The placement team enjoyed an excellent year in 2005. The team handled intense challenges such as the new city layout. along with improving the placement of staff, volunteers, artists and theme camps approved for early arrival, as well as better coordination with other Black Rock City departments. New members joined the placement team in order to meet those new challenges. The team gained ideas for improvement for 2006 while managing the changes and new tasks of 2005 as smoothly as possible. Everyone looks forward to the coming year to make Burning Man even more enjoyable for all.

Year-round Placement Hotline/Theme Camp Announce List

The main task of the placement team before the event is to provide support to theme camps, mainly by answering questions sent to the address. Questions are dispatched to placement staff to be answered within a couple of days. The process developed for 2004 continued to work well, aside from a few glitches. This early contact is an important aspect of placement, since it gives the placement team a chance to personally interact with theme camps before the event and prevent issues arising on the playa. The main improvement planned for 2006 is to improve the reliability of technical infrastructure. Missing emails hurts this process.

Once again leading up to the 2005 event, about one dozen theme camp announcements were sent, over the course of several months, to the hundreds of camps that had registered for reserved space. Communications raised topics ranging from the new city plan to fire hazards in a tent city. Several messages relayed information from the Nevada Department of Health, to be sure that attendees had essential information about safe food-handling practices and food permit applications so they could keep themselves and the public they might be serving safe and healthy in Black Rock City. Cautions against the illegal serving of alcohol to minors, a concern following some law enforcement investigation in 2004, were successfully communicated in theme camp announcements and the Survival Guide. Law enforcement found no violations in 2005.

Black Rock City Mapping

The mapping process went very well leading up to the 2005 event and was completed in less than 2 weeks. The mapping team grew to accommodate the increasingly complicated task along with more direct communication with theme camps during the mapping exercise. A graduate student intern contributed to this process and was quite instrumental in its success. Hundreds of calls and emails helped to make sure that planners fully understood the needs of theme camps, and that theme camps understood the mapping constraints. The mapping for 2005 coped with a new city layout and a learning curve for everyone that will improve for 2006. Placers want to spend more time with theme camps and participants in order to explain how the mapping process works. This is fairly straightforward and open but till needs better communication. There were about the same number of theme camps for 2005 as in previous years, but the size of theme camps keeps increasing, which complicates mapping somewhat.

New City Layout

The placement of theme camps extended to two radial streets (4:30 and 7:30), removing placement in most of the second block off the Esplanade and moving the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock plazas one block further in toward the Man. The main goal of theme camp placement is to integrate the blocks farther back from the Esplanade into the city, while decreasing the congestion near the Esplanade. For the first time, all participants could camp in the city’s inner rings. This new layout emerged as a group of volunteers brainstormed for weeks in December 2004. The same process during 2005 will improve the layout for 2005, using feedback from participants and theme camps. Input is collected from direct comments from participants, careful reading of the e-playa and other online Burning Man forums, and discussions with participants. While no authoritative information has emerged to really assess the success of the new layout, some comments, positives and negative, have emerged:

  • The new city layout certainly had very noticeable effects. More spontaneous communities emerged, especially in the back blocks.
  • The living space felt dark and less active at night, especially in the back blocks.
  • Small theme camps struggled to gain visibility among the public, although theme camps had more space overall.
  • Large theme camps and villages benefited from the new layout and from increased flexibility in mapping.
  • Border disputes declined as a result to almost zero, while noise complaints increased, mostly in the plaza areas.

Refinement of the city layout will be one of the most important improvements the placement team addresses for 2005. Changes will reflect additional feedback from participants, including participants actively in the placement process, and improving communication about the city’s layout prior to the event. Typically, 2 or 3 years are needed to complete a change, and the Black Rock City layout continues as an on going process. Planners may also consider that some problems, such as the perceived darkness at night or the perceived increase of sound, may also have other causes than the new city layout: The 2005 event happened during a new moon (with reduced natural light at night), and more camps are bringing large sound systems (including unregistered camps).

