Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ismaili Center, Designers Must Work With Neighbors


The topic of my third grade religious education class this week was the Saints.
We discussed how a few centuries ago, ordinary people were persecuted and discriminated against because they wanted to practice their Catholic faith in a land where the Catholic faith was not widely accepted. It seemed strange to these eight year olds that there were ever times and places where people could not just go to a Catholic church or pray as these religious education students are being encouraged to do.
We also learned a prayer in Spanish and the names of places named after Saints in multiple languages as well as English. The point of the lesson was that God is not just for English speaking Americans, but that He is worshipped in many countries throughout the world by people of different races who speak various languages.
Glenview is a very diverse community, home to many individuals of different beliefs with different cultural backgrounds and traditions.
I was pleased to see that 13 religious leaders of various faiths recently encouraged the Glenview Village Planning Commission to approve the Ismaili house of worship request. As Reverend Graham Smith, rector of St. David's Episcopal Church affirmed, the addition of the Ismaili congregation would bring with it a "contribution to the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that make Glenview such an attractive place to live."
When religious leaders stand up and make a statement about the benefit of including the Ismaili community in our local religious dialogues, I am comforted to know that Glenview will not become a place where history will say we made martyrs of the Ismaili faithful for their fight to practice their religion within our community.
However, there are valid issues that have been raised by concerned residents. The additional traffic that the proposed house of worship will bring to the area is a legitimate worry. Even with the location currently vacant, traffic inevitably queues up waiting to turn left from Golf onto Shermer and can become dangerous at times as drivers seem to extend their ability to turn left past their allotted green light. Adding to that congestion in any way does not seem to be a wise decision. Hundreds of worshippers coming in hundreds of cars would exacerbate an intersection that the Illinois Dept. of Transportation (IDOT) has been discussing improving for years and is only now adding to its wish list, but not formally planning. Further, a site serving a community of 900 worshippers with access and egress off Shermer at MacArthur Lane might encourage visitors to cut through the narrow streets of Park Manor where children are out playing and cars are often parked. Worshipers arriving at 5:00 in the morning might not be the best alarm clock for a neighborhood that does not intend to arise at that hour.
Getting out of my neighborhood during the morning and evening rush hour is always a challenge. There is a Methodist church at the end of my street but that really does not affect the traffic flow. The problem is the only direct way off of my street is Harlem, a major thoroughfare. At times, generally when pre-school is about to start or let out, traffic can get backed up on Harlem waiting to turn into the car pick up line at the church. But the delay lasts five minutes at the most and the number of vehicles involved numbers closer to thirty not in the hundreds. There is also a difference because so many people frequenting the church are neighbors. They are not coming from towns between Chicago and Northlake; many of them consider the church part of their neighborhood.
What can be done to truly make the Ismaili center and its designers act like a part of the community, like a good neighbor? They cannot rely upon the way other communities have embraced their centers, but must address their proposed new neighbors' concerns. They must work with the Planning Commission, the Park Manor Civic Council, and their own members to devise a plan that meets everyone's needs to the most extent.
It is likely that all sides will have to make compromises but that is standard where different parties have divergent agendas. The neighbors will have to accept that the site will not stay vacant forever and any proposed use will bring an increase in traffic and noise. The site planners may have to enclose parking, relocate their driveway or offer the community some other concession that shows they are truly willing to be good neighbors. The Village Board will have to weigh the pros and cons of the proposal, no easy task since they are comparing apples and oranges, and determine what is best for Glenview as a whole. For the parties directly involved, it is likely the party that is the least willing to compromise who will be the most disappointed by the outcome.

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