camp placement applications are evaluated according to three chief criteria: ability to attract participants, capacity for interaction, and demonstrated willingness to meet deadlines. To some this selection process may appear invidious, but in the larger picture it most certainly is not. As a matter of fact, if we officially placed every theme camp that applies, fully half of our city would end up slotted into place. To us, this feels repugnant – it would be over-aggregation. Theme camps that are not officially placed are free to locate anywhere in our city. We feel that every block should house the unexpected. In other words, we choose not to control everything. Certainly residents who prefer to return at night to a quiet home should have that opportunity, and those who want to be sheltered from noise altogether can always locate in the Walk-In Camping zone at the back of our city. That’s part of the reason we’ve zoned in the first place. But we also believe that all localities should be afforded the chance to have some sort hangout — a place where people may comfortably congregate and gain a sense of local belonging.

    In practice, all of this is something of high wire act. We must balance the need for privacy against the needs of a greater public life, the need for a decipherable order of things – integrity of place, against spontaneous initiatives that no one should control. It’s part of making people feel at home.



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  5. arg Says:

    as an urban studies geek who is making her fifth pilgrimage to the playa this year, I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am to read about BRC through the lens of urban planning! Eventually, I may add a more intelligent analysis, but for now I’m just expressing my unbridled joy!! Cities & Burning Man, two of my favorite things, together!

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  6. Jonathan Edmonds Says:

    Dear Larry, A website showing our virtual “metropolis” is the art I am contributing to this year’s burn. It is a resource for our community that the people reading this thread may find useful. I created a burning window through which Black Rock City can be seen. It is an empty frame, a perspective, a community building experiment and a work in progress. The website is http://burningwindow.org. Thanks

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  7. John Glueck Says:

    To supplement Larry’s response to Dan. The development of neighborhoods and “community centers” has been complemented by allowing the theme camps to develop into the city in a controlled means, to a point.. In my experience last year, just after placement was announced, different camps that were placed near ours, began reach out to us and us as well to them. Before ever reaching the event, we planned group events, and joined each other online getting to know one another. I’m very glad to hear that camp placement will be announced earlier this year, and this will give those that get placed further opportunity to plan and repair for the event, both within their camps, and also with the camps that will be joining them in their neighborhood.

    I also have a question about the population of the event. Last 2008’s Special Recreation Permit from the BLM stipulated that no greater than 50,000 participants were allowed. Is it expected that this will be the BLM’s maximum allowable limit going forward? Following that question, comes a second, is that a good thing or a bad thing? There are pro’s and con’s for both, so I’m interested in hearing what they may be from your perspective, and that of the participants.

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  8. Glenn Lym Says:

    A very big part of the “plan” of Burning Man has been the crafting of the “Myth” of Burning Man. A friend’s son went to BM in the 90′s for 3 years and says he would never go back because he could not fire guns whenever and where ever he was nor drive a vehicle full speed where ever and explode explosives where ever and whenever. So since that period, there has been a very careful, I would say, grooming of the common myth about what Burning Man’s root is and is not.

    Myth drives a lot of our enterprises. Growing up in the Bay Area, There has been the myth of the Grateful Dead that was created by its members, it’s fans, its publicists that served it well when it transitoned in the mid 1980′s from 8,000 fans at a show to 40,000 fans at a show, all while trying to maintain the same spirit more or less. That transition was difficult and took about 3 years to work.

    Another Bay Area enterprise is Apple. It’s myth allowed it to re-invigorate itself in the 90′s.

    San Francisco itself is the home to myths that self-select new generations of occupants from instant gold riches to alienation/poetry to hippies to an open gay community to on the edge dot com’s.

    In some ways, it seems like the stewardship of the myth is more important than just the plan of the city, as the myth, if it is rooted enough in the reality, will realize the reality over time.

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  9. larry harvey Says:

    This a response to Glenn Lym’s most recent post. I enjoyed your meditation on the mutability of myth. I’m certainly aware of the particular myth that your friend’s son still upholds: Burning Man was all about speeding in cars (with the lights turned off), randomly shooting guns and generally “blowing shit up” (this last phrase was then current, and I use it for the sake of historical accuracy). This story still enjoys a viral life in subfusc corners of the underground and Internet – and there is some truth in it. But were you to view the documentary I produced in 1990, which chronicles our first year in the desert, you would get an entirely different impression. It is about constructive engagement, the enchantment of play and the practice of mutual aid: it merges nicely with our city’s life today. This is because I naturally chose to focus on those aspects of Burning Man that I most cared about. This, in fact, echoed an even earlier myth: a story about a society of builders on a beach, where guns and cars were never known.

