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Just How Big Is Burning Man?

Every year, people build a city solely for the event, then take it down a week later.

The Burning Man festival started small back in 1986 when a few friends got together for a bonfire on a beach in San Francisco. The party became a yearly gathering and soon was relocated to the northern Nevada desert about a hundred miles north of Reno.

The event has since grown tremendously. Some 70,000 people come from locales across the globe to build a temporary city, known as Black Rock City, only to dismantle it a week later. It's become an inspiration for city planners and urban leaders looking for useful lessons to take home from a city that rebuilds and redesigns itself every year.

With its distinctive C-shaped design oriented around the Man in the center, Black Rock City has become a symbol of Burning Man itself. The entire perimeter is 7 square miles, but much of that is devoted to open space for art installations and music events. Attendees' camps are packed into an even more compact plot of land that's walkable and bikeable.

So just how big is Burning Man?

To get a sense of the physical scale of the event, there's a nifty mapping tool that allows you to compare a map of Black Rock City to other cities, or any other plot of land. The original source of the map app isn't clear, but it has made the rounds on Reddit and other sites.

For example, here's Black Rock City overlaid on Midtown Manhattan, where it would reach from the East River to the Hudson and from Central Park almost down to Chelsea:


Here it is compared to Washington, D.C., centered on the White House:


Looking at these maps drives home just how small Burning Man is -- and how sprawling some other cities are. If it were in Los Angeles, for instance, Black Rock City wouldn't even stretch from Hollywood to downtown:


Play around with the map and compare Black Rock City to any city you want. Or make a sojourn to next year's Burning Man to see it firsthand.

Zach Patton -- Executive Editor. Zach joined GOVERNING as a staff writer in 2004. He received the 2011 Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Journalism
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