Flagging and Transportation Support

The first step in the theme camp placement process, once the team reaches the playa, is to perform the fine-grain survey, marking with flags all registered theme camps and infrastructure. Flagging was completed ahead of schedule in 2005 by a handful of volunteers working hard under the hot sun. Flagging crews made no mistakes at all. The main improvement for 2006 will provide better shelter and support for the flaggers, such as proper places to sleep and better protection from the sun. The flagging team was one of the first teams to occupy Black Rock City, while infrastructure was still emerging. The placement team is also responsible for the placement on all the containers, buildings, and shade structures that comprise the Black Rock City infrastructure. Proper and timely placement allows smooth, fast transportation by the Department of Public Works (DPW) with reduced fuel consumption by heavy machinery. This function worked perfectly, and all the work was done within a week, ahead of schedule.

Early Arrival and Early Box Office

The placement team also interacts with theme camps approved for early arrival. Only theme camps with substantial need to arrive early were approved for placement before the start of the event. The approval process went well. The placement team’s student intern collected all the early arrival names, a Herculean task to be sure! Still, too many theme camps and participants try to enter the city before the event starts without prior approval. All must understand that they will not to enter Black Rock City before the event starts unless they arrange to do so beforehand. Everyone devotes a lot of time and energy to handling requests from people who are not on the approved early arrival list, and people who are turned away suffer unneeded frustration. Better communication will improve this situation, but support from theme camps is also needed, so they communicate this information to all their members. The number of people turned away at the Gate increased this year, and it should decrease.

Gate staff also coped with a boost in number of participants not associated with any theme camp who tried to enter the city during the weekend before the event’s start. Participants should understand that Burning Man starts on Monday and not the weekend before. By trying to sneak in, they stress staff at the Gate and theme camp placement as well as the infrastructure. In order to curb this tendency, the placement team has ramped up its monitoring effort, inevitably turning away more people.

Early Black Rock City Placement (Land Grabbing)

Land grabbing occurs when those approved to arrive before the event starts try to occupy more space than allotted in pre-event plans. While people need to settle into their playa homes, the land not reserved to theme camps must remain available for participants who arrive when the event starts. The placement team placed everyone, even those not associated with theme camps, until the event started. Incomplete prior communication left many people surprised. The placement team took the time to individually explain to everyone the reasons for this placement, and all understood and agreed with the requirement, but many camps were displaced, creating some frustration.

Overall, the early Black Rock City placement achieved fine results. Comparing aerial pictures taken for 2005 to those for the previous year demonstrated that the city was more evenly populated in 2005. The placement team also worked hard to make sure that every city block had settlements from veteran participants, improving the mix of participants. Feedback from new participants indicated that they enjoyed the proximity of veterans. This early, general placement will continue next year, but improved communication before the event will reduce the number of people who are surprised. While the placement team managed their new task very well, they learned a lot, and improved methodology will reduce stress on participants and placers.

Theme Camp Placement

The placement team for 2005 included three new placers. Training started before the event and continued after the Gate opened. The increase in 2004 of conflicts between placers and theme camps, as stated in the 2004 Afterburn report, did not recur, and no conflict of that sort emerged in 2005. The team extends many thanks to theme camp representatives for this success.

A small event in Center Camp extended invitations to all theme camps. Only a few showed up, but the event was very warm, fun, and interesting. A bigger event is planned for 2005. The placement team will also try to increase involvement of theme camps in all processes: Theme camps are a very important part of the Burning Man community, since they bridge the gap between Black Rock City departments and the participants, so the Burning Man Project would like to offer more opportunities for theme camps to be involved.

Experiments for 2005 focused on promoting the leave no trace ethic among all participants, including the placement team, DPW, Earth Guardians, and the theme camps. Some theme camps conducted highly visible playa restoration walks, raising the overall awareness of leave no trace principles among all who witnessed their work. And they had fun! The placement team will try to develop this concept more for 2006.

Eric Pouyoul
Black Rock City Placement