It's not exactly the ideal place to build a city. No water, little vegetation, limited animal life. August temperatures climb to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and drop close to freezing at night. High winds kick up powder-fine dust into blinding storms. The place is, in a word, inhospitable.
But year after year in late summer, a small city rises on this ancient lakebed in the Black Rock Desert, in Pershing County in northwestern Nevada. It's the annual event — or festival, or party — known as Burning Man, an eight-day experiment in self-expression and self-reliance that is now one of the most notorious cultural events in North America. What began as a bonfire attended by 20 friends on a San Francisco beach in 1986 has exploded into a global mega-event with 50,000 participants.
Just across the river from Detroit sits a city forgotten. Battered by the fall of the auto industry and struggling to keep its economy running, Windsor, Ontario, has seen some tough times in recent years, and things aren’t likely to improve any time soon. It has the highest unemployment rate in Canada, a plummeting population, and the empty storefronts and foreclosed homes that have come to define this generation’s Great Recession.
Though geographically south, Windsor’s been called the Detroit of the North. For some locals, it’s simply a broken city. But there’s a growing movement that believes Windsor is a city that can be fixed.
A group of artists, activists, and urbanists has come together in Windsor with the straightforward-yet-complex goal of repairing the city.
Can open source play a role in urban planning? Launched on Kickstarter, the proposal to erect a monument to RoboCop has received support from thousands of people worldwide.
The Internet's very local demand for RoboCop
Strange things can happen when the nerdy niches of the Internet mobilise. In less than a week, the wacky-yet-kindaclever idea of building a statue in Detroit of the title character from the Detroit-based 1987 film RoboCop surpassed its $50,000 goal through donations on the fundraising website Kickstarter.
On a calm street, blocks from the auto hum of Wilshire and Fairfax, a 1930s architectural classic plays portal to another era's drug surreality. Within the walls of Rudolf Schindler's Buck House lie '60s decay and dystopia, a bizarre mix of science, government and psychoactive drugs that turned quietly hidden pockets of postwar Southern California into a substance-fueled testing ground for the expansion of consciousness.
This is ostensibly the former home of one Dr. Arthur Cook, a CIA-sponsored psychedelic drug-testing psychologist — who never actually existed. The remnants of years of drug manufacturing, experimentation and use scattered throughout its rooms and hallways, apparently abandoned for decades, are actually an elaborate new installation from Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman, "Bright White Underground," at Country Club L.A.
It's already disappearing. The temporary city that forms during the annual Burning Man event is fading away, as the tens of thousands of people who traveled out to live in the desert of northwestern Nevada for the past week have filed out of the void and returned back to the rest of the world.
The event's organizers and volunteers are still erasing the traces of the event, from demolishing structures to removing fencing to picking up trash. Within another week or so, the entire city will have disappeared.
Urban planning is one of those things people don't realize they can relate to. Everybody understands cities, so why can't they understand how they are planned? Well, there's really no reason. Urban planners -- steeped in the inner workings of the urban world -- probably aren't the best to try to communicate this idea. So bring in the artists.
Art has an incredible communicative power, especially in regards to concepts that are otherwise hard to verbalize or explain. In the world of urban planning, art could be a great way to improve public understanding of projects, acceptance of new ideas, or simply to expand the idea of the city from a place to an evolving and interactive experience.