It’s Not a Mosque, But It’s Still Controversial

In the Wall Street Journal today, I read about a community in Walnut Grove, California where neighbours are upset that a proposed development called Sufism Reoriented has been granted planning permission. It’s not a mosque; the project leaders describe it as not “affiliated with Islam and is focused on celebrating all major religious figures and their teachings”, but it is remarkable how similar the  s’plot arc’ of proposed faith developments are. The objections people cite tend to be similar concerns of compatible design, traffic concerns, sprawl, size and the character of the neighbourhood changing, and are challenging because it is difficult to reach a point where you can definitively say a concern like appropriate size or compatible design has been adequately dealt with.

I find it fascinating, particularly because in many cases, communities are mobilizing after planning permission has been granted to try and pressure planning authorities to reverse their decisions. In Markham, Ontario there is a proposed mosque that has met the necessary planning requirements but residents are still mobilizing to stop the mosque from being built, Park 51 had approval from planning authorities before its conflict became the subject of national and international media attention, and the list goes on. My research is about how planners can address conflicts that occur around the development of mosques, but this too is an interesting question. What do you do when the planning process is over, but the conflict refuses to die down? When citizens see the planning system as open to pressure and amenable to change?  I’m not sure what the answer is, but its an important question I think.

One might say that all developments attract conflict and NIMBY (Not in my Backyard) sentiments, but I agree with Walter Kieser,  one of the people interviewed in Wall Street Journal piece:

“Walter Kieser, managing principal at EPS LLC, an urban economics and planning consultancy in Berkeley, says Bay Area communities are increasingly pushing back against construction projects affiliated with religious groups because many of the projects have grown in size in the era of megachurches. Meanwhile, residents often hope to limit sprawl or want to preserve the pastoral nature of their neighborhoods, he says.

“Big projects always face some pushback from the community but when faith is added to the equation, these kinds of squabbles often turn into fights,” Mr. Kieser says.

You can read the Wall Street Journal article in its entirety here.

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