2009.000 Reinventing the Trailer Park (The Guardian)

In 2009, Lisa Selin Davis wrote for Grist.org, which the Guardian subsequently picked up – article here –  about a new vision for a greener trailer park – which see as the future of suburban development for a number of reasons; the footprint is lighter on the earth, there is no disruption of landforms, infrastructure is inexpensive, and the resulting end users are significantly more in-tune with their consumption of water, energy and gas resources because of the very nature of their quasi-off-grid connections.

Since then, not a whole heck of a lot has happened on the micro-green development front, after the economic meltdown of 2007, conditions aren’t yet perfect for the widespread public acceptance of the development model, discussed here also with Patrick Condon on CBC Radio’s Spark. We’ve now designed over 30 different eco-prefab homes and trailers, authored 2 development investment offerings, and still haven’t gained any significant traction from developers.  It’s important to properly demonstrate that these parks can be beautiful AND light on the land, the rest of the numbers absolutely speak for themselves. If you happen to be such a developer, investor or landowner – drop us a line and we’ll share our spreadsheets with you!

Calistoga Ranch – the Shining Example of what the future of the suburb could be.

As you can see – a trailer park doesn’t need to look anything like what the name implies. This is in fact what I have in mind when I speak of the renaissance of the trailer park, affordable, ecological, beautiful homes that are absolutely everything that you need to live comfortably.

Reinventing the trailer park

Trailer parks get a bad rap. But the trailer park can hold great potential as an eco-development model, writes Lisa Selin Davis from Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Fri 3 Apr 2009 09.01 BSTFirst published on Fri 3 Apr 2009 09.01 BST

Trailer parks get a bad rap, especially in the post-Katrina days when we’ve come to see them as North American refugee camps slowly poisoning their displaced inhabitants with formaldehyde fumes. But the trailer park, done right, actually holds great potential as a development model.

Even in its current form, with communities of not-particularly-mobile homes plopped atop concrete blocks, the trailer park is a kind of low-rent template, a version of new urbanism without the bells, whistles, and marketing budgets. In Canada particularly, trailer parks are vacation spots, more campground than affordable housing, with density, communal green spaces, swimmable and fishable bodies of water, and dwellings a fraction of the size of the current average, which falls in the 2,500-square-foot range.

“If you look at all the ground rules and best practices guidelines for perfect ecotopia villages, you’re going to see all the things you find in a [Canadian] trailer park,” says Andy Thomson, designer of the Sustain MiniHome, an extremely green mobile home manufactured in Toronto.

Problem is, those parks are filled with, you know, trailers. The formaldehyde kind.

Well, Thomson has a solution to that particular problem.

He’s partnering with trailer park owners in Canada to transform older parks into those perfect ecotopia villages, with MiniHomes replacing the formaldehyde models. Just call them MiniHome Parks. They will be second-home spots at first, but someday, if all goes according to Thomson’s plans, they’ll be a new vision of redevelopment.

MiniHomes—solar-powered, recycled water-using, super-insulated dwellings made of renewable materials—will begin peppering trailer parks around Canada later this year, with an eye toward realizing the master makeover plan that Thompson and partners have cooked up.

The master plan includes much more than replacing the old trailers with new. The goal is to return the parks to as close to their pre-development incarnations as possible, through habitat restoration, de-paving of surfaces to improve groundwater quality, and rainwater collection. Thompson also envisions organic gardening; community solar power, wind turbines, and electric vehicle fleets; even organic grocery delivery and pet waste compost collection areas (there’s a long list of everything the MiniHome park aims to do here).

They hope to have 10 to 20 units per acre, so there is density yet privacy. People will buy their own units—a 12-by-34-foot model starts at $139,900—and pay an annual fee of $1,500 to $5,000 for upkeep of the park. Might seem a little pricey for 400 square feet—the average price of a single-wide in the U.S. in 2007 was $37,200—but owners have the option of placing their units into a rental pool when they’re not basking in the green glow, and Thompson points out that a vacation cabin by a body of water is often much more expensive, without the sleek design and environmental benefits.

Of course, it takes time to go from the current model of trailer park to the environmental vacationer version. Most parks will add MiniHomes, rather than displace folks who already have traditional trailers there, and the MiniHome Park works particularly well if you can get your hands on a vacant park. Thomson estimates that the reinvention can take between one and five years, depending on how populated the existing park is. Rather than what he calls the “brutal development approach”—kicking everyone out so the parks can be re-landscaped and old trailers replaced with the new—he chooses the slow growth approach, transforming inhabited trailer parks unit by unit, block by block.

Which is perfect, because Thomson hopes these MiniParks will become year-round destinations instead of three-season retreats, and that they will both transform our images of the trailer park and municipalities’ resistance to them. They may be filled with mobile homes, but Thomson hopes MiniHome Parks will be here to stay. This is not about reinventing the trailer park, he says: “We’re looking at this as the future of the suburb.”

• This article was shared by our content partner Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

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