A brand new prototype for shipping container homes now sits proudly on a hilltop in Steelville, Missouri. Last year I was tapped for what planning and promotional experience I could lend to Living Uncontained, a professional housing and economic development team. Their success to date has important applications for Caribbean islands staggering under blows dealt by recent windstorms, including last month’s Hurricane Matthew.
Category 5 hurricane strikes Dominica
In 2015 Hurricane Erika besieged the western Caribbean. On August 27 th this Category 5 windstorm swept across the island nation of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles. In addition to winds up to 180 miles per hour, 15 inches (381 mm) of rain fell in 16 hours, flooding the principal airport. St. Louis businesswoman Wil Seyer, a native-born Dominican, now a naturalized American citizen, and her husband, Daniel Seyer, Ph.D., responded.
“I was deeply hurt by the hardships imposed upon my homeland.” Seyer said recently, “My husband Dan and I assessed the situation and came up with a plan to build shipping container homes, not only to restore and improve housing conditions for my people, but to create jobs and train workers in new skills, develop new, exportable products and create new income for the island’s economy.
Collaborating between U.S -based team and island leaders
“The professional team we assembled to work on this effort, besides Dan and me,” Ms. Seyer explained, “includes architects, engineers, economists, energy experts and urban planners, who are coordinating this privately-sponsored effort with Dominican government planners,
“We realized,” she continued, “while the island terrain is beautiful, there’s not much flat land; the rest of this island of 290 square miles (750 sq. km.) is difficult to build on. Moreover, it offers little in the way of building materials which could be harvested without marring the island’s beauty, its main asset. But because we have to import almost everything we need to the island. we have a surplus of shipping containers. There are limited exports to fill them, and the cost to ship them away empty is a prohibitively high. If we trained people on the island to turn them into homes, however, we could meet urgent needs for both housing and gainful employment. We could also create a product exportable to nearby island nations and eventually to the world.”
Growing the economy and conserving resources
“The project’s near-term goal is to create an integrated solution to employment, job-training, housing and sustainable economic development,” said Barry Greenberg, project architect. “Roy Wall, P.E., structural engineer, has shown the resiliency of shipping container homes. When properly anchored to concrete piers sunk into the ground, they form a solid frame, highly resistant to hurricane-force winds and storm surges. The prototype we have completed in Steelville demonstrates how comfortable, open and amenable these homes can be. In addition, we have designed a wide variety of modular house types, to accommodate not only small, younger households, but also large, extended families.”
Team members are currently seeking funds and organizational assistance from international development foundations, economic development agencies and private sponsors to marshal the resources needed to get the operation up and running, “We believe funding agencies will see this program as a prototype for creating jobs, much-needed housing and new exports, to sustain local economies and expand them in the future,” said Peter Green, AIA, project planning consultant.
Preserving paradise while building a self-sustaining economy
Dominica (dah-min-ee’-kah), is an environmental paradise with a population of 72,000, located between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean. The island economy’s principal resource in recent years has been eco-tourism: creating memorable experiences for tourists from cruise ships and those seeking to visit the volcanic, forested mountain landscape as a destination.
This program promises not only growth for Dominica, but is potentially a laboratory for development in other countries as well. The intent of this effort is to develop a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that turns recent disasters into a catalyst to development novel housing concepts, such as this prototype shipping container home, with many benefits: providing storm-resistant shipping container homes, training domestic skilled labor and giving Dominica the technology to lead the region and globe in providing a sustainable economic development process.
“In the long term,” explained Tim Michels, M. Arch., energy consultant for the project, “this program can demonstrate how to mitigate the effects of climate change. This island also has the potential to be a net zero carbon dioxide energy producer. Dominica is blessed with abundant natural renewable resources, which when properly leveraged, can make it the new paradigm for global leadership in renewable energy. Producing low cost, renewable power will also give Dominica a marketing edge in attracting the industries it chooses to invite for expanding economic development and creating additional domestic job opportunities.”
I’m proud to be working with this team. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Till next time, good words to you.