    These contradictory narratives competed side by side for a short while in the 90’s. Then, in the face of tumbling bullets and a car that hurtled through a tent, the less constructive myth fell by the wayside. Even before this, we had already moved to ban guns (a story I hope to tell elsewhere on this blog), and by 1997 we managed to invent our first functional city. In that year we mounted a campaign. Toiling to communicate, we’d even joke about our efforts during lulls in meetings: someone would spontaneously say, “community, community, community… community, community, community…”, and this was sure to raise a laugh— this sometimes felt like agitprop, and we felt like its mouthpiece. But, make no mistake: we earnestly believed in everything we were saying. We believed that there was a real community out there and that it positively ached to happen. As with myself in 1990, our faith led us to find and observe its telltale signs and to project this founding vision forward.

    I dwell on all of this because I want to dispel any impression that our making of myth is merely historic revisionism. It is perfectly true that myths are always used to reinterpret the past in order to make sense of the present. But as I’ve said elsewhere in a speech, “Myths are the souls of our actions”. They reflect how we achieve reality. They lie latently in everything we do, though only spied and spoken of in retrospect. Myths, of course, aren’t rational. Properly speaking, they are not even causative. But as you’ve so well said, they lie at the root of what we are. They are more real than any default setting called reality. That is why we need them.



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  10. larry harvey Says:

    This is a belated reply to John Glueck’s last post. In answer to your first question about population and the status of future BLM Special Recreation Permits, I am only at liberty to say that we are currently negotiating a 5-year agreement that will govern our use of the land.

    As to your second question – is growth of our city’s population a good or bad thing? – let me refer back to the first paragraph of your post. You describe how your theme camp has reached out to nearby theme camps, even before the event, in order to organize group activities. In other words, you’ve formed a neighborhood. Your camp is not alone in this. While our city plan has only altered incrementally in recent years, the space contained within its blocks dynamically evolves. Think of our street grid as a trellis that supports self-organizing growth. Unbeknownst to some, who may only notice the kind of roadside reality that tourists anywhere tend to experience, this portion our city’s social fabric is flourishing. It has grown more complex, more inwrought, more adapted to the manifold needs of community with every passing year. This is quite evident if one inspects high-resolution aerial photographs of Black Rock City.

    When approached by participants who say they wish our city would cease to grow, I ask them what they think the ideal population ought to be. Then I ask them when they first attended. Very frequently, the second answer corresponds to the first. Were I to judge in a similar fashion, I suppose my answer would be 200 people. But as a long-time planner (and someone who loves real cities), I’ve learned to judge by more objective measures. Over the years, for example, the increase in theme camps has actually exceeded the rate of increase in our city’s population. But I suppose citing such social metrics (and I could offer several more) can seem a little cold-blooded, so I will offer one crucial confession: as an individual, I have also found that my ability to absorb this ever-increasing interactivity has actually decreased – and that is what I believe people are talking about when they yearn for a more cozy past. This is a personal challenge that faces everyone, and one that’s always incident to city life.

    My prescriptive cure for this sort of alienation is to do as you have done. People need to find ways to better connect with those immediately around them, and then exert themselves to bond with an entire neighborhood. In spite of all of its brimming, buzzing and potentially overwhelming confusion, Black Rock City has been specifically designed to help make this happen.



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  11. John Slater Says:


    Having recently stumbled into this blog, I first wanted to acknowledge the thought you are putting into your posts and responses. I have learned a great deal about the city, the event and the people that shape its future from these posts. I truly appreciate the transparency this blog offers into your consciousness.

    Please allow me to highlight a movie that came to my attention from a KPFA radio show in San Francisco, called Energy Crossroads: A Burning Need to Change Course, which brings up an interesting new discussion category that tangentially impacts and derives from the Environment category.

    It seems to me, from what I learned from that radio show, that we can define just about every aspect of modern society, and the way in which we function as an industrial complex, by our need for energy and water (and food and shelter but I leave these for another discussion). Our homes, factories, city plans, transportation, entertainment, etc…are all shaped by and serve our use of and need for energy (in the form of oil and coal largely today) and water. Given the playa’s extreme environment, it only serves to accentuate that point that we are dependent on energy and water. My question to you and the other contributors:

    How has the need for and desire of electricity and water (after all the cafe and Arctica are the only two for-profit enterprises within the event, and nearly every theme camp needs electricity) influenced your design, structure and management of Black Rock City? It is the same question all societies have to address, and given our increasing depletion of both in the default world, will become perhaps the most important influences on evolution of our Metropolis, both in Black Rock City and the rest of the world.

