One of the immediacies of Burning Man is the Black Rock Desert, a former prehistoric lakebed. With its vast expanse and vaulted sky, the Black Rock Desert is merciless in demonstrating that you are just a mere speck in time. Camping in this environ in a serious affair in survival, given the extreme temperatures, blinding dust storms, and occasional rainstorms. Only the foolish take life for granted under these circumstances. Here, nature offers plenty of experiences to contemplate her ways, like waiting out a whiteout while watching a heavy cast iron skillet, caught in camo netting, drift hypnotically up and down in the wind.
In conventional cities, taking life for granted is typical because of our routines and sheltered environments, until nature reminds us otherwise. With the almost two feet of snow, between yesterday and today in New York City, daily activities like walking beneath trees suddenly become more anxiety-inducing, especially when you hear a cracking noise, and a snow-laden branch lands near your feet. Plus, the “friendliness” of a resident raccoon may well be driven by a virus looking to replicate.
Change in a city landscape can cause temporary disorientation. For participants at Burning Man, when landmarks move, returning to home camp or moving among art installations is a challenging endeavor (i.e., “Why aren’t we getting any closer to the big duck?!?” “Maybe because we’re chasing an art car, not an art installation?!”).
In conventional cities, change isn’t as jarring. However, locals take note of what they perceive as the “wrong” kind of change – the appearance of a pawnshop or a check cashing outlet, the conversion of apartments into a homeless shelter, or single resident occupancy (SRO) , or new construction that knocks down a beloved landmark.
Alternatively, change can signal revitalization. For example, for several years, several storefronts on a nearby busy street corner were shuttered and unoccupied. Recently, three businesses moved into these spots.
Here’s a close-up of the store with a fascinating window display of 90 numbered and bewigged mannequin heads:
Interested in viewing more changes of Harlem storefronts? See this repository of photos, which were collected by Camilo Vergara.
My take: NYC and Black Rock City are evenly matched in terms of interesting change.
Burning Man: 1, Big Apple: 1