Brad Templeton Home
Thoughts on the nature of Burning Man
Here I question some fundamental traditions. Which is not to say I disagree with all of them entirely; many do have their value. It's just to say there are some questions worth asking.
Why is the city a circle?
Ok, there is tradition, and it has a certain aesthetic sense, but it is poor from a logistic standpoint. The circular design creates outer ring streets that it almost never makes sense to use, unless you are going to somebody close to you on the same street. It's almost always shorter to go inward, often all the way to the Playa, then go back out, even to get to another location on your own street more than a few "hours" away.
Likewise the radials are of use only to those who live near them or are going near them. This is a shame for the many people who come to build elaborate theme camps hoping people will wander by. It's great for those on the Esplanade.
Esplanade space is thus at a premium for many reasons. But in fact a circle is, by mathematical definition, the shape that encloses an area with the shortest perimeter. Any shape enclosing the inner-playa would result in more Esplanade length! A triangle (open at the top) would be best. I have suggested something like Superman's symbol with the top removed as a gate to the outer playa.
On top of that, I recommend an "inner esplanade." This would be a wide parkway street, with an art installation lane down the middle, and 2 lanes each way for pedestrians and bikes/art-cars. Just doing this would more than triple the amount of "prime" real estate and thus remove the shortage.
Why is there a center camp?
Should the city have a center? Should one section be more important than another? I could see it if people made "shopping trips" to the center to get a coffee, some ice, send a letter and ask a question at playa info, but do they? Can they not encounter these things as they travel the city or make specific trips to them?
(The efficiency of a power grid is one answer, more on that later.)
Why is there a cafe?
This is one of the hot button topics. Why have a starbucks-like commercial operation in the center of the non-commercial city? I mean, is it that hard to find a free coffee or soft drink (or hard drink) at Burning Man? I've never had trouble. Every drink sold at the cafe is one that can't be gifted by people who are more than willing to gift them in order to participate.
Why a high price for RV dump service?
There are 5 forms of officially blessed commerce at Burning Man: Coffee, Ice, Gate tickets, RV Dump and fresh water refill. Which are needed?
Everybody that uses RV toilets removes load from the portable toilets, which the RV users paid for. The city should want to encourage anything that reduces loads (and MOOP) in the portables. (RVs do put more gray water in their black water of course, and the gray water dump in general is a complete addition, I will agree.) And one argument is that RV users are richer and should subsidize the portable toilets they don't use.
We aren't Earth Guardians at all
I am fully behind the Earth Guardian camp in pushing leave-no-trace camping when it comes to the ground. But we should not pretend we are eco-friendly. I would guess we burn something approaching a million gallons of fuel in getting to Burning Man (28 gallons each), and we also burn fuel for generators and burn lots of art and a fair chunk of shouldn't-be-burned items. Of course if we all took road trips of similar length we would still burn the transport fuel.
We also drip oil on the Playa from leaky old vehicles and, as noted, generate electricity with small, low-efficiency generators. I've seen people run an RV generator to recharge an electric scooter, probably thinking they were being eco-friendly by being electric. Only the giant diesel generators that power center camp start moving closer to grid efficiency.
To fix this problem, there should be more effort at shared power. Camps that are going to have constant power should be strongly encouraged to consolidate and rent diesel generators and heavy duty power distribution cables.
On the center camp power grid, perhaps the Earth Guardians should operate a battery recharging service (with dolly carts to borrow) to get small-needs camps off of gasoline generators altogether.
Might some different commerce be good?
Instead of selling drinks, which everybody brings anyway, I would vote for commerce as a means of providing "backup" supplies for people. One of the great problems of doing things at Burning Man is that if something fails, if you don't have a backup, you have no way to fix it short of driving to Reno. Sometimes your neighbours can help, and that's good, and a bulletin board system where people can beg and offer such help would be a plus.
Still, when you pack for the playa, you often find yourself looking at each item and saying, "What would happen if this was broken or lost?" If the answer is "it would ruin my experience, or I wouldn't be able to build my art or my camp" you often bring a backup. Even so, you can't bring a backup for everything.
So the thing I would sell -- at a high price -- would be a backup service. A store stocked not to supply you when you get to the playa, but to be your backup in case of failure. This is less radical self-reliance, of course. PVC parts. Spare rebars. Hardware -- tools, nails, screws. Bike parts and spare bikes (not for those who didn't bring a bike but those who lost or destroyed one.) Tents. Plus, a paid shopper in Reno who takes orders for specialty items, gets them and bundles them up for volunteers willing to stop on their way to the Playa and bring them. Surcharged to assure this is not a way to buy stuff, but to be your backup.
This is commerce that would improve the event by helping art get finished, helping people deal with emergencies that would ruin their week.
As the event has grown, the big burns have gotten uglier. If everybody sits, then almost everybody has a good view. If everybody stands, far fewer get a good view. The best view is either front row, or the front row of standers, which encourages people to stand and ruin it for all. We've now seen people who will stand in a sea of sitters, refusing to listen to the scores who beg them not to.
With the new dynamics I personally was unable to see any of the Fire Conclave, nor the core of the Temple when it burned.
I suggest the word go out. From 6 through 12 (left side) should be reserved for all sitters. On the right side, people may sit, and are encouraged to do so in the front rows, but people may also stand and the boundary will be where it may. Of course, after the burning of the Man starts, standing (and revelry) is to be expected.
Of course, no bikes or other vehicles in the crowd (duh.)
I don't want to bring in lots of new rules, so tried to make this one as simple as possible. Rangers would need to ask people who insist on standing on the left side to move back or to the other side of the Man.