Those People

This article in today's newspaper is an inadvertently honest depiction of what I suspect goes on in the zoning process of cities all around the world. It's an account of a proposed housing project that was so strenuously protested by the adjacent residents that the developer withdrew the plan.

On the surface, it's easy to see why the plan was rejected. The development would have placed almost 100 "modular homes" into a neighborhood of houses sitting on 1- or 2-acre tracts, spoiling the "rural life in the city" ambiance of the area. It's understandable that current residents would want to maintain the character of their neighborhood, and it's difficult to imagine anything more antithetical to that character than a bunch of tract homes on tiny lots.

But a couple of the quotes from the article reveal a more sinister motivation. The story refers to "residents who would not fit in," and the perception that while the development would have included "some good people," it also "would have brought in some undesirables."

So, the implication is that while the homes might be eyesores (in relation to what makes up the original neighborhood), the real concern is that the people who live in them just don't meet some arbitrary measure of acceptability.

It's unfortunate that we tend to judge people in this fashion. Your perceived worth is determined by the size of the structure you inhabit, or the nameplate on the car you drive, or the tags on the clothes you wear. None of us would ever publicly admit to this practice, but we all do it to one extent or another. We justify it because at some point in our lives we were either taught to do it, or we saw an example of behavior that somehow supported the judgment and allowed us to broadly extrapolate it to, well, everyone.

It's ironic that to some extent, in some fashion, to someone else each of us falls into a category of "those people." (If you disagree, I can assure you that you're now going to be judged as "one of those hypocrites.")

I don't know how we overcome this tendency (and you'll noticed that I use "we" a lot, because I'm not immune). A good beginning might be to see others as God sees us: imperfect beings who nevertheless are deeply loved. It might not make us any happier to have a trailer park in our backyard, but we might come to view the residents as friends rather than adversaries.


Before I weigh in too heavily on the "rural ambiance" of that area, I'll have to revisit it. But knowing that part of town my minds eye picture is of a not totally upscale neighborhood in the first place. I picture "rural ambiance" over there as being able to park your car on your front lawn.

Protesting 'those people' - you know, the kind who would live in 'modular homes' - sounds an awful lot like the furor over trailer parks, and the 'trash' that is inevitably deposited there. It's sad to see that, while the protest could have focused solely on zoning - on the buildings, and the size of the lots - it turned its focus on the people who would live in those buildings.

And you're right, Eric ... it has popped up in communities across the country. I'm not at all surprised it popped up here, as well.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on July 12, 2009 3:05 PM.

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