Sunday, February 19, 2012

Black Rock City 2015

'Biohazard' city plan

With all the mess surrounding the ticket sales for this year's Burning Man (for those who don't know, demand largely outstripped supply, and the event sold out its 57,000 tickets, leaving tens of thousands of burners without tickets), I started working on ideas about how to enlarge Black Rock City to accommodate more people. The Burning Man Organization (BORG) is trying to get the Bureau of Land Management (BLM, the federal agency that regulates the public land where Burning Man takes place) to allow them to slowly increase the population from its current cap of 55,000 people to 70,000 in 2016. 

In my opinion, the current 'horseshoe' layout would be hard to scale up beyond 65,000 because adding extra streets on the periphery puts people really far away from the action. I remember in 2008 when they made the city 2 miles wide with a one mile wide Playa it took forever to get anywhere. Plus everybody ends up on the Esplanade and traffic gets really intense. Increasing the diameter of the Playa doesn't increase the length of the Esplanade that much.

The problem with the current design is that all of the main attractions are in the center of the city (the Playa and the Esplanade boulevard). I believe a design with 3 smaller Playas (1/2 mile or 3/4 mile diameter) set up around the city center would spread out art, bicycle and art-car traffic while increasing the capacity of the city.

The 'Biohazard' design features three smaller intersecting horseshoe designs, with 3/4 mile Playas and 8 streets deep instead of the 13 streets of BRC 2011. You could have the Man in one Playa, the Temple in another, and the most fabulous Honorary art installation on the third one. It would create three smaller neighborhoods instead of one gigantic centralized metropolis. Maybe each neighborhood could develop its own personality, one more focused on electronic music, another more about spirituality and other calmer activities. Or one focused on furry bunnies and another focused on heavy metal gladiators. Or, you know, whatever.

The three esplanades would have a combined length of 4.7 miles, which is 2.3 times more than the Esplanade from BRC 2011, resulting in less dense traffic. The total camping area would be 4.7 square kilometers, or 18% more than BRC 2011, resulting in a capacity of 66,000 people, while at the same time minimizing the average walking distance to nearest esplanade. Most of the people would actually be camping towards the center of the city, with the Playas at equal distance around them.

At 2.3 miles diameter, the total footprint of the Biohazard design would not be much bigger than BRC 2011.
The design could easily be scaled up to 98,000 by increasing the number of streets to 12, which is no more than the number of streets we had in 2011. To scale up the current horseshoe design to that number of people, we would need to have 17 streets! Imaging camping on 'P' street and having to ride your bike 16 blocks to get to Esplanade!!

We could consider extending the current Horseshoe design to the 1:00 and 11:00 angles (see picture below), but that would not solve the congestion problems on Esplanade, and it would significantly narrow the Deep Playa. Plus it is not scalable to 90,000 people, unless you want to close up the whole playa...

While I was at it I went crazy and came up with a bunch of cazy designs for the city. Don't you love that Spirit Hood design?...
To calculate the capacities of all these city layouts, I first calculated the average people density in 2011. The surface area of BRC 2011 was 4 square kilometers and, given that there were about 55,000 burners that year, that gives us an proximate density of 14,000 people per square kilometer. I then calculated the surface areas of each of these designs and multiplied by 14,000.


  1. Love it Jean-Marc! Brilliant design. The BORG should hire you. Or at least give you free tickets for being so creative.

  2. Interesting ideas.
    We've tried a couple of those solutions on the scale of a camp over the years.

    The single ring is great for the unified feel. Key holes help increase the length of Esplanade although they are not as successful in reality as they are on paper. Maybe carving our circles (and thinking in terms of fractal geometry) instead of key holes would help with the flow while further increasing the length of Esplanade.

    Exciting stuff.

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  4. I always was under the impression that it was the the two lane roads leading into gerlach from the west and the other route (that leads into the playa entrance) from the east. Two years ago I was stuck on 447 for 3 hours right before gerlach (due to everyone stopping last minute for gas, and exiting/entering back onto 447). Then I was also stuck on the road that leads to the playa entrance for an hour and then waited another 4 hours to get past the greeters. More people would make the traffic insane. And last year all the people stuck on the roads when they closed the gates due to rain. The design is great but I don't think they should increase the amount of people more than they already have.

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