Giving NIMBY a Bad Name

Here’s a column I wrote for the Kitchener Post on the unfortunate objections to a perfectly routine rezoning application by a group of people trying to build a prayer centre for the area’s 150 Muslim families:

Combatting our fear of the other

OPINION Mar 20, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

While it is heartening to see politicians at home and abroad, like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, being rejected for promoting anti-immigrant sentiments, recent developments in our own backyard tell us that we have a lot of work to do combatting our fear of the other.

In the community of Laurelwood in northern Waterloo, some residents are opposing a proposed prayer centre for Muslim families off Erbsville Road.

Local officials have called this application routine. City planner Rita Szilock said, “I don’t think it is a big change or that unusual.” But this hasn’t stopped people coming out to meetings to question the proposal, or organize a petition against it.

The NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) attitude is always frustrating. Too often, it is used as a pejorative against people in their communities standing up against some cockamamie projects like the Spadina Expressway in Toronto.

However, if critiques against a project are not rationally thought out — indeed, are given as a knee-jerk, visceral reaction — the result is that good and necessary projects are delayed or discouraged to the detriment of the wider community.

The concerns voiced by some Laurelwood residents against the proposed prayer centre are why NIMBY has a bad name.

Those who are complaining about reduced property values ignore the fact that the site is located next to an auto shop’s salvage yard. If anything, this prayer centre will raise property values.

Those who complain about the increase of noise and traffic ignore the fact that the site is on a major street and will likely be used by, at most, 25 people at a time.

The proposed site used to be zoned for a spiritual centre back in 2003. It would be interesting to see how many of these individuals would complain if the proposed site was to be occupied by a Christian church, the use of which would be highest on a Sunday morning when lots of people are at home and in bed.

And the individual who cited “I am a Christian” as their reason for opposing the prayer centre, isn’t, really. They ignore, among other things, Leviticus 19:34, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

And these individuals applying for the prayer centre are not strangers. They are 150 families who live in the area, raising Canadian children like ourselves. The response they are getting flies in the face of our inclusive Canadian values.

When fringe politicians make hay over fear of the other, questioning the values of refugees and immigrants, suggesting without evidence that they take our jobs and threaten the peace of our neighbourhoods, they make this country darker. The response of some of the individuals campaigning against this prayer centre is a symptom and a continuation of this darkness.

Our history is littered with these dark moments, from the discrimination against Irish immigrants, Jews, the Chinese, our First Nations, immigrants of African descent and everyone in between. As we enter our 150th year since Confederation, we ought to remember our best moments, when we rose above these dark impulses and fought for the acceptance of our diverse heritages.

These Muslim families are the latest in the long line of people struggling to make a home in a new land. They deserve to be treated as the Bible tells us to treat strangers — to love them as ourselves.


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