Upzoned

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August 9, 2019  

What Burning Man Can Teach You About Making Your City Financially Stronger (Yes, Really)

August 9, 2019

Depending on your age, your proclivity for aviation goggles and fur boots as casual fashion accessories, and how much you like techno, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Burning Man. And whether your first reaction to those two words is “Wooooo! Burn the man!!!!” or “Isn’t that just a bunch of half-naked hippies setting fires somewhere in the desert?”, you should keep reading—especially if you care about your city’s financial health.

Though Burning Man is broadly known as a nine day festival of music/art/people-fire-dancing-in-weird-steampunk-costumes, many true Burners actually think of it as a grand experiment in community design. Every year, attendees participate in the imagining and creation of Black Rock City, the momentary metropolis in the Black Rock desert that is the backdrop to everything that happens at Burning Man—and to some extent, the creation of BRC is the event itself. Every aspect of the temporary town is subject to rigorous planning in the year leading up to the event, with architects working tirelessly to figure out how they can improve on previous years’ designs. And of course, placemaking doesn’t stop once the whimsical building-sculptures get nailed together; Burners spend the whole week-plus making their ephemeral community truly their own, no permits required.

But hold up: can a city that stands for just nine days really teach anything to actual towns where people live 365 days a year?

That’s the subject of a recent article from Governing, and that’s the subject of this week’s Upzoned. That’s right: certified millennials Kea and guest host Jacob Moses are diving into the wild world of Burning Man, and showing you why even the most buttoned-up towns might learn a thing or two from the kind of people who hang out in the Nevada sun and fashion tallbikes into giant moving dragon sculptures.

How can we inspire average citizens to not only engage in the creation of their own neighborhoods, but to approach it with the kind of joy and creativity that you usually only see on lost weekends at weirdo-happy desert festivals? How can temporary, tactical solutions add enduring value to your place? Are there risks to over-emphasizing the whimsical and the fleeting when your city really needs change that lasts—or do we need a dose of the magical more than we need big, expensive, asphalt-and-steel commitments? Find out, and then let us know in the comments if you’d consider bringing a little of Black Rock City to your place.