City Design tasks include overall city planning and design, the design of official structures (including each year’s theme-related structure supporting The Man), as well as illustrations and graphics production — the visual images of architectural and civic designs in Burning Man publications and on the Web site. Once the design is established, this imagery is largely accomplished through Photoshop handiwork, but some work requires special 3D programs, as well. Plans and graphics serve many other organizational needs, including permit applications, newsletters, the calendar, to name just a few.
At the 2004 staff retreat, designers proposed an experiment in social engineering. The Burning Man community has traditionally been highly cohesive, holding together through the roughest times. Over the last few years, the burgeoning city has experienced growing dissension, as evidenced in newspaper accounts, blogs, staff disruptions, and splinter groups. Some have reasoned that this effect might well be traced to alienation due to loss of a human scale in the population size, as well as the tight segregation of theme camps from remaining participants.
City designers, responding to staff and participant feedback, recommended that the thick band of theme camps, which has historically occupied prime “inside” rings of the city, be distributed farther back into its heart. Further changes proposed included breaking down the monolithic city into sections – “neighborhoods” similar in size to those of 5 years ago, before disharmony was expressed. These two corrections were unified into one proposed scheme by distributing theme camps along two radial roads so as to divide the city into three main zones. Designers worked with staff to assure that the final city map addressed all concerns.
In 2006, the feedback indicated that the city blocks were too wide. Wide blocks lead to inefficient space use and make the city appear more crowded than it actually is. This was a problem for participants arriving later in the week as it took them longer to find a spot to camp. The placement team had to work hard to consolidate space in order to accommodate everyone. You can see this effect in aerial shots of the city as evidenced by empty areas in the middle of blocks. The plan is to address this by making the blocks a bit narrower in 2007.