The project and our values.
Because how we go about work is just as important as the mechanics of we are doing, we have to be very considerate about why we make the decisions that we do. These decisions are guided by the 10 Principles of Burning Man, and also the additionally new context of a property that we own: water, neighbors, plants, animals and more.
We would like for our process to be transparent and inclusive and plan to leverage open source tools whenever possible. If you’d like to read about our plans for the next 12 months, you can read the Fly Ranch Roadmap.
We will emphasize Communal Effort in our work, inclusion in our process, Civic Responsibility in our resource management and restoration, Decommodification of the land and project, and we will, of course, Leave No Trace. In limited ways we can emphasize Radical Self-Reliance during visits to the site, Radical Self-Expression in our projects, Gifting in our interactions, and Immediacy when we’re there. But beyond these cornerstones of Burning Man culture, we have been discovering other values that are critical to our work. Through every phase of this long term project, we hope to:
- Build meaningful, collaborative processes for community engagement. Inclusion is a key to success and fundamental to project development.
- Operate a transparent project that promotes an environment of trust, rich in shared information, embracing open source whenever possible.
- Operate sustainably and in shared interest with the land. Help restore ecological balance to human activity on the land.
- Develop a values-based operating structure to move forward efficiently and with confidence.
- Create relationships with existing and new political, civic, artistic, and philanthropic individuals and groups and explore both how Fly Ranch can support existing Burning Man communities and programs as well as new ones.
Fly Ranch is also an opportunity to examine the 10 Principles in a new context. How does permanent infrastructure align with Leaving No Trace? Could we support the project through Gifting alone? How do we create financial sustainability while holding onto Decommodification? How can we be radically inclusive on a property with a finite capacity for sustainable activity?
Inevitably, there will be differing and sometimes incompatible views. We would like to identify early on the fault lines within the community, staff, local residents, and participants. Will some want to build while others will want no permanent structures? Will some want to charge money while others will not? Once we have a sense of the divisions it will give us a sense of in what areas will require the most conversation as we consider the multitude of issues we will face throughout this project.
Larry Harvey has written that consensus and collaboration “only work if people share basic values and operate in a climate of trust that is rich in shared information.” In general, in areas where there is consensus, it is easy to move forward. But “consensus” doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone agrees. It means people agree to disagree and get behind implementing a course of action whether they agree or not. There’s a pretty good chance everyone agrees we should pick up any trash we find on Fly Ranch. So we’re going ahead and do that right away. Other, more complex issues call for further discussion and then a decision made about how to move forward. We’ll be genuinely effective if we share information openly, solicit feedback earnestly, respond and incorporate that feedback, and set expectations about who is doing what and how long projects will take.
Given how the project will start small at first, we can avoid real or perceived failure by articulating what we know and what questions we face. As we go, we would like to be as forthright and transparent as we can about what we know, what we don’t know, and what challenges and opportunities we face. We want to operate as nimbly as possible and embrace the spirits of innovation and experimentation. Critical to this path will be to admit when mistakes are made along the way. We’re inspired by GiveWell’s practice of documenting mistakes and lessons learned.
We would like to make as much of our process public as we can. We hope to get direct feedback by organizing town hall meetings, working with experts to incorporate voices not typically represented, and use old-school methods like conference calls and one-on-ones. From there we hope to be able to scale our digital tools to serve as effective community engagement and discussion platforms. In the future, we will be asking people who have signed up for “outreach and communications” to assist us with these processes.
Undoubtedly, there will be disagreements and careful scrutiny of any path we take. This is true for any issue in the Burning Man community and is a natural part of being part of a community as passionate and diverse as ours. There will be a lot of ideas, and it important to sincerely listen to those ideas and learn from the incredible range of expertise and knowledge that is being offered to the project. For the initial phases, our approach will likely not be to determine what the majority of people want and to do that, however. We’re more likely to take all the input and then decide a direction that can include as many ideas us possible, but also takes into consideration the financial, legal, and operational reality of the situation. We can’t do everything, but we can find a way to do a lot of things.
As part of our visioning, we’d like to consider not just what we want to occur at Fly Ranch, but what we are interested in leaving people with and what they feel called to do, or become, once they leave. Just like Black Rock City, if the impact is only confined to the venue, then it’s really just a self-serving party.
While we’re far from knowing what the long-term plan for Fly Ranch will be, we’ve begun to identify what kind of projects we can look to as mental models, for guidance and for inspiration. Outreach and relationships based on shared values is a part of Burning Man’s effort to help foster a network of sustainable creative communities:
We believe that the solution to material challenges begins with the articulation of shared values among and between our communities in order to change the prevailing mindset, expand the sense of what is possible, and lay the groundwork for material change.
Here are some of the ideas for mental models that we’ve heard regularly throughout the last year:
- Energy park. We could use geothermal, wind, and solar like Kennedy Energy Park.
- Innovation Lab. Like Harvard’s i-Lab or Lowe’s Lab to develop, incubate, and test new technologies.
- Burners Without Borders Hub. To test and develop projects like refugee shelters.
- Sculpture park. A place to showcase large scale collaborative works of art. We can contact sculpture parks like Storm King around the world.
- Organizer space. For innovators and activists to meet, in the model of Highlander Center or Powder Mountain.
- Hot Springs. We have 23 pools, leading to comparisons to Breitenbush, Orr and Harbin.
- Philosophical hub. Following the likes of Esalen, TEDx, or The Long Now Foundation.
- Research center. Math, science, and physics thrive in beautiful research centers.
- Maker space. Maker Faire comparisons come to mind.
- Communal living. A kibbutz, The Dispossessed, Arcosanti, Auroville, East Jesus, and Dune.
- Natural art projects. Akin to James Turell’s Roden Crater or the work of Andy Goldsworthy.
- Desert Art City. Like Marfa.
- Ranch. Niman Ranch and the World Wildlife Fund have sustainable ranching practices.
- Music, camping, and culture. We could host small immersive events or communal experiments.
- Organic Farm. Models such as Green Gulch and Avalon.
- Hydroponics & Aquaculture farms. Like Bolton Farms, FreshBox Farms or Tomales Bay Oysters.
- Wildlife preserve. Like Tompkins Conservation projects.
- Cemetery. We could create a cemetery with artistic tombstones. No, seriously. This comes up a lot.
This list is not exhaustive. We are confident that while we’re inspired by many of these previous models, Fly Ranch will be something uniquely suited to the nature of Burning Man and the Black Rock Desert. We also have our own history to consider; in 2011 Burning Man Co-founder Will Roger and BRC designer Rod Garrett proposed a mixed use plan for Fly Ranch. More models and ideas will continue emerge throughout the coming years. The most concrete thing we know is this: Fly Ranch is an evolving, experiential site for experimental communities.