Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Post One for Metromode

This week, I've been asked write the guest blog for Metromode, an online magazine that posts daily reports on job growth and development in Southeast Michigan, from Detroit to Ann Arbor. ~G

I’ve been quite blessed to travel extensively through the States and abroad. Upon reflection, I’ve only found myself in three places that actually feel like home. There’s the quaint little neighborhood of Lakshmipuram in Mysore, India that captured my heart with its narrow red earthen and cow littered streets. Of course, there’s this august city of Detroit, which is poised to reframe itself as a flagship for sustainability and urban agriculture. Then there is the Brigadoon-like Black Rock City that emerges yearly from the dust of the Nevada desert to become the 4th largest city in that state. These extremely diverse locations somehow exude a similar energy that resonates within me as home.

Black Rock City hosts Burning Man, an infamous art festival/cultural experiment that I’ve been attending for the past four years. This year, as my partner Angela and I frantically packed for our pilgrimage to Black Rock City, we decided to study the Burning Man community and culture. We were on the look out for concepts and tools that could be applied here in Detroit Rock City. Over the next few days I’ll share some of our findings, but first we need to get our heads around Black Rock City itself and tackle the question “What is Burning Man?”

There are as many answers to this as there are citizens of Black Rock City. Though pictures speak loudly and the photo galleries on the Burning Man site are phenomenal, the images do not express the planning, hard work and principals that create the event. One of the most important aspects of Burning Man is the desert itself. This alkaline and seemingly alien landscape is incredibly harsh and without adequate water and food it can be deadly. This environment makes the already impressive infrastructure of the event even more so. There are planned city streets, a daily newspaper, a working and amazingly reliable post office, highly efficient emergency services, and a citizen run crew of community mediators. Did I mention that volunteers provide all of these services? It is a massive project that many plan for all year round.

For me, the event is about fantastic art installations that have brought me to my knees in awe. It’s a social experiment where every citizen is encouraged to participate through radical self-expression. It’s also a place where the term “do-ocracy” is embraced and if something needs to be done people actually step up and do it!

Today, I’ll leave you with the 10 Principles that guide the event. Tomorrow, we’ll begin to discuss how these ideas that create a temporary city in the desert can be translated to assist us in creating a more sustainable Detroit.

Burning Man’s 10 Principles

Radical Inclusion

Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.


In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Radical Self-reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Civic Responsibility

We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.


Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

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