Trailer Trash or Trailer Treasure? How the Trailer Park Could Save us All.

I’m left with an after-image of myself in my 90s, hooning around in my caravan park sustainable estate on my electric solar-powered buggy – a bit like Hamilton Island but without the budgie smugglers. This story from the Pacific Standard just drew me in through the great tradition of story telling.

Whilst this article (click on the image – well worth a read and will likely make you feel good) is focussing on the community support aspect of ‘trailer parks’ in the US, it’s helped me push one of my trains of thought a little further forward.

The story is set in a trailer park (what stereotype flashed into your mind?) where a strong community spirit binds everyone together. Where the residents look after each other and pitch in when someone needs help despite low incomes, no control over home value or land and no at-hand healthcare network. The intent of the article is to consider our ageing population, the dwindling gap between workers and retirees, and to outline why this type of residential estate might be the only choice that many of us have when we retire.


Pismo Dunes Senior Park, “Pismodise”, California US

But what I started to notice almost hidden like code within this article were many of the elements that contribute to sustainable neighbourhoods, elements that we work hard to create when we’re designing master planned communities;

  • street planning and place making – creating cross roads and junctions where residents like to hang out and chat with passersby;
  • product mix – low to high income all mixed in together, organically based on where people want to live rather than on land value;
  • helping out neighbours – really difficult to prescribe how to design for this but I’ve always believed that streetscape, scale, and high status for pedestrians has had a lot to do with it;
  • car free – well in this case not quite… they do zip around on electric carts (even that’s cool), but the planning is predominantly at pedestrian scale. It allows the streets to be habitable.
  • compact homes ‘without enough room for clutter’ (could be the silver bullet to stop me being a hoarder?), i.e. less materials, lower energy bills, lower impact, less maintenance, more social time.

And most of this stuff is organic, un-planned and the result of good ol’ human adaptability.

So what might happen if we developed this sort of community deliberately, with intent and care?

  • What if we planned the streets to facilitate a vibrant auto-free culture?
  • What if we designed the infrastructure to be a sustainable network of energy, water & waste management, and landscape?
  • What if we had an ownership and governance framework (e.g. a co-op) that allowed residents to share the same rights as a home owner?
  • What if all the homes were from a vibrant selection of modular kit homes, beautifully detailed and manufactured with green materials?
  • What if we underlaid the whole thing with an Apartments for Life healthcare model?

If you search ‘sustainable trailer parks’ you’ll get some various hits on further reading and more detailed approaches. The concept of eco trailer parks isn’t a new idea but I think when we put it in the context of ageing population, healthcare provision and sustainable community planning we can open up some promising opportunities.

So far I love the Apartments for Life model, but then the idea of having this in a deliberately designed park, at the beach, with some mates and a few drinks (you’ll have to read the article) is appealing too.


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