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Astor Playa 2007: TOPP at Burning Man

In the summer of 2007, friends, colleagues and employees of The Open Planning Project traveled to Black Rock City Nevada for the annual Burning Man Festival, bringing with them a piece of New York City re-imagined. Astor Playa, was a radical re-imagination of the historical Astor Place freed from the constraints of traffic, commercialism and city planning that favors cars over people.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i> [00:02] Being trapped, stranded, castaway in the desert with a group of people that you’re about to is an exercise in building community. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i> [00:13] When you go out at Burning Man people generally say, so what are you doing here? You know, what’d you do? And you could either say, I just showed up and I’m here to party, which is sort of lame. Or you can say I built that, or I had a part in that, and that gives you a learning experience throughout… plus it gives you a lot of love out there.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Matt Roth:</i> [00:42] Well it’s 2007 Labour Day weekend, we’re in Black Rock City outside of Reno, Nevada and we’ve been living in the desert, Great Basin Desert, trying to… I don’t know exactly what we’re trying to do. About 45,000 of us or 50,000 of us at any given point descended on the desert in a civic experiment to see how we might create an alternative society for eight days, and then take it back down again.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Rob Miller:</i> [01:15] The short story, we basically turned 200 feet of the esplanade of the main front street in Black Rock City, and we turned our entire frontage into a little piece of New York City. We reconstructed Astor Place. We built the Cube, we built the subway entrance, we tried to just kind of reconstruct New York street life, stoop culture. Built a couple of brownstone, two storey buildings, a little room underneath and a slightly bigger one up above. And then we had botchy cords, we had a tyre swing hanging from a scaffolding. We had news boxes full of information about our project and also some of the Black Rock City newspapers. We had a little construction zone with a New York steam vent from… we had brought with us and just really tried to capture the energy of New York City street life and to give people a place to interact and engage with that. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Vanessa Hamer:</i> [02:10] From the moment that we got there, even before we put like the sheeting on the side of the cube to finish it and, you know, make it a black cube that looks like the Astor Place cube, people recognised it as they would like bike by and everyone you’d hear like, oh that’s so… you know, those are like brownstone stoops or like that’s the cube, or that’s… oh look, that’s the subway entrance, you know, like let’s in it. And people were like this is so weird because this looks like a real place and the rest of Burning Man looks like a totally unreal place. It was recognisable but also vastly different than the actual Astor Place. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Nick Grossman:</i> [02:45] The most drastic difference between here and there is the lack of traffic, car traffic. Here you have taxis, police cars, buses, delivery trucks, and the cars take up, you know, the majority of the space and are the largest presence here. On Astor Playa, the people ran supreme. A lot of walkers and bikers and wanderers, and there are still cars, but the cars sort of serve a different purpose. The most functional transportation is there by bicycle or by foot. And car traffic on the Playa is only radically modified art cars, which sound like a ridiculous idea if you haven’t seen them. But to get a permit from the Department of Mutant Vehicles in Black Rock City, your car has to be pleasant and inviting and radically altered, which means that it might have a bar on the back, it means it might have a dance floor on the top, it means that it might be in the shape of a cupcake. So cars there are a little bit different than cars here and they serve a little bit of a different role. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Cory Mervis:</i> [03:55] I really want to see what we learned at Burning Man come back to New York. This space is all messed up. I mean, from what we saw out there, having all these cars go through, it destroys the space for humans. It’s not for humans at this time.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Rob Miller:</i> [04:11] There’s no place to sit in the entire plaza except for the base of the cube. And when you’re sitting there you can’t spin it. There’s huge Starbucks on either side. There’s, you know, the cube is a piece of public art, it was New York’s first piece of abstract art. But other than that, there’s nothing done with any of the space. There’s all this really valuable public space that’s just left as blank and basically useless from a human perspective. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Bill “Reverend Billy” Talen:</i> [04:39] Starbucks led the way to the corporatisation, the mallisation of that historic intersection. I would say that the logoisation of that intersection is the direct opposite of the gift of having it reconstructed in… on the Playa. What we do, the other 51 weeks of the year, is increasingly the issue of how our experience that we share goes out into our neighbourhoods and communities, defending against the automobile, against the big boxes and chain stores who put us in cars, dehumanise the sidewalks. That is how we become socially conscious.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Rob Miller:</i> [05:21] We want things to be better for everyone and, you know, people come out there for the celebration and if, in the process, we’ve set up Astor Place in some ways that we really… the whole thing is kind of underlined by a giant question mark, a giant like, look around, look at how great this is. What if? What if it were like this all the time? You know, what does it take to get this city to realise that this could be so much more valuable for everyone here if it was used in a different way? Basically a lot of effort goes into creating public space at Burning Man, there’s a lot of New Yorkers going to Burning Man and creating public space for people to enjoy. And we wanted to ground that in a place here in New York City to try to crack through that invisible barrier, that imaginary barrier, which is that Black Rock City is a place to do that, and New York City is not. </font> <br></p> http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/
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  • ketoile

    great work! I like how succinct this is about the need to bridge the gap between creative space and "real" space - it's great in the desert, but it would be great everywhere else too.

  • http://www.adeleray.rawcity.com Adele

    Wonderful! Wonderful! You can take the New Yorkers out of New York but you can't take New York out of the New Yorkers! Kudos to all!

  • Steven

    I had no idea that's the type of stuff that goes on at Burning Man. I always thought it was just an excuse to party. Thanks for the amazing video which completely changed my perspective on the event. Nice work.

  • http://www.crankmychain.com Dan Kaufman

    This is great - crossposting right now.

    A trip to Burning Man can really change your perspective on art and society. It's like being on another planet and hopefully the best parts of the experience can be brought back and incorporated into our real lives.

    These images really capture the BRC experience but I recommend the real thing to those open for adventure.

  • Janine

    great film. it provides context for the art of burning man and connects to a "real" place. both communities are associated through the imagery and story of the parallel astor places.

  • Carl

    I'm so high right now.

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    Dropping by for a hey! Android Porn