“Unprecedented volume of public participation” regarding development plans for Naperville mosque

Updating a case I wrote about in a 2019 article, further plans for a property owned by the Islamic Center of Naperville on the suburb’s southwest side have drawn a lot of public comments:

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The Islamic Center of Naperville, or ICN, is seeking zoning variances so members can develop a mosque, school, multipurpose hall, gymnasium and worship-area expansion in five phases over the next 40 years…

Naperville city planner Gabrielle Mattingly said the city received “an unprecedented volume of public participation” for the hearing, including nearly 2,000 names in support or opposition, 770 written comments and 160 people who signed up to speak…

The commission was able to spend 20 minutes at their meeting this week scrolling through the 1,610 signatures favoring ICN’s plans and the 305 in opposition…

ICN’s development plans show the first phase, expected to start this year, includes constructing a two-story mosque with 26,219 square feet of space to provide space for 692 worshippers, said Len Monson, the attorney representing ICN. It also will include space for offices, conference rooms, storage, multipurpose spaces and washrooms.

One interesting aspect of this proposal is that it lays out several stages that progressively increase the size of the mosque over the next forty years. Building in stages could make sense for a lot of religious groups: they could wait and see how many people are attending and it could help spread out the need for financial resources.

When the Islamic Center of Naperville requested in 2011 that Naperville annex this land with the goal of eventually constructing a facility on the property, neighbors expressed concerns. The City Council unanimously approved the request but the reactions in Naperville occurred around the same time as several other mosque proposals in DuPage County encountered opposition.

Additionally, this property is surrounded on all sides by residences. I have found in my research that locations near homes tends to increase concerns raised by community members. In Naperville and numerous other communities in the United States, residents used to nearby open spaces or agricultural land can hope the land always stays in that form rather than become home to a new building or development.

It is hard to know from this article how many of the public comments are in support of the proposed changes and how many are opposed. Even if the number of supporters is large or a majority, that would still suggest a sizable number of people with concerns.

Religion and civil religion in two Inauguration songs

Inauguration Day and the surrounding activities can contain plenty of opportunities for analyzing religion and civil religion. As I took in some of the proceedings, two songs blurred the lines between religion and civil religion.

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First, the performance of “Amazing Grace” after Joe Biden’s inauguration speech. This is a religious song regularly heard in many churches and congregations. On the song’s origins (with information on the song from Wikipedia):

Newton and Cowper attempted to present a poem or hymn for each prayer meeting. The lyrics to “Amazing Grace” were written in late 1772 and probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on 1 January 1773. A collection of the poems Newton and Cowper had written for use in services at Olney was bound and published anonymously in 1779 under the title Olney Hymns. Newton contributed 280 of the 348 texts in Olney Hymns; “1 Chronicles 17:16–17, Faith’s Review and Expectation” was the title of the poem with the first line “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)”.

The song really took off in the United States and was adopted by a number of Christian denominations. But, this popularity extended beyond explicitly religious settings:

Following the appropriation of the hymn in secular music, “Amazing Grace” became such an icon in American culture that it has been used for a variety of secular purposes and marketing campaigns, placing it in danger of becoming a cliché. It has been mass-produced on souvenirs, lent its name to a Superman villain, appeared on The Simpsons to demonstrate the redemption of a murderous character named Sideshow Bob, incorporated into Hare Krishna chants and adapted for Wicca ceremonies. It can also be sung to the theme from The Mickey Mouse Club, as Garrison Keillor has observed. The hymn has been employed in several films, including Alice’s Restaurant, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Silkwood. It is referenced in the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which highlights Newton’s influence on the leading British abolitionist William Wilberforce, and in the film biography of Newton, Newton’s Grace. The 1982 science fiction film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan used “Amazing Grace” amid a context of Christian symbolism, to memorialise Mr. Spock following his death, but more practically, because the song has become “instantly recognizable to many in the audience as music that sounds appropriate for a funeral” according to a Star Trek scholar. Since 1954, when an organ instrumental of “New Britain” became a best-seller, “Amazing Grace” has been associated with funerals and memorial services. The hymn has become a song that inspires hope in the wake of tragedy, becoming a sort of “spiritual national anthem” according to authors Mary Rourke and Emily Gwathmey. For example, President Barack Obama recited and later sang the hymn at the memorial service for Clementa Pinckney, who was one of the nine victims of the Charleston church shooting in 2015…

Due to its immense popularity and iconic nature, the meaning behind the words of “Amazing Grace” has become as individual as the singer or listener. Bruce Hindmarsh suggests that the secular popularity of “Amazing Grace” is due to the absence of any mention of God in the lyrics until the fourth verse (by Excell’s version, the fourth verse begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years”), and that the song represents the ability of humanity to transform itself instead of a transformation taking place at the hands of God. “Grace”, however, had a clearer meaning to John Newton, as he used the word to represent God or the power of God.

