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All homes of the future should come with wheels

The COVID lockdown was an existential disaster for America’s retail sector—unless you happened to be selling mobile homes. Sales of Thor large camper vans surged after the pandemic lockdown ended, and Mercedes even released its iconic Camper (that sleeps four) in the US after years of popularity in Europe. The RV Industry Association reported a nearly 200 percent jump in sales from the same period of 2019.5 Trailer homes have emerged as a trendy, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative to traditional home ownership. Movements like #skooliebus on Instagram (featuring school buses retrofitted into mobile homes) and “tiny houses” on Pinterest point to the growing popularity of mobile and minimalist living.

The trailer home is the ultimate symbol of the new American mobility. Twenty-five percent of mobile homes are owned by millennials, and the more they and Gen-Z reach home-buying age, the more mobile home sales go up.6 In other words, youth are consciously choosing not to buy houses (that they can’t afford anyway), snapping up motor homes instead. Having witnessed the financial crisis demolish their parents’ house value, they can hardly be blamed for having more faith in mobility than property. Are we witnessing the reinvention of the American dream for the quantum age?

Mobile homes are part of American lore, but a surprising feature of America’s present and future. An older generation of RV dwellers already roams the country seeking part-time jobs that offer cash and food, often exploited like migrant laborers, as Jessica Bruder documents in her book Nomadland, whose film adaptation won the Oscar for best picture in 2021. Trailer home communities have a sense of identity and security that now also draws in young people. Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road fondly recalls the pride of an all-female trailer park in Arizona hat had streets named after Gertrude Stein and Eleanor Roosevelt. For women or the LGBTQ community, trailer parks provide the vibe of a gated residential community but without the price tag. With ever fewer school age children in America, there are plenty of school buses available for purchase—though their engines should ideally be switched from diesel to electric.

“Mobile real estate” is becoming an asset class unto itself, a wise investment for a world where flooding could sweep away your home, giant hailstones could smash through its roof, or a sinkhole could emerge at the end of your driveway. You’re better off if your home is a giant car. Sealander’s trailer has an onboard motor that turns it into a boat, perfect for navigating flooded areas. Especially if you don’t know where your next job will be, a mobile home means you can move to it on short notice. Moving is the ultimate expression of reinvention, and perhaps the most effective as well.

America’s youth should stop chaining themselves to homes they neither need nor can afford—and which aren’t located where they need to be. Instead, we should be designing and building for an age of perpetual mobility. The real estate industry continues to pour concrete into McMansions, and even claims there is a nationwide housing shortfall of 2.5 million homes. But does their crystal ball tell them where people will want to live five years from now? Do they know where the jobs will be? Are they sure they’re building in climate-resilient areas?

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