Burning Man

Designing Black Rock City

If you happen to be crossing the Nevada desert this time of year, you might notice a mid-sized city rising from the sand. It’s not an illusion, it’s Black Rock City – home of Burning Man. Black Rock City is self-built, and festival attendees can “leave no trace” at week’s end, but as the pop-up city has grown to 70,000, so to has the planning around it. The current design, a series of concentric semi-circles, with the “man” in the centre, was created in 1997 by landscape designer Rod Garrett. The layout makes it easier to navigate by bike or on foot, than by car, and the fact that it has been able accommodate major growth over the past 20 years is a testament to the resilience of the design. With a massive gathering of highly creative people, it was only a matter of time before new ideas began to emerge however. Last year, the “Black Rock City Ministry of Urban Planning” launched an ideas competition to explore new ways of organizing Black Rock City. Prior to this year’s festival, the results of this crowdsourced effort were presented in The Big Book of Ideas. Many ideas, including Connected by Ludale and Flower Plan by Georg Nothdurfter, are iterations of the current layout, while others, like Nomad Arena by Ezequiel Schreiber, offer radically different approaches. Varying from polished renderings to rough hand drawn sketches, the free book offers a range of inspirations for planners and designers working from the neighbourhood to regional scale. It’s notable that this isn’t the first time Burning Man has been overtly linked with urban planning. The physical organization of our societies and utopic ideas have a long history together.

Mitchell Reardon

Mitchell Reardon is the TH!NK by IBI blog curator, a land use planner and urban experimenter. His interdisciplinary work centres on people and how they live, work and move through the city. Mitchell is enjoying life in Vancouver, after 6 years of living and working in Stockholm, Sweden. Catch up with him on Twitter: @MitchellReardon

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