    - Ranger Frisco

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  12. Epiphany Starlight Says:

    I’d love more of that cold-blooded social metrics…

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  13. larry harvey Says:

    This is in reply to John Slater. Thank you, John, for the compliment. To answer your question, there are reasons why we’ve not created a city-wide public utilities system. We think that water from a tap and power from a plug would interfere with radical self-reliance. However, we have installed a power grid that services the Center Camp Café and the plaza that surrounds it. It also extends to the nearby environs of First Camp. This is because both of these areas serve a greater public purpose. Our central plaza houses several civic services, including the headquarters of the Black Rock Rangers, which of necessity must remain operational 24 hours a day. Likewise, First Camp, where I live, is more or less a city hall. It houses our administrative offices, and is used for many other public purposes. Rather than run a few dozen generators, we’ve elected to use one large generator that distributes power via a trenched grid. This has proved to be the most effective, efficient and reliable solution.

    However, were we to extend this infrastructure to the entire city, the costs would be prohibitive. Likewise, solar power is even more expensive. Even in the best of circumstances, the upfront cost of solar is pretty steep. It must be amortized, and since our city only exists for eight days, this isn’t practicable (we have converted, however, to bio-diesel). I also believe that challenging participants to provide their own water and power does help reduce wasteful use, since part of self-reliance means monitoring one’s own consumption. This really does alter habits of mind, whereas an on-demand system in Black Rock city would result in vastly greater fuel consumption.

    Finally, to those who say driving cars to our event wastes gasoline, this all depends on what one thinks is morally relevant. It is a little like telling Al Gore that he could better serve the public interest if he rode around the country on a donkey. In addition, though people necessarily drive to Black Rock City, while residing there they cannot employ motor vehicles, nor can they readily use many of the household appliances we normally resort to in daily life – so there’s something of an offset here. On the whole, however, let me gently suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t dwell quite so much on the persnickety side of virtue.

    Apart form this, I don’t really have many more thoughts on this subject. Honestly, I think Black Rock City should be chiefly valued as a model of social engineering that can produce deep and profound cultural change in a very broad range of activities. But since we import all of our resources from the outside world, our city is probably less useful as model for resource development. On the other hand, precisely because we operate in an environment that is so singularly lacking in resources, our community has originated very innovative methods of disaster relief.

    These have been applied by Burners Without Borders in the Katrina disaster, and such efforts are ongoing in Haiti. Even as I write this, technology developed by Burning Man Earth is now being used to aerially map the Gulf oil spill (you can learn about this on our blog at http://blog.burningman.com/environment/grassroots-mapping-the-oil-spill-in-the-gulf). Our city is full of scientists and engineers, so who knows, maybe someone will eventually figure out how we can affordably exploit the other abundant natural resource that we do possess — wind power. For all I know (which isn’t much) Black Rock City might yet become a do-it-yourself consumer-based wind farm. Stranger things have happened.



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  14. Glenn Lym Says:

    Back on “Myth” a bit. I was just watching the PBS 2 hour show on The Buddha in which, like the history of Jesus, is heavily based on the myth of Buddha’s life. I think in the evolution of Burning Man and it’s myth which is told though participants to each other and to friends, by the media, by books, and through movies (the Burning Man Film Festival) is not from it’s creators’ view a revisionist history. Instead, it is, as you say, the renewed for each ongoing present moment, statement of what is most important, as seen by the creators. As such the creators, if their DNA is embeded in the enterprise, then the enterprise and the myth evolve together, eg as per the Dead and Apple. At various points, alternative myths will arise and attempt to move the enterprise in their direction. the strength of the creators myth giving powers or perhaps charisma lies then in how connected and rooted they are in the enterprise in deep, largely unconscious ways. This is a very obtuse way of saying, keep up what you’re doing Larry!

    It also gives me a sense of what the basis for “oral” history was in portraying the teachings of Buddha over a 500 year time span before it entered the writen register.

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  15. Timothy Rossi Says:

    Mr. Harvey,
    Thank you for creating this blog and the original comment, as well as subsequent post comments.

    I’d like to ask a question about your comment: “But were you to view the documentary I produced in 1990.. It is about constructive engagement, the enchantment of play and the practice of mutual aid: it merges nicely with our city’s life today. This is because I naturally chose to focus on those aspects of Burning Man that I most cared about.”

    What I’ve been reading in this translucent insight on this blog, are the developmental origins, concerns and intentions of a city. My question is this, with Metropolis being the theme of this year’s event, do you and/or the BM group have plans to document another event this year of 2010 – 20 years after the first?

