The eccentric, controversial festival has gained quite the reputation, evident from the 55,000 tickets that were swiftly grabbed up, even after being offered on a raffle basis. The new lottery model was introduced after last year’s event was unprecedentedly sold out.
Even though it is organized in the desert, where space is not an issue, the limited capacity is imposed so that the festival still maintains some degree of manageability.
However, in the past few years its popularity has risen to mainstream status, and a level that, it can be argued, is no longer sustainable.
The grounds, called Black Rock City, are like an alternate universe: restaurants, bars, clubs, cinemas, boutiques, and even a farmers market, post office and media bureau are all assembled for a week, but it is not quite what one would expect. No commercial sponsorship, advertising or monetary transactions are permitted. Instead, it is based on trade, exchange, sharing and gifting.
The event organizers and long-time attendees continuously advocate ridesharing programs, a network that connects individuals who are looking or offering a ride from various points to BRC. A new addition this year is an organized bus transportation from the most popular points in California. This will potentially relieve the traffic of a few hundred vehicles.
Although it rests on 10 guiding principles, such as de-commodification, radical self-reliance, civic responsibility, and leaving no trace, the festival can still be seen as an indulgence. A lot of people who come are not willing, or are incapable of letting go of the luxuries of modern life. It is not uncommon to see elaborate camps with fully-stocked RVs, air-conditioning, and five-star standards.
On the other hand, it recognizes and celebrates momentary pleasures that must be appreciated and valued while they last. The installations are famously burned at the end of the week, raising awareness about the acceptance of transitional analogies of life: “immediacy: no idea can substitute for this experience”.
This is a brilliant analogy for today’s world, and all the uncertainties we are facing.
So, how can a temporary city, built only for a week, where a large volume of people congregate from various parts of the world, be a model of sustainability?
The interactivity results in an open society that is easygoing, flexible, responsive, friendly and generous. Is it utopian?
Throughout the rest of the year, regional groups organize events that intend to keep up with the main principles, affirm commitments, and extend the same code of behavior to the rest of the society in ‘the real world’. So, its now widespread fame can be seen as a positive aspect.