Burning Man ‘City Planner’ Rod Garrett Passes Away

Having never been to Burning Man, the temporary city/festival that pops up around this time every year in the middle of the desolate Nevada desert, we’d always assumed that the whole thing had no planning at all, as a sort of “anything goes” mantra seemed like the guiding principle of the whole thing. Oh but how wrong we were, as per usual, there’s always a much more interesting story lying around the corner. The NY Times this week published an obituary for Rod Garrett, a landscape designer who became the event’s city planner, as it were, in 1997. Over the next few years, Garrett had well-honed “Black Rock City,” the name the temporary site is given, into a finely tuned bit of city planning, with things resembling neighborhoods, city centers, and functional roads. It’s a fascinating read, from both a planning-out-of-nothing aspect, and for those of us who likely will never attend (we’re not big on getting dirty) but are wildly curious about. Here’s a bit:

Mr. Garrett made a list of almost 200 planning goals and began trying to find a way to satisfy as many of them as he could. When he sketched a circle, with the Man in the middle and the system of radial roads, things started falling into place. The area closest to the Man would be reserved for art installations, creating a parklike zone that complemented the “residential neighborhoods” in the same way Central Park makes Manhattan livable. City services like an ice dispensary and a medical station would be concentrated under a temporary roof within the inhabited zone. (Each year Mr. Garrett designed the vast, tentlike structure, which is known as Center Camp.)

Unrelated other than tangentially, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Spud Hilton recently posted this piece, also challenging our “free to do anything” conceptions about the event, about Burning Man’s extremely tight restrictions on photography.