    I ask this question for two reasons. One, I find this topic and the entire BM event fascinating, from both an architectural and sociological perspective. Second, I would like to interview you, as well as a group of others, to learn what you have learned, which can be applied to the “rest of the world’s cities and the city experience in general”.

    Now, I recognize that you probably are asked all of the time to be interviewed and even notice that many such as Burners Without Borders, have created solutions from BM. But my approach is to ask you what you have learned, in context of applied architectural, sociological and psychological relevance, to then offer as insight to other designer/builders in the world. Basically, an interview and story geared towards information for designers, developers and anyone interested in urban planning, as well as the experience of what it means to develop cities and shelter for humans. Basically, the amazing process of an instant city developed, then removed. To me, it’s like watching a time-lapse video of a plant going from seed, to blossom, to decay and back to the soil, ready for another flower to bloom. Talk about Life Cycle Assessment, I think the BM architects have much to share on this topic.

    I have a fascination with this basic concept, as well as the visual concept, of a 40,000 person city growing from nothing in the desert, to a full city, to again nothing in the desert, in a one month span. I think this is amazing.

    Btw, I’m not saying that there is “nothing” in the desert, but instead intend to emphasize the development of human shelter and a “city” where there was once nothing of human shelter or facilities.

    I have a number of other questions as well, and I’m working on a proposal for filming/media for this year’s event, but perhaps in the meantime I would ask this question to see if there were official plans for such a video/audio production.

    Thank you again for your vision, as well as your openness and willingness to discuss this topic with us here,

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  16. larry harvey Says:

    This is a reply to Timothy Rossi. Tim, we have no plans to produce a film or video commemorating the 20th anniversary of Black Rock City. Obviously, I think your idea of focusing or urban development is a good one. Should your proposal be accepted, I’ll look forward to speaking with you.



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  17. Timothy Rossi Says:

    Hi Larry,
    Thanks for your reply, and a rapid reply at that. I appreciate your comment and update about the video presentation.

    I’m curious, has there ever been a time-lapse done of the entire city from the beginning stages of Burning Man through the event and then break down? From the flat barren desert to city to nothing once again?

    Thanks again for your time and for creating this event,

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  18. Maria Says:

    Check out this website for Joshua Reicheks “21 Days of Black Rock City”

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  19. The Gypsy Wind Says:


    Congratulations on your yearly attempt to recreate the motel scene from the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”… on a massive scale. Also, congratulations on creating a perpetual wealth stream for yourself and other employees. If the burning man project ever gets an IPO, the world is truly doomed.

    I love a good entrepreneur, you are a master.

    For me ‘Burning Man’ is a lame extension of the lamer ‘Default World’. Furthermore, Burning Man IS the default world in my world. But heck, the inhabitants of the default world need a ‘perceived’ outlet to vent their anxieties as work a day grunts…and you provide the perfect outlet.

    Thank you,

    The Gypsy Wind

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  20. Padhraic Moneley Says:

    Hi Larry,

    Just thought you might be interested in reviewing details of a new fractal based spatial planning system which I have been working on;
    Might be some ideas in there which could be applied to the organisation of Blackrock City!



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  21. Jar Says:

    In response to Gypsy Wind: While I find your comments overly cynical, focusing only on certain aspects of the multi-faceted experience that is Burning Man, I must say “I feel your pain”. Clearly Gypsy Wind has a great love and reverence for what he feels Burning Man ought to be. Will Black Rock City remain as pure in spirit with each passing year as it might have been in previous years? Will the phenomenon of “dissolution” take over at some point rendering the beautiful and powerful experience of being at Burning Man increasingly dilute? By “dissolution” I mean what seems to happen to every social phenomenon/movement that spontaneously appears in our midst: It eventually becomes poisoned by mass interest, or by “fashion” to the point of irrelevance. For example, Punk Rock started out as a powerfully intelligent youth movement incredibly alive with raw awareness of stifling social constraints and pretensions and it screamed out it’s pain and rage facilitating liberation for millions, one of them being me. Today, Avril Lavigne (not to put her down) is considered Punk Rock? What happened? Does true PuNk rOck even exist anymore?

