Principles of the Playa Fuel Innovation

(Stuart Mangrum, Michael Mikel, Ilana Lipsett, Dr. Mike North, Karen Cusolito)

Joe’s Garage in downtown San Mateo has all the elements of a space primed for innovation. 1. It’s a garage. Don’t some of the world’s best tech innovations start in garages? 2. It’s full of art, music and beer 3. This week, it hosted the City of San Mateo’s Innovation Week for an event on “Building and Inspiring the Community You Envision.”

The first city on the Peninsula to partner with the Burning Man Project, San Mateo assembled a panel of “Burners” to discuss how the culture of the annual desert event is transforming the way people approach community building. Joe’s Garage was overflowing with a sold-out crowd, all hungry to join others in “breaking out of the box” for a better world.

Moderated by Stuart Mangrum, Education Director for the Burning Man Project, the discussion highlighted several projects that are disrupting some traditional, urban silos.

The Playa
Michael Mikel kicked off the discussion with the history of the ultimate community-building project, Burning Man itself. A founder of the Nevada sojourn, Mikel’s “Playa name” is Danger Ranger. Mikel’s beaming smile and soft-spoken manner seemed anything but dangerous as he recounted how the event went from “twenty of us at Ocean Beach in San Francisco” to nearly 70,000 attendees.

In addition to its “leave no trace” guideline, Mikel attributed the event’s success to three principles: 1. Teach the world a lot about how to take care of the earth. 2. Teach the world about community 3. Teach the world about art.

While real estate in San Francisco is one of the hottest and most expensive markets in the country, Ilana Lipsett leased a 14,000 square foot space in the heart of the city for $1. Freespace maximizes Burning Man’s principle of “radical inclusion,” with the vision for a space that is welcoming and open to everyone. Born out of the National Day of Civic Hacking, freespace is “a long-term social impact experiment” to create, teach, learn and share.

Lipsett said that freespace has hosted over 300 events, nurtured more than 30 murals and foster four long-term projects. While its location is temporary and changing, freespace is committed to keeping its doors open for anyone from tech superstars to those without a home.

Armed with a doctoral degree in engineering, Dr. Mike North is the former host of the Discovery Channel’s “Prototype This!” After becoming a Burner, Dr. North craved making an impact on people’s lives, so he invented 3-D printed braces to help kids in developing countries who were afflicted with clubfoot.

For his next feat, he founded this organization to “to reallocate resources to effective nonprofits.” That means bringing world-class talent, skills and money to help worthy causes. Reallocate has supported initiatives for a variety of social-good works, from bringing energy solutions to Uganda to helping homeless youth in San Francisco.

American Steel Studios 
On a six-acre site in Oakland, this center provides affordable space in which artists and entrepreneurs can create and inspire. Founder Karen Cusolito, graduate of RISD and Massachusetts College of Art, says that “historically, artists get gentrified out of places they make cool,” so her aim was to create a space where artists can remain.

Becoming a powerful voice in Oakland politics, Cusolito says that American Steel Studios has spawned a movement, giving artists a voice in City Hall. “I’m not looking for anyone to help me; I’m looking for them to get out of the way.”

(The bar at Joe’s Garage in San Mateo)


Fame x Frame Photo Contest
As we develop community, we want to see how you live or play at Bay Meadows. Share your fun lifestyle photos with our community by using #baymeadowslife. You could WIN $50 or our Grand Prize of $500 at the end of 2014 and be featured in a live pop-up gallery exhibit event. View official rules here:

For the latest news and updates from Bay Meadows, follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.