Placemaking and Burning Man: What can we learn from Black Rock City?

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This week, a “city” will be built from scratch on a dry lake bed in northwestern Nevada known as Black Rock Desert. It will team with activity and residents for seven days, then, after a fiery conclusion, all evidence of its existence will be wiped clean from the desert.

Thirty years ago, the Burning Man festival began on Baker Beach, San Francisco as a “spontaneous act of self-expression” and celebration of the summer solstice for a handful of attendees. This year, nearly 70,000 are expected to participate in the week long celebration of art, self-expression, self-reliance, and hedonism.

While the latter adjective implies an “anything goes” atmosphere, Burning Man is actually organized by a set of 10 principles, as crafted by festival co-founder Larry Harvey in 2004. Harvey created the 10 principles (radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, immediacy) not as guidelines of how festival attendees should act, but instead as a representation of what the community has stood for since its inception.

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Though it might sound counter intuitive to look to a temporary assembly of strangely dressed festival goers for ways to improve our cities, towns, and neighborhoods, hidden beneath Black Rock City’s dusty surface is a crash course in creative placemaking.

For more about how crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and the pop-up movements link Placemaking and Burning Man, please read Learning from the Burning Man principles in our cities and What Burning Man Taught Me About Cities.

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