    I say it does. The spirit of punk is one of awareness and DIY self-reliance. It is getting off your butt, joining up with like-minded folks and doing something for yourselves to prevent the miserable fate our modern world seems so well-designed to force us into. In the present time, a band like Green Day is true to this spirit. It may not look like it used to but the spirit of punk is alive and well as a subculture and it survives because of the blood of fresh new people who understand and feel it. I believe the same will be true for Black Rock City. No one can argue that increasing interest in Burning Man has brought in a voyeuristic, “meat head” element that to my knowledge was not as prevalent in earlier years. I am speaking of frat boy types who take pictures of naked women without consent and post them online for profit. As BRC grows, there also seems to be a growing criminal element. Every year I hear of women being raped (or nearly raped), I hear of suicides, theft, overly aggressive law enforcement etc. etc. There is no question that the presence of these criminal-minded folks fouls the air and sours the lifeblood of Burning Man. But there is no way to keep them out. This element is what comes with popularity. The danger that I fear is that the people who make our precious BRC wondrous and fun will at some point decide that the negative elements outweigh the positive and eventually cease to participate. It would appear to me certainly possible that thuggery could dominate and kill the beautiful spirit of BRC just as it dominates and kills the beauty in the default world’s inner cities. Some of my friends believe this has already happened. They last joined us in 2006, claiming that this was the year Burning Man “peaked” and now it’s all downhill from there. But I’m not throwing in the towel yet. Each year something blows my mind and as long as that happens the spirit is alive and kicking. BRC, to me, is still the most vibrant and alive collection of amazing human beings I could ever hope to spend time with in this life. I feel it is the purest expression of the evolved human heart that may have ever existed on the planet. I owe my new life to Burning Man and I’ll be participating with all my heart until they pry my cold, dusty, dead hands off the playa.

    Can we overcome brute thuggery with love, art, music and beauty? Maybe not, but I’ll be there alongside all those who are trying. If we lose BRC, we’ll just have to look for the next flower to pop up someplace. It always does.

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  22. shanee stopnitzky Says:

    first of all, i love this post!! the civic dimensions of our fair city, including the use of space, the potential for kinetic community, and engaging with the urban experience are some of my favorite things about burning man.

    as an obsessive fanatic of diversity, i have a hard time seeing growth as a bad thing and i think the mainstream versus underground sentiment that jar is describing is an artifact of being desperate for community in a society that has forgotten its importance. any threats to the scenes we are a part of (ie the influx of new people) are taken extremely seriously because we risk losing something so enriching. but whats amazing about these types of communities is that they have awesome potential for self-regulation, where people who do not subscribe to the central ethos of the movement are socially ostracized, which is a horrible form of punishment sure to work on even the most hardened uncitizens. i think these movements are not destroyed from the outside as is being suggested, but from the inside by those who flee their civic responsibilities in search of a new, easier ‘weird’. the vast majority of newcomers, as in the vast majority of originators, come to experience new things with the purest sincerity and commitment, regardless of when they were exposed, which is all relative anyways. there is also an element of xenophobia and nationalism in that sentiment, which i think we all need to transcend as part of the new enlightenment.

    there is no question that as population increases, so does the potential for a bad seed here and there, but working with probabilities, we are receiving an exponential benefit with minimal risk by introducing new people to burning man. the more people, the more complex, fascinating and diverse the fabric of the physical, social and mental environment becomes.

    in that vein, i feel sorry for gypsy wind that the world is so gray that not even burning man can spark a sense of wonder. there is a complete encyclopedia of possible experiences there, and i wonder how dulled and disengaged one would have to be to not see and want to interact with those, and in doing so, create an experience uniquely their own, complete with all of the biases, predispositions, dreams, self-imposed limits, wiggle room, travels, etc. of their identity. i have never seen two people have the same experience there, and not having anything but a default experience is a lifeless reflection of you gypsy wind, not burning man. i do not believe you that burning man is simultaneously a lame extension of the default world for others and your default world, it is clearly neither.

    furthermore, any inquiry into the nature of burning man finances shows clearly that financial tools are used out of necessity and sensibility in the interest of keeping it alive in the modern world. i am quite certain that most radical moneyphobes (who almost certainly interact with their personal financial realities in more scandalous ways than bm) who criticize burning man accounting have never applied for a federal permit, or dealt with any real-life logistics of bringing 50,000 or even 500 people together. it is profoundly difficult. and time-consuming. i am thrilled that people have salaries because and for burning man. and this is not a blind defense, i have read the reasoning for each of burning man’s controversial decisions and there is always a valid justification framed in the values of our community.

    lastly, burning man is one of the most entrepreneurally electric places on earth, which is why it began in the US and could not (and did not) begin anywhere else. if it werent for the fire in practically every citizen to create something new, none of it would exist.

    thank you larry, for your spatio-temporally dynamic vision.

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