The transformative power of the song was investigated by journalist Bill Moyers in a documentary released in 1990. Moyers was inspired to focus on the song’s power after watching a performance at Lincoln Center, where the audience consisted of Christians and non-Christians, and he noticed that it had an equal impact on everybody in attendance, unifying them. James Basker also acknowledged this force when he explained why he chose “Amazing Grace” to represent a collection of anti-slavery poetry: “there is a transformative power that is applicable … : the transformation of sin and sorrow into grace, of suffering into beauty, of alienation into empathy and connection, of the unspeakable into imaginative literature.”

A song so popular that it could be preformed in public and enjoyed by both Christian and non-Christian audiences.

Second, a song from the COVID-19 Memorial the night before the Inauguration might go the other way: from popular music – though starting with Biblical allusions – toward more religious activity.

The brief program included two songs: Amazing Grace and Hallelujah.

This quiet, devastating and hopeful memorial reminded me of the remarkable and wholly improbable journey of this song, Hallelujah, into something like a canonical song of memorial or pathos in American culture. That this should be so is actually quite odd, not least because it is not at all clear what the song, in its totality, is even about. And a number of things the song is quite clearly about … well, they are not what you’d expect in a song now treated as appropriate, uplifting and fitting for all occasions and audiences.

Mainstream or memorial versions commonly expurgate the song’s erotic imagery. But it can’t all be ironed out. This energy, rumbling rough under the simplified lyrics, gives a power and ballast even to the more sanitized versions. In any case the mixing and matching of lyrics is possible because Leonard Cohen wrote numerous different lyrics for the song. You can mix and match them and create your own version.

This song first recorded in 1984 made its way through a few singers, became widely known in the kids’ movie Shrek, has been covered by numerous artists, and was rewritten to be a Christian Christmas song.

Could these two songs help prompt a spiritual experience for listeners and performers? Music does not have to be explicitly or exclusively religious to help bring people together. Could they be heard in houses of worship, on the radio, and in political settings? Christians have a history of adopting popular music and words and plenty of church songs have entered the public consciousness. Do they address universal themes as well as hint at specific religious details? Such songs could help Americans and others link what may at times seem to be disparate realms while leaving enough room for interpretation and use that it can mean different things to different people.

Tearing down a nine year old house to construct an even bigger one

Teardowns often involve demolishing an older home and replacing it with a larger, updated new home. Such development can draw the ire of neighbors. However, teardowns can sometimes involve newer homes. Here is one example from the Chicago suburbs:

The proposed project in Elmhurst, however, involves demolishing an even newer home. Jim Bowen, CEO of Wheaton-based exchange-traded fund sponsor First Trust Portfolios, and his wife, Marisa, plan to knock down a house built in 2012 to create a larger lot for a new house they will build.

In early 2013, Marisa Bowen paid $1 million to buy the newly built, 4,044-square-foot house from its builder. Then, in 2017, the couple paid $440,000 for a vintage, 1,683-square-foot house next door that they subsequently demolished.

In August, the couple received Elmhurst City Council approval for yard setback requirements for a new house they plan to construct on the combined, 0.45-acre property. Elmhurst officials recently told Elite Street the couple has sought a demolition permit for the nine-year-old house. City documents show their plan is to construct a new home with a 5,012-square-foot footprint.

Teardowns require some resources as the purchaser needs to buy the existing home, pay to tear down the home, and then construct a new home. In particular locations, a new, larger home can pay off in significant profits.

This case is a different in several key ways. First, it involves one relatively new home. Teardowns are intended to provide more space and newer features compared to the residence previously on the property. The nine-year old home would appear to have some desirable features: according to several real estate websites, it has roughly 4,000 square feet, it has a three car garage, and is worth more than a million dollars. The proposed new home is even bigger and may have different features.

Second, the teardown involves combining two lots and demolishing an older house in addition to the newer home. This process can sometimes go the other direction: someone takes a larger property, subdivides it, and makes even more money by selling multiple homes. Here, the older home is relatively small by today’s standards: over 1,600 square feet with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. By tearing down two homes, the new larger house will have more space to fit on a larger corner lot.

Because this involves a newer home and two lots, this is going to take some money. Teardowns require some resources as the purchaser needs to buy the existing home(s), pay to tear down the home(s), and then construct a new home. The payoff can be high, either in resale value compared to what was there before or in a more desirable home for the current owner.

Selling Schaumburg, Illinois

Schaumburg, Illinois, nearly 30 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, is a prototypical edge city. Home to Woodfield Mall, hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space, and over 70,000 residents plus located at the convergence of I-290, I-90, and IL-390, journalist Joel Garreau mentioned Schaumburg in his 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. When I heard Schaumburg advertising on the radio, I wondered: is this an aggressive or a desperate move in these particular times? Where does Schaumburg fit among other Chicago suburbs also trying to get their name out there (examples here and here)? A few thoughts on this.

https://www.villageofschaumburg.com/

-Woodfield Shopping Mall is one of the largest in the United States. Even with numerous shopping malls struggling plus the problems of brick and mortar retailers, Woodfield will probably survive due to its size, location, and status. It may need to transform significantly – can it still support hundreds of stores? – but it is likely in good shape compared to numerous other Chicago area malls that are exploring new paths (other examples here, here, and here).

