The planning team within the Department of Public Works completes essential preparation for the Black Rock City environment. Tasks include overall city mapping, street and road layout, provisions for transportation, and the base on which the Man stands at the center of our city.


The Planning department now works with other departments to collect, refine, and distribute data to those working on Black Rock City layout and art placement, along with departments like Greeters, Playa Info, the Department of Public Works, Cafe, and Commissary, as well as some service providers. As the Burning Man organization continues to grow,needs and demands for mapping information grows as well. We will be working toward finding a more effective way of meeting all of the needs of the Burning Man community for 2005. Processes must be simplified in order to maintain a manageable scope of work. Need is now driving departments to develop location and mapping systems on their own, spreading the effort but creating a potential for a many-headed dragon. In the weeks prior to the event, we received reports of people contacting multiple sources in search of plans and layout information. Some thought they had found what they were after, but they received no guarantee that they were relying on accurate, up-to-date information.

For the past few years we have want to process and provide electronic information on past and present events, coordinates and locations, relevant photographs, artist’s statements and backgrounds, and related data and we get closer to accomplishing this goal every year. Lsat year brought us one step closer with improved GPS software developments. Such information will be distributed through Playa Info and others. As this data can easily be tailored to permissions and needs, in the future it might also be accessed live and interactively (i.e., camp sites could be requested or revised graphically) on the web – on a year-round basis.


Our outer concentric road is now over three miles long, twice as long as Gate Road. Adding another outer road may have been a bit premature in 2004, particularly after having also added one the previous year. After running some comparisons, it is little wonder that the city did not fill in much. The central camping area in 2004 was approximately 29,237,000 square feet. With a population of 36,000, each person had about 812 square feet. At the consistent past target ratio of 650 square feet per person, this space should accommodate a design capacity of up to 45,000 participants.

We could consider omitting the extra ring road for a year or two, but we’re all set for population growth in the near future.

Our radial roads have been varied between 30′ and 40′ yearly based on use by larger vehicles and emergency services vehicles. This past year a few more changes were made trying to hone in on the perfect combination of form and function. The process for making these changes was difficult due to lack of inclusion from all stakeholders. Many versions of the plan were created before the final one was decided upon in June. Next year we hope to improve this problem.

Gate Road has been allocated the Board-approved width of 50 feet for a number of years. This year, we spontaneously paced off the width and found it was 70 feet. Upon inquiry, we were told “they gave us a few extra feet to work with.” Simple math reveals that those few extra feet required a 40 percent increase in dust abatement at a direct cost to Burning Man of many thousands of dollars. On the up side, this unauthorized “field design” provided the unexpected benefit of easy road-watering throughout the event with no disruption to the gate, the greeters or participants entering our fair city

Plaza Development

The 3 and 9 o’clock Plazas first appeared on the city map in 2000 when, along with the construction of the new Cafe design, the layout included two smaller, satellite structures. Due to a series of circumstances (including labor shortages, violent winds. and white-out conditions) the project halted with only one structure completed. A vehicle ran into this building during a whiteout, cracking one post at bumper level. As the accident went unwitnessed and unreported, it was erroneously assumed that the wind had caused the structural failure. The area was caution taped, and the project was scrapped.

Since then art has been placed in the center of the plazas and the theme camps circling them have begun to use the space effectively to create a truly envigorated and civic space. Ideas for revisiting the central shade structure are still alive and well and may be reconsidered in the future but the current use of spce is prospering.

The Man’s Base

In 2004, the Planning department assumed full authority and responsibility for the safety of major structures. All proposed changes to plans and instruction were to be submitted for written approval. This requirement was not fulfilled.

Communicating and otherwise working closely with a building’s designer is a critical precaution to assure safety, as well as proper and timely completion. The Man’s base is evolving into a major feature in scale and importance. The project now requires application of construction management skills such as personnel coordination, scheduling, estimating, and purchasing.

City Location

The playa surface at the southwestern edge of Black Rock City’s pentagon is quite soft and prone to crumbling. Unfortunately, that is also the location of our airstrip. This thin-crusted material is difficult to negotiate, and it breaks easily into a powder, creating a prime source of dust clouds throughout our city. The dome of the playa surface rises toward the northeast, producing a thicker and harder crust.

Submitted by,
Rod Garrett, City Designer