Thesis Update: Gentrification and Burning Man

Above: Signs of gentrification (according to

In the process of working towards my thesis, I’ve found tighter boundaries that I’m comfortable with. Following my experiences and observations in Black Rock City this year, I’m now seeing my thesis as an exploration of gentrification as a necessary part of the trajectory of emergent culture (and its interaction with dominant mainstream culture) and using Burning Man as a case study (of gentrification)

I want to look at gentrification as a stage of cultural evolution – part of emergent culture’s progression and interaction with dominant forces. I think this is a conversation that needs to be had but is often stalled due to political and emotional sensitivities. I believe that exploring the gentrification of Burning Man offers a case study that is sufficiently distant to allow for objective reasoning. This focus ties in my urban revitalization work and also makes my work of use to urbanists who have little interest in Burning Man but for whom the ‘g’ word is ever present.

As the world’s population is increasingly urbanised and cultures forced to face one another and adapt, I believe we need to develop a more nuanced and complex understanding and vocabulary for gentrification and that this work could be a part of that philosophical and political pursuit.

I’m know I’m not alone in seeing this link..

What do you think?


  1. Hi Miriam,
    I have thought about gentrification a lot, but I’ve never quite been able to make the convincing jump to it being part of some kind of positive evolutionary process. It almost seems too optimistic, for such a politically contentious and negative topic, that “everything’s going to be okay”. I am a chronic deliberate optimist, but there is something gritty and unsatisfying here – it seems like a jagged knife’s edge that could go either way. These days we see increasing inequality in most places, yet also, increasing democratization, largely related to the internet, which defies attempts at control. We see powerful social movements sweep the world, and transform our general ways of thinking, yet they are still minuscule in comparison to the powers of corporate exploitation. I haven’t read any gentrification literature, but I am interested in anything that talks about it in the way you suggest. Do you have any reading suggestions?

    • Hi Isa – thanks for your contribution to this conversation. First of all, I would refrain from thinking of evolutionary processes as positive or negative – they’re neither, they just are. Evolution is progressive developments that are true facts, there’s no use in judging them. Everything is going to be okay, because it must be, there is no other option. Reality will play out and there’s no room to argue it.
      I share your observations regarding the polar and profane expressions of human capability for advanced connectivity, and at the same time extreme lack of compassion.
      I am growing my reference list for this conversation and I’ll be sure to share more with you via this site (or via email if you prefer).

      In the meantime, check out


  2. Thank you, Miriam, for suggesting a more nuanced take on gentrification. I’ve struggled with this, too, on a more personal level: For example, walking through the Mission in San Francisco feels much more comfortable these days – and I know that’s in part because of its gentrification.

    Your post reminded me of Michael Warner’s book “The Trouble with Normal.” He is exploring the changes in the gay men’s movement and sees the normalization of the movement as problematic because instead of subverting mainstream culture, the subculture is mainstreamed.

    I also don’t think evolution is a proper analogy, at least not biological evolution. It does not have a goal or a desire, which we can bring to development as humans. We can analyze what has happened in the past, draw conclusions from that, and decide if we want to channel development differently. Maybe there is a way to get some of the benefits of gentrification (like increased safety) without its destructive qualities (like displacement)?

    Looking forward to reading more! This is an important discussion!

    • Hi Rachel – thanks for joining the conversation. I really appreciate you bringing more references in (I’m looking up that book now!) and for pushing back on my analogy. However, I will say that I believe it still stands firm – it DOES have a goal and desire – the improvement and continuation of the species. And I believe that it is actually the survival of humanity (bioligically and essentially -what it means to be human) that is the crux/goal/demand of our next evolutionary leap/ideological revolution.
      Send me an email next time you’re going for a walk in the mission – let’s hash this out!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.