Rod Garrett, renowned urban planner behind the annual Burning Man Festival, passed away on August 23rd at the age of 74. As Burning Man’s numbers swelled, well beyond the 20-strong gathering around a 1986 bonfire on San Francisco’s Baker Beach, or the 10,000 or so who made the first pilgrimage to the Nevada Desert in 1991, or even the 47,000-plus attendees in 2007, it became necessary to organize Burning Man campgrounds as an urban area, if a temporary one, called Black Rock City.
Perhaps far a field from the original festival’s purist counter-culture roots, Burning Man has become so popular that in essence it has had to create its own culture, complete with law enforcement, regulations, and profit-making. This year, the festival organizers capped ticket sales at 50,000 and probably with good reason: at $210-$360 apiece, they had all sold out by the middle of the second day after sales commenced. A few weeks ago you couldn’t find one on Ebay for less than $750.
Rod Garrett played an instrumental role in the festival’s growth (and, in the eyes of the hardcore, its selling out). Garrett’s Black Rock City has been praised for its thoughtful urban planning, where the more well-developed “neighborhoods”, or theme camps, cluster around the eponymous (burning) Man effigy, and attendant “residential” neighborhoods radiate out behind them.
As The New York Times wrote, it’s not often that an urban planner lives to see his plans take shape. Rod Garrett got to see it every year. This year, revelers will find that the avenue encircling Black Rock City’s Center Camp has been named “Rod’s Road,” in honor of its planner.