The secrets of Black Rock City civic life

We understand what separates us better than we do what binds us together

The recent riots in London got me thinking about what it means to be connected to a community.

Until recently Americans didn’t think of “riots” when the thought of “London” – we generally thought of sketch comedy.   The most violent London could get, we assumed, would involve a Python reunion.  Terry Jones and Michael Palin would wheel out Graham Chapman’s coffin and hurl it at Eric Idle in drag, only to be arrested by John Cleese in a policeman’s uniform.

“Do you have a license for that dead comedian?”  He’d ask.  “You’ve got to have a license!  We can’t just have any old person jumping to the head of the line to dig up W.S. Gilbert’s corpse and fling it at French tourists!  There’s a waiting list!  It’ll take you six months to get to the front of the line for Gilbert,  eight months for Benny Hill, and Peter Sellers’ skull is on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, although we can get you his right arm in about 12 – 15 months.  Pity, though: Yes, I know his left arm was the funny one.  Is that … is that Lenny Bruce’s testicle?  That’s a foreign import, that is!  Right!  You’re going appear before judge, you are!”

Then maybe they’d do the “Dead Parrot Sketch,” because people can’t get enough of that one.  It’s funny, you see, because the parrot’s dead.

Well, so much for that.  London has joined the ranks of cities no longer on the list of “it can’t happen here.”  It appears that, when you pry open the lid, an awful lot of people in an awful lot of places have no civic ties strong enough to say “I’m not going to put a brick through that window,” or “I’m not going to tell my friend not to light that car on fire.”

It’s terrifying to realize just how common this is becoming.  Most of us feel increasingly isolated from the political process and atomized out of civic life:  we have Twitter, but don’t know our neighbors.  We voted for Obama, but there’s still no sense of shared sacrifice.  We bowl alone.

I’ve been contrasting this with the passionate sense of engagement people have for Burning Man … and wondering what we did so right.  “Civic Responsibility” isn’t just one of the 10 principles – it’s a fact of life in Black Rock City. (more…)

Science at Burning Man from the Exploratorium

Exploratorium Science of the playa
Exploratorium Science of the playa

Our friends at the San Francisco Exploratorium have put together a fantastic set of videos that examine some of the more scientific aspects of the Black Rock Desert.

Exploratorium video on Alkali“What do you get when you send a crew from the Exploratorium to Burning Man? Geeks gone wild! Join us on the playa in Black Rock Desert and explore the science of pyrotechnics, flight, dust devils, rainbows, and more.”

Senior Exploratorium scientist, Paul Doherty, unlocks the mystery behind the corrosive dust that coats the Black Rock Desert, the science of dust devils and the properties of Fire in the desert.

Enjoy the challenges of flying over the Black Rock Desert with pilot Michael Marin and learn about zoology in extreme playa conditions with Alex Smith as he visits the MicroZoo.

Check out these videos and more at and understand your temporary home just a little more next week.

Burning Man with Kids: Guide to the Playa

Stretching on the Trampoline in Kidsville photo: Steven Fritz

A friend of mine and her colleague have written an informative post about bringing your kids to [BM].  Red Tricycle is in the business of sharing information about kids and I think you may find it useful. Burning Man with Kids: Guide to the Playa.

In addition to article, check out Burning Man’s page: Kids at Burning Man.  Have fun with your kids at Burning Man!

RIP Rod Garrett

Rod Garrett, 2010. Photo by John Curley.

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Rod Garrett, the long-time architect and designer of Black Rock City.

Since 1997, Rod has guided the Black Rock City urban design, overseeing its evolution from a functional plan to provide structure to a desert encampment of 10,000 to supporting a thriving metropolis of 50,000+, always with an eye towards form, function, elegance and the development of community. In addition to his urban planning role, Rod also designed Black Rock City’s major infrastructural elements, including the Center Camp Café, and every Man base since 1997.

Through his work over the years, Rod has made considerable contributions to the Burning Man community, for Rod’s particular genius was understanding the importance and power of design as it relates to social interaction and cultural development. Rod’s brilliance, passion and dedication to his craft will be sorely missed by the Burning Man organization.

Many of Rod’s writings about designing Black Rock City can be found in the Metropol Blog Series.

This year, the road encircling Black Rock City’s Center Camp will be named “Rod’s Road” in his honor.

the Temple gets a (big) lift

The Temple started its ascent towards the heavens this morning, as a 120-foot crane arrived and started stacking the component pieces of the main tower.

It was a complicated and delicate operation, and the preparations for it have been long and intense. It’s no casual bit of engineering going on out here. When the gates open, the Temple of Transition will consist of an intricately decorated 12-story tower,  surrounded by five smaller towers. It’s an amazing space being created in an amazing place.

Boom lifts surrounded the main tower, as the huge crane lowered the first piece atop the main tower. The crew adjusted the placement and then made sure it was level before attaching it to the tower base.


From the ground, and framed by one of the openings from another tower, the second story of the central tower was secured into place.


the Man gets waxed

Crimson Rose

The Man Kcrew was on the playa last night, and they invited all hands to join them in waxing the Man.

Well, they didn’t really wax him. What they did was melt a bunch of wax, soak burlap in it, then attach it to the Man’s arms and legs. All to make him burn that much brighter in … wow, a week from Saturday!

Crimson Rose, the master of all flame-related customs at Burning Man, was directing the show. It’s a little different this year, because this is the year of Striding Man — the  Man  looks as if he’s in mid-stride. We’re not sure if he’ll assume his normal stance on Burn night, but we DO know that he’ll be able to raise his hands above his head before the fireworks kick off the big burn.


beat the heat

The Shade crew was out early today — really early —  so you’ll be able to grab some shade when you get here.

There’s a lot to do. All the big sites on Ring Road need super-sized shade, so when you’re checking messages in Playa Info, say, or maybe picking out a new outfit in the Burner Boutique, or checking out the studios of BMIR, you won’t have to do it in the burning sun.

It was a little jarring to see the crews working so early. “What are YOU doing up so early?” Bunny asked when we ambled over. “Did we wake you up”

The crew got some major work done even before the sun came up, and then even more before they had to break to go to the “morning” meeting at the Depot. “I wish they didn’t call it the morning meeting,” one of the people on the crew said. “They should just say, ‘meeting.'”

They’re a proud, hard-working bunch, that Shade crew. The early start was to get a jump on the day before the heat really kicked in. “It’s not bad getting off by 2,” Bunny said.

You might see their truck, “Priscilla,” rolling along during the DPW parade during the event. If you’ve enjoyed some of the fruits of the Shade crew’s labor by then, you might want to gift them a beer or two.


signs of the times

Signs are going up all over the city now, signs to tell you where you’re camped, signs to tell you where to turn, and signs to welcome you home.

There’s a beautiful new sign at the turnoff for the Burning Man event site. In year’s past, there was always a gorgeous painted billboard welcoming visitors, but this year’s version is an advance.

It’s an intricately carved wooden piece with the “Rites of Passage” message, and Ghost Dancer and a crew of DPW folks were out at the entrance hanging it in the hot sun.

My guess is this one will come down before the event is over, because it would make an irresistible souvenir for someone on their way out.

Enjoy the view on the way in.


Speaking of signs, there are some other ones you should be aware of on the way in.