The Realities of Urban Life


In light of the recent City Planning Commission meeting and the subsequent City Council meeting where a proposed new mosque was discussed, I think it might be an opportune time to reflect on some facts about life in an urban area.

You don’t get to decide who your neighbors are.

When I moved into my house on Cavant Drive, no polls of the neighborhood were taken beforehand to see if a majority agreed it was okay for me to live there.  There wasn’t a city representative, clipboarded questionnaire in hand, leaning on the fender of the UHaul truck asking me about my religion, political views, number of children, how many pets I had, or in any other way attempting to vet me before granting me admission to the neighborhood. The matter did not come before City Council.  I’m pretty sure that the only folks who got a say in the matter other than my wife and I worked for the credit union that holds our mortgage.

In addition, the reverse was true.  The real estate agent was prevented by law from telling me about the racial or ethnic make-up of the surrounding area.  I made no attempt to discern how many Lutherans or Presbyterians lived on the street, and I didn’t count the number of driveways that had Toyotas parked in them.

The decision came down to this: was the place big enough?  Was it located close enough to work?  Could we afford it?  Did we like the way the neighborhood looked?

You don’t get to decide who your neighbors are.  You get what you get, and that’s the end of it.  The reasons for this are many, some coming from lessons learned the hard way in the past about block busting and other reprehensible practices.

A person’s religion does not tell us anything about who they really are

In my life I have known Catholics who were criminals and others who were saints.  I have known Mormons who had never seen the inside of a church who would spend the afternoon helping you dig up your front yard.  I’ve been half scared to death by the driving of a Jehovah’s Witness, and put to sleep by the driving of a Hindu.   I’ve descended from a Presbyterian who decided that flavor of Christianity wasn’t for her and converted to Catholicism.  I know a woman who converted to Islam before marrying a Muslim man.  I’ve met Christian swingers, been fed by Krishnas, and learned life lessons from Jews.  I’ve worked with atheists and the devout.

In all of these cases, the religion was merely an attribute of the person.  What is inside a person’s heart rarely has much to do with which god they pray to.  Who you are is more a function of what you decide to be than the name on the church sign.

Have there been Islamic terrorists?  Certainly.  Have there been Christian mass murderers?  You bet.  It happens.  No religion is immune from violence.  There is not one you could name that didn’t have an adherent who had ever killed someone.

Your property’s value is exactly what somebody is willing to pay for it at the time of the transaction

I’ve got a nice, shiny pickup truck in my driveway that originally stickered for $40K.  Did somebody pay that amount for it?  Doubtful.  A price is rarely a hard and fast number; it’s a negotiating point.

On paper, my house is worth thousands of dollars less than what I paid for it.  Have I actually taken a loss, or is it just theoretical given that it isn’t currently for sale?  Again, the “value” is not a hard and fast number.  It’s an estimate.

Does the color of your neighbor’s shingles impact your property’s value?  Doubtful.  What about the height of their roof, or the color of their car?  Equally doubtful.

Does the religion of the place of worship down the street impact your property’s value?  Similarly doubtful.

For people who worry about a new mosque causing their property values to go down, I ask this: what if a nice, wealthy Muslim family was looking for a new home near their place of worship?  Wouldn’t your place become an outstanding candidate for their purchase?  Do you think they would be willing to pay a premium to live there?

A House of Worship is a Legitimate Use In a Residential Zone

When I was a kid growing up, I don’t recall driving to an industrial area to go to church.  As a matter of fact, we didn’t even pass by a commercial area to get there.  The place was down the street about a quarter mile, right across from a middle school, inside the neighborhood.

Our zoning laws reflect the idea that most people worship a god and want to be able to do so close to home.  There is a long tradition, then, of allowing those facilities to be built among the houses in the area.  Some of these houses of worship bear little resemblance to the private homes surrounding them.  The ones I’m thinking of have steeples, huge entryways, and large parking lots that empty out onto common, residential side streets.

Somehow, we have all survived the traffic, noise, and activity surrounding a house of worship during its peak usage in the past.  I believe that will continue to be the case regardless of the religion of the folks inside.

We live in an urban area

Sterling Heights is on its way to being the third largest city in the state by population.  It is growing because people want to live here and people want to do business here.  Urban areas are not, by their very nature, homogeneous.  They attract people from all walks of life, from the well heeled to the impoverished, from the devoutly religious to the ardent atheists, from the college educated to the immigrant who never got past the fourth grade.

There will always be tensions between different peoples.  It is part of human nature.  One thing that we’ve learned, however, is that societies that adhere to the principle of Liberty and Justice For All seem to work best.  The concept of E Pluribus Unum is not on the currency because it’s a catchy phrase.  Equal opportunity must be equal for all.  Does this sometimes create problems?  Sure.  Nothing is perfect.  But the alternative leads to Balkanization, hatred, and civil war.   We don’t want that.  So we accept some minor tensions in exchange for keeping the peace and enabling everyone to lead the best life possible.

I am amazed at the bigotry and intolerance we are surrounded with.  I am deeply saddened by the fact that in 2015, we have people willing to stand up in public, in full view of a camera, and espouse their distrust of people from another religion.   I am angered by this to the point that I’ve been avoiding going to the meetings, simply because I don’t need the stress and resulting high blood pressure that comes from being forced to deal with ignorance and bigotry by grown adults who ought to know better.  I am reminded of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and I reflect on how the struggles of the American blacks have never really come to an end, and I see now that Muslims are subjected to the same thing.

In the end, the mosque will be built over the protestations of the intolerant.  It will turn out to be no big deal.  I am confident that the bigots among us will return to the woodwork from whence they came.

Personally, I hope the bigots put their money where their mouths are and just move out.

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Posted on August 20, 2015, in Issues and views. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Realities of Urban Life.

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