What Senior Living Can Learn From Burning Man

On the surface, seniors housing and the annual Burning Man festival appear to have little in common. After one provider ventured to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert with a group of seniors to participate in Burning Man, though, it seems there’s a lot senior living can learn from the event that brings more than 70,000 people together to create a pop-up metropolis for a week.

“Burning Man is an intentional community, and seniors housing is a different kind of intentional community,” Juniper Communities’ Founder and CEO Lynne Katzmann tells Senior Housing News. “But they’re both about people coming together, being themselves, where who they are is respected and celebrated. That’s the connection. We are doing what Burning Man does. Most people wouldn’t put the two together that way, but we need to do that.”

Last week, Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper spearheaded the desert camp, bringing together participants of various generations for the weeklong festivity that has been likened to the millennial’s version of Woodstock. Some 74,000 people came together to form a city for the week at the event geared toward art, self-expression and independence, among them the four seniors participating with Juniper to spark conversations around ageism and joining the generations.

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Juniper’s camp, dubbed Aging Insurrection, reflected this greater mission of breaking down barriers between age groups. In fact, along with Juniper’s camp partner, there were people there ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s.

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“By taking an intergenerational group, we raised awareness not just that older people can handle Burning Man, but also that it’s a place where seniors thrive,” Katzmann says. “People don’t really associate Burning Man and seniors housing, but we can now talk about seniors housing in a new way.”

Senior Living and Social Connections

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Part of shifting the framework of senior living involves emphasizing how seniors housing can foster social connectedness, Katzmann says, which was constantly on display during the weeklong event. The Aging Insurrection camp hosted two events of its own to facilitate such connections: an intergenerational coloring party where participants painted a large mural, and an insurrection salon dedicated to conversations and wisdom around aging.

“For Juniper, we’ve always believed a good life was about connecting socially and being in relationships with people,” Katzmann says. “What Burning Man did for me is prove the power of social connectedness…and why senior living is so important for people getting older.”

Katzmann’s 84-year-old mother is a prime example of joining the generations and leaving a social imprint, saying her favorite part of Burning Man was meeting and talking to people of all ages from around the world. Harsh physical conditions throughout the week including extreme fluctuations in temperature and wind that stirred up major dust storms didn’t deter her positive attitude about Burning Man, and she says she hopes her participation served a greater purpose.

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“People who aren’t used to seeing older people out there at Burning Man—interacting with them and talking to them—hopefully realized that older people still can be involved and contribute,” Laurie Katzmann says. “That’s really what I hope the impact was, and I think that’s why I was there.”

Moving forward, Burning Man has provided a starting point to rebrand what senior living is all about, especially ahead of the baby boomer generation, says Cindy Longfellow, Juniper’s vice president of business development and sales and marketing. That means accommodating seniors basic needs, but proving they can flourish on a social level, too.

“If we can somehow filter that out and make that a hallmark of what we do, people will come to us and other senior communities, because people need and want that very much,” she says.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

Photos courtesy of Juniper Communities

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