By Manoj Padki
I want to buy a trailer park and convert it to a cohousing community. I will wait till you are done laughing. OK, here is the rationale behind this seemingly idiotic idea.
My family joined Camelot Cohousing sort of half way through the process. We joined in 2007. Camelot got built in 2008, and we moved in April 2009. This has been the best social and emotional decision we have made as a family. On the other hand, financially speaking, it has probably been the worst decision, given that our construction happened in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. It is a miracle we are still standing - having a blast even!
We have an awesome community here with many highlights with one crown jewel that stands out. It is not the huge Common House. It is not the big community swimming pool. It is not the wide open field that the kids and adults play in. It is not the huge barn that we built last year. It is not the large plot of conservation land we abut with several walking trails. All these are awesome & wonderful and make Camelot Cohousing a great place to live, but the real awesomeness-enabler is something else.
As far as I am concerned, the real crown jewel is the pedestrian path that runs down the middle of the community. It is what makes us a community. This is where the kids roam free - walking, running, skateboarding, ripstikking, bicycling – without having to worry about cars. This is where people hang out in Spring and Summer. This is how I stumble home after the Friday evening potlucks, when I have had a little too much to drink (which happens on a regular basis).
All the car parking is on the outside of the community, which creates a safe-zone inside the community.
This is a very cool thing. Once I got used to this concept, I started wondering why anybody would build a development any other way!
So I started fantasizing about buying a trailer park. Why trailer park? Because they are relatively cheap, and are already built. All the infrastructure is already good to go. There are no issues to work out with the local zoning board. They are practically waiting for somebody to buy them and convert them to cohousing!
I drove through a nearby trailer park the other day, and it was exactly as I had expected it to be: houses on each side, fairly close to each other - and the road running down the middle. (See Figure 1.) This road effectively ensures that the kids from one side of the road cannot safely play with the kids across the street or for neighbors to casually hang out without having to worry about cars.
So here is what I want to do: buy the trailer park and re-route the road. The road will go around all the houses. Each house will get access to the road from the outside. What used to be the road running down the middle of the trailer park will now become a pedestrian street - for kids to run around, for people to come together to hang out. In other words, for a real community to take root. (See Figure 2.)
Isn't this a logical solution? And of course if you do not want to be a part of the community, you don't have to. Nobody is making you come out. And if you want to be a part of the community only Friday evenings, that's what you do.
All I am changing is the route of the cars, but what a difference that makes. Now the pedestrian path running down the middle of the community becomes the Great Enabler. Just as it is for my Camelot cohousing community.
After I wrote the above, I thought I should see if I could not buy myself a trailer park. And lo and behold, I found the perfect park! (Go to www.mobilehomeparkstore.com/ to do your own search. There are many parks listed for sale.) It is in West Palm Beach, FL and is called Congress Mobile Home Park. It is 1 1/2 acres, and has 31 spots. The asking price is $2,225,000. Assuming this is divided equally among the units, it comes to $71,774 per unit - a fraction of what we paid for our newly constructed unit. There will be the cost of constructing the new "ring-road" along the periphery. We will naturally build a decent-sized common house as well. Let us say the new road costs $100,000 and the new common house costs $300,000. That will increase the per unit price to under $85,000, still a (slightly bigger) fraction of what we paid here.
I hope this idea makes a lot more sense now. Of course it goes without saying that this type of a physical “enabler” can only set the stage for community. The people who actually live there will have to make a sustained effort to actually make it into a community.
This is a thought-experiment for now. I am hoping it starts people thinking about this type of upgrading. Who knows? Some day there might be such a community. Stranger things have happened!