Last Friday, during the Convectional Caucus, Burning Man co-founder and Executive Director Larry Harvey announced several changes to the Burning Man organization’s structure. One of these changes includes moving Burning Man’s headquarters to 6th and Market in downtown San Francisco. Eric Mar, from the SF Board of Supervisors, noted Harvey’s quote in the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of this anticipated relocation: “Burning Man believes in urban revitalization,” Harvey said. “After all, we build an entire metropolis every year in the desert.”
SF denizens know that 6th St. has had a distinctive atmosphere, populated by those who are down-and-out and visited by downtown workers on their lunch break and the occasional tourist. Years ago, on a hot summer day, I waited for a friend outside Tu Lan, a Vietnamese restaurant on 6th St. To my puzzlement, a parade of passers-by greeted and addressed me, an unusual activity for urban dwellers who are known to mind their own business. One man exclaimed, “you know why everyone’s talking to you? We rarely see someone like you here.” Although I have never figured out what “like you” meant (my age? ethnicity? gender? my profession? all of the above?), his comment underscored how segregated neighborhoods can diminish opportunities and interactions across socioeconomic strata and racial/ethnic groups. It’s possible that groups like Burning Man could directly and indirectly foster some of these connections.
Interested in reading research about the effects of segregated neighborhoods? Start with: Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s American Apartheid, William J. Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, and Katherine Newman’s No Shame in My Game.