[This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]
We might view Black Rock City as a great machine, efficiently providing the many hundreds of functions needed to help sustain us in a wilderness almost devoid of life. However, it seems more appropriate to consider it an organism, much more than simply a sum of its parts.
Our city is dynamic, adaptive and reactive. The streets stream with people like arteries seen under a microscope. It’s organic structure milling with the movement of information and materials, with organizing and building, nourishing and removing wastes, finally breaking down and disappearing. Additionally, it references the mythological Phoenix in symbolically burning and being reborn from itself each year.
The metaphor is enhanced by the general plan, where we speak of Center Camp as the heart of the city. Although that is central to the population, the soul or spirit of the city resides outside the physical body, but central to the whole. The Man presides on the axis from which the entire plan is drawn, and serves as a physical and social guidepost from every direction.
Set off by nearly a half a mile, the streets radiate outward, allowing self-orientation to the figure of the Man at every intersection. The cross streets arch to create a grid equaling two thirds of a circle, this third inviting the desert vastness and starred universe to intrude on our seeming self-importance. The roads are the life-blood of our city, allowing unfettered access and egress for people, as well as to the logistics of supplies and maintenance.
Life thrives on cooperation, all parts mutually sustaining one another. We see sculptors and theme camp builders working through the year to share a grand visual or participatory experience with us. For most of us, it means simply sharing our food and drink, a conversation or a smile. Whether large or small in its manifestation, we are made aware of our communal body, every part being equal.
People do require a certain minimum density and scale of neighborhood turf to feel comfortable. A few years ago, in addition to growing too large in one single mass, we had also inadvertently allowed an entitlement of insiders to evolve, physically displacing the others toward the outside of the city. Though there is no direct proof of connection, the issues quite evaporated as soon as the city was specifically re-zoned to ease those conditions. With the city still growing, it remains an ongoing challenge to anticipate problems stemming from perception of isolation within a crowd too large.
Often referenced as a “beautifully zoned tentopolis, designed with a precision of which the Renaissance city-state idealists or Haussmann would approve” (London Observer), Urban Planners come to our city each year to study it as a Petri dish of human culture. The observed interactions between our citizens and our ever-evolving design are applied in planning new communities around the world.
Although Black Rock City exists for only a moment in time each year, we know from “changed my life” statements that Burning Man is much more than a fleeting experience. Our city is more than its parts; it is an analog to a microcosm of life.