Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Burning Man & Greenbelt - threatened!

I will assume you are familiar with the Burning Man phenomenon.  Every year in late August, in the Black Rock Desert northeast of Reno, thousands of people throw off the bonds of convention and gather for a week or 10 days of  "arts and culture."  Attendees are expected - encouraged - to push the boundaries of expression and excess.  It culminates with the "main event" - the burning of an immense wooden statue of a man, surrounded by the gyrating, howling - but peaceful - mob.

I've never been tempted to attend, any more than I've been tempted to attend the annual Sturgis "biker" rally.  Perhaps I suffer from what Yogi Berra explained as follows, when speaking of a popular restaurant: "NOBODY goes there any more - it's too crowded!"  (I tend to shy away from large, chaotic groups.  The Fair or a Bronco Stadium football game is pushing my boundaries; I tend to gravitate AWAY from big crowds.)

The population of the most recent "Burning Man" was in excess of 60,000.

The founders and organizers laid down these principles by which Burning Man will be governed:
    - Radical inclusion
    - Gifting
    - Decommodification
    - Radical self-reliance
    - Radical self-expression
    - Communal effort
    - Civic responsibility
    - Leaving no trace
    - Participation
    - Immediacy
… and they've done their best to stay true to those principles.  (I'm sure it's a challenge, when 60K people, with widely-varying levels of commitment, show up for a week and then go back to their day jobs, or whatever their pastimes.)

However, the spirit of Burning Man is under threat from "poseurs" - jet-setters and "social media influencers" who get limo'ed in for Instagram photos, who live in the turnkey, self-contained 2-bedroom "Moon Village" with "super powerful AC" while making the scene, and then get whisked away in the limo to the private jet that awaits at the nearest airport.

Interesting article about it all HERE.

This year, Marian Goodell, the CEO of the undertaking, expelled the worst offenders and warned others.  She wrote, "Black Rock City requires significant investments of time, energy, and resourcefulness.  Part of what makes Burning Man unique and powerful is that everyone has to work hard to be there..."

In thinking about it, that's a pretty good explanation of some of my recent "Greenbelt feelings."

As traditional self-powered Greenbelt users (pedestrians, cyclists, runners, skaters, etc.) are joined by people on electric-powered bicycles and now "e-scooters"...

There's rarely a traffic problem on the Greenbelt between, say, October and April.  But come those summer months, it gets mighty crowded on a perfect weekend afternoon or warm summer evening.  And apparently going forward, those traditional large crowds will be supplemented by people who "don't have to work hard to be there."  They just twist a throttle or push a button to become part of the mass of humanity.  And the quality of the experience deteriorates for everybody, just as surely as the quality of a nice drive from Eagle to downtown Boise deteriorates... if you're doing it at 7:30 on a weekday morning.

Surely the e-bikers and e-scooterers aren't going overboard on "decommodification," or "radical self-reliance," or "communal effort," or even "participation."  (I can't imagine I'd feel much sense of participation, if I was just rolling thru on a self-propelled vehicle.)

Time will tell.  2019 will be our first summer with full-blown, unlimited e-bikes and e-scooters.  It will also be the first summer with several new attractions (expanded water park in particular).  Our city overlords don't seem to have any reservations about trying to limit crowd sizes - growth is good!  I'm not feeling optimistic about the "Greenbelt experience" going forward, but maybe my worries are totally irrational... we'll see.

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