The Placement Team is responsible for the yearly mapping of Black Rock City as well as the allocation of space to registered theme camps, villages, and all elements of the city’s infrastructure and services. This process includes pre-event city planning, working with the on-site surveying team, and helping participants locate their allotted space.

This was a year of big changes for the Placement team, starting with the name itself. “Theme Camp Placement” was changed to “Placement”, to better describe the comprehensive role the team plays in finding camp space not only for theme camps, but also for early arriving volunteers, staff, and artists as well.

Team Restructuring

With the departure of both the long-term project manager and infrastructure placer, the team was restructured. The Community Services Department director reassumed a leadership role, team members stepped into more responsibility and commitment, new members were brought onboard as back-ups, and the workload was allocated from a few, to many. Once again the Placement team benefited greatly from the help of an intern who handled the lion’s share of early-arrival matters, at a time when the team was especially busy working out last-minute mapping concerns.

The camp flaggers – the team responsible for surveying and marking the borders of all registered camps with survey flags – was also shaken up this year, as an all-new crew was managed by the single veteran of the team. They endured several days of white-out conditions, and marked off a record number of camps.

City Blocks

In recent years the team has documented that deeper blocks have had underutilized interiors. In 2007, block depths were mapped at 170 feet (reduced from 240 feet in 2007), resulting in a big improvement in how camps used their space. This is especially important towards the end of the week, when the population swells. Although the 2007 city experienced a record number of participants, the city plan was able to hold them all, due in part to this more efficient use of space. A lot of credit should be given to the theme camps themselves, who worked hard to adjust their camp plans to fit these new dimensions.

Mapping Out Registered Theme Camps

a group of four casually-dressed people work on laptops at a conference table while a fifth person draws on a map on the wall.Mapping out the registered theme camps is always a major task, with an endless number of variables and requests to be sorted through and examined. More team members took part in this process in 2007. In order to meet the time needs, the deadline for all theme camps to file a Placement questionnaire and submit all plans was moved up a month, from June 30th to May 31st.

Announcements about the new deadline were made in the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, on the Burning Man website, and in emails sent to theme camps that had registered in the past. The extra effort paid off, as well over 750 camps registered on time. The city was divided into several sectors, with members of a mapping subcommittee responsible for planning each sector. With this divide-and-conquer approach (and a couple of long weekends working together as a team), the city was mapped by mid-July.

Having a larger team allowed for more direct communication with the theme camps, getting a better understanding of their space needs and plans for interactivity. In the end, 681 theme camps were mapped – a record number, over 100 more than in 2007. Expanded involvement meant the Placers were much more knowledgeable about camp placement early on, which resulted in higher quality work on-playa.

Some improvements are still needed in the database. Again there were a number of cases where the main contact and camp information was inexplicably lost or misaligned, compromising communication with several of the theme camps. Access to reliable information is essential, and the team is currently testing the changes our tech department has made to address these issues.

City Layout

Theme camps continue to grow, both in numbers of campers, and in the amount of land requested. As always, there was plenty of interest in being placed along the Esplanade. In 2007, the 4:30 and 7:30 avenues and plazas really took hold, – with more and more theme camps requesting placement in these areas, and more foot-traffic and activity during the event.

The large-scale sound areas also saw an increase in activity, with large theme camps filling all open-playa frontage along 2:00 and 10:00, from Arctic street, all the way back to Landfill.

Weekend Arrivals

Large camps need to have small setup crews on-site early. The Placement Team and the Gate came up with a new idea to expedite the congested Weekend Arrival process, and the Gate staff produced a remarkable stand-alone software and hardware solution. It worked like a charm! Theme Camps were sent transferable barcodes for the number of people approved — unlike previous years, no names or I.D.s were collected. The Gate was equipped with barcode-scanners, and it was a much quicker process to see if someone had approval. Feedback from the theme camps on this new system was extremely positive, and back-ups and congestion at the Gate were greatly reduced. The only glitch was the way theme camps received their barcodes. Literally thousands were sent out by Placers as email attachments, at a time when the team was especially busy. Inaccuracies in the database added to this problem. This will be addressed in 2007.

The Creation of the D-Lot Team

People sometimes arrive early to the event without having approval to do so. In the past, the Gate handled this overload with the Placement project manager making frequent visits to assist, but with the event growing, a more organized and focused process was needed. The Placement team had an expanded presence at the Gate’s D-Lot – a temporary parking area near the Gate. There, people who did not have approval could have their situation addressed. This helped relieve congestion at the Gate, and frustrated arrivers had a chance to catch their breath after being on the road, while being given some options to consider. In retrospect, having fully-fledged Placers stationed at the D-lot was a bit of a problem, as others less familiar with their mapped sector had to place their camps in the city. A completely separate D-Lot team will be needed to run D-Lot next year.

Plazas at 3:00, 4:30, 7:30 and 9:00

The plazas are open community spaces within the city. 2007 witnessed an increased use of the plazas. Ice-sales were introduced to the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas, helping to alleviate the long lines in Center Camp, and benefiting those camped near these regions of the city.

Community Bulletin Boards were installed in the four plazas, special maps showed nearby theme camps, and space for announcements was included.

With the help of the Artery team, large-scale art was placed in each of the plazas. Community burn platform art pieces in the 4:30 and 7:30 plazas drew people together late into the night. The plazas continue to take on a bigger role in the city design, and 2007 was their most successful year yet.

Working with the Artery Team

2007 marked the beginning of a closer working relationship with the Artery team — both in the selection of art installations for the plazas, and in addressing the placement needs of artists arriving on-site before the event begins. More planning and communication in the upcoming year can result in an even smoother process in 2008.

A Seminal Year

2007 was a remarkable year for Burning Man, and for the Placement team. The city was 25% bigger (land within the perimeter) than in 2007, with a larger City layout (17% more available camping space), and a population growth of 18% to 48,500, resulting in a record number of theme camps (750) to be mapped and placed (up 12%).

The Placement team stepped up big, handling their expanded roles and responsibilities with a minimum of problems, resulting in a very successful 2007 for the event, and for the team.

Submitted by,
Mike Fusello