What the Controlled Chaos of Burning Man Reveals About Cities

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Every year, for the past 26 years, something truly remarkable happens: an entire city appears out of the desert. I’m speaking, of course, of Black Rock City, in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, erected for the quasi-ritualistic celebration of art, radical inclusion, and free-to-be-you-and-me-ness known as Burning Man.

Burners will come home raving about barter system and the impromptu wedding they attended in not much more than goggles, but the festival's most impressive feat may be this infrastructural coup. In a moment when the powers at be can't even fund the country’s shambling roads and bridges, the 2,000 organizers and volunteers who run Burning Man put together—and then take apart—a 70,000-person city in the space of two months. (That figure does not include emergency workers, government personnel, vendors, or contractors.)