Monday, March 9, 2020

Seeing Both Sides: Housing Development

Several years ago, I went to a city council meeting to argue against townhouses being built on a property next to our neighborhood park. It wasn't that the park was going to be razed for houses, just that the road to them was going to be right behind the swings, and the parking lot would disappear. I had no hidden agenda other than maintaining the peaceful, open place where my children had the privilege of playing. My neighbors and I prevailed; in fact, city council decided to buy the private property and convert it to open space, and to this day it remains pleasant and open.

Around the same time, a close friend and neighbor suffered a tragic divorce. Unable to take on the mortgage of her house, she moved back to Kansas City to be near family. Once there, she told me, "Everyone here is divorced!". In my town, she had barely known anyone who was. Of course, this could be explained by more than one reason, but the connection to housing prices struck me. If a single parent can't afford a house in our town, we are effectively selecting for our children to grow up surrounded only by intact families.  Intact, well-off families, who they will assume to be the norm.

The Yes In My Backyard Podcast by Planet Money episode connected the stories for me. My neighbors and I were only doing what we wanted to make life nice for ourselves and our children, but our actions inadvertently denied the opportunity for other people to be able to live here and appreciate it. We inadvertently denied our children a chance to know others who aren't as advantaged economically as we are, and to help them form a more appreciative view of their own privileged lifestyle. 

I believe the 'inadvertent' is key here. It's so easy to assume that those on the other side of an issue have some nefarious plan to hurt me or those on my side. Surely there are a few of these. But I've come to believe that most people are simply trying for a result they truly think is right--for themselves, others, or principle--and figuring out the logic of the other side can help me to understand the entire issue from a larger perspective. 

Not to mention, thinking this way makes the world a more pleasant place for all of us to live in.

Have you been negatively affected by development limits in your town, or have you participated for or against development in your neighborhood? Or are there other issues you find yourself on both sides of, or have come to understand the other side? Please comment!

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