The Urban Design of Burning Man's Black Rock City

Black Rock City is the temporary city initially designed by Rod Garrett in 1997 that springs up for the annual Burning Man festival. Each year the city expands to accommodate more people, but still retains its core utopian characteristics.

2 minute read

September 18, 2014, 12:00 PM PDT

By Maayan Dembo @DJ_Mayjahn

Burning Man

N/A / Shutterstock

Every year, the volunteer Department of Public Works constructs the city in the month before the festival, and volunteers stay for almost two months after to disassemble the colossal installations, and pick up all of the left-over remnants from the festival. Indeed, Burning Man is the largest "Leave No Trace" event in the world. Steve Pepple, a first-time attendee to Burning Man this year, shared his experiences on Medium earlier this week in a piece titled, "What Burning Man Taught Me About Cities."

Amid pressures from a growing population and local regulations, the city plan was created by Rod Garrett, a landscape architect, in 1997. Indeed, the semicircular shape and radial streets are akin to the early 20th century Garden Cities planned by Ebenezer Howard. In addition, "Rachel Bowditch also points out the similarities of Garrett’s design with other utopian city plans, especially Thomas More’s Abraxa Island, which is 'practically interchangeable with the 2001 blueprint of Black Rock City.' The central square or Esplanade of Burning Man is what Garrett, who passed away in 2012, called the 'largest plaza in the world.'"

As Pepple writes, the concentric circles of Black Rock City allow for social interactions, more than efficient transportation or moving of goods, "[t]he culture has shaped the design of the city, not the other way around. The greatness of Black Rock City’s design is in its service to Burning Man’s community and guiding principles."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 in Medium

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