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How Burning Man Works


Black Rock City
The 2012 incarnation of Black Rock City's Temple stood out in the rugged desert landscape.
The 2012 incarnation of Black Rock City's Temple stood out in the rugged desert landscape.
© Josh Edelson/ZUMA Press/Corbis

It springs up and then disappears like a mirage -- at least for those who only stay the week. For the volunteers who build, run and finally remove any trace of it, Black Rock is a study in city planning for the common good.

Black Rock City isn't a camp site. It's a designed, 940-acre temporary town with tens of thousands of inhabitants, all of whom arrive to find planned neighborhoods in which to build their temporary homes; an ice store to stock their temporary freezers; a café in which to meet; information, recycling, volunteering, medical and emergency stations; computerized message boards; shuttles to town for phone access and forgotten supplies; and a temple -- all arranged around the Man, where everyone can see him from everywhere in the city [source: Pisillo].

The city has laws, if only a few. Cars cannot drive on the inhabited groundsof the playa, a desert basin, unless authorized by the city, because Burning Man is a crowded event; and there can be no fires directly on the ground, which would leave burn scars and defy one of the festival's core principles: Leave No Trace.

There are 10 such principles, made official by Larry Harvey in 2004 [source: Burning Man]. They set the stage for the experimental society that is Burning Man, a festival that can feel something like a very long, unrehearsed piece of performance art ...


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