-Office space may be hard to fill. Schaumburg is not in a city; other suburban office parks have become less desirable in recent years with firms looking to appeal to young workers. Add the complications of COVID-19 when more workers are not going to the office. At the same time, many workers going to Schaumburg are doing so via car and they may be coming from relatively well-off suburban areas.

Growth is important to American communities. Like many edge cities, Schaumburg experienced explosive growth early in its history: it had 986 residents in 1960, in 1980 had over 53,000 residents, and peaked in 2000 at over 75,000 residents. Where does it go from here? Population loss and/or the loss of businesses would not be a good image for the community as it tries to chart a bright future.

Compared to other Chicago suburbs, Schaumburg is likely in good shape. At the same time, the growth and status of the past and present does not have to continue amid new social pressures and internal decisions. If Schaumburg is advertising in order to attract businesses, perhaps this hints at broader issues across suburbs: can they all succeed in what may be a challenging several year period?

Martin Luther King, Jr. and cities

With the start of my Urban Sociology class this week, I spent a little time this weekend reflecting on the connections between Martin Luther King, Jr. and cities. Looking at just a few aspects of King’s life suggests he was shaped by cities and he shaped cities.

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-King was born in Atlanta, his father was a pastor in Atlanta, he did most of his collegiate and graduate work in cities (Atlanta and Boston), and he was a pastor in Montgomery and Atlanta. King was assassinated in Memphis.

-Much of the Civil Rights Movement activity took place in major cities. The names are familiar: Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Washington. Other activity in cities may be less known today to the general public, such as the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement or why King was in Memphis in 1968.

-The issues King addressed are associated by many Americans with cities: race, injustice, inequality, housing, access to public transportation, jobs. Of course, these issues are not exclusive to urban life but the demographic differences in many parts of the United States between cities and suburbs or rural areas and the ways Blacks were often restricted from certain locations (such as in sundown towns) highlighted the different conditions and realities across places.

Taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the (sitcom) suburbs

The new television show WandaVision is set in the suburbs portrayed on earlier sitcom TV:

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With “WandaVision,” Feige said that he had wanted to honor the complexity of the title characters and Wanda’s reality-warping abilities but also to leaven the story with tributes to sitcom history…

The series finds Wanda and Vision — now somehow alive — residing in suburban bliss, not entirely sure of why they are cycling through various eras of television history and encountering veteran Marvel performers like Kat Dennings (as her “Thor” character, Darcy Lewis) and Randall Park (reprising his “Ant-Man and the Wasp” role of Jimmy Woo) as well as new additions to the roster, like Teyonah Parris (as Monica Rambeau) and Kathryn Hahn (playing a perplexingly nosy neighbor named Agnes)…

“You enter a sitcom episode with the understanding it’s going to make you feel good and it’s all going to be OK at the end,” said Schaeffer, who also worked on “Captain Marvel” and “Black Widow.”

What “WandaVision” adds to this formula, she said, is an element of “creepiness — the idea of shattering that safety in a calculated way.”

In a recent post, I summarize scholarly work on television depicting the suburbs. It sounds like this new show tries to do something new but it might just fall into already existing patterns.

The suburban sitcoms of the 1950s are often portrayed as providing a common image: the white nuclear family living happily in a single-family home. The episodes revolve around relatively minor issues that are resolved at the end of the show.

By the 1960s, there were some twists to this theme. Lynn Spigel writes of new television characters who provide an edge to the typical suburban image. Think Samantha on Bewitched who with her magic powers and odd relatives provides a new angle to the suburban sitcom.

In the late 1990s, more shows looked to push the suburban sitcom in even further – and often darker – directions. Take The Sopranos: from the outside, the family has the look of a successful suburban family living in a large McMansion in an upscale community. But, of course, the secret is that the gains are ill-gotten and the attempts to find happiness in this suburban lifestyle never coalesce.

Indeed, this darker approach to the suburban sitcom has an extended history in other mediums as well with novels, films, and other narratives suggesting something similar: the suburbs are not what they seem. These products offer a critique of the the suburbs where the American Dream is not what it seems, where all the suburban striving does not amount to much or falls apart spectacularly.

While I have not seen WandaVision, the narrative arc may then fall into familiar territory: the suburban household with a twist or dark secret is already an established genre. These may be new characters in the suburbs and it may be an expansion of the Marvel Universe but it remains to be seen how much new suburban ground it really treads.

Steps for growing the tiny house movement in 2021

If more Americans are interested in tiny houses, what steps might be needed for them to become viable options for more people?

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Experts say the movement’s main goal this year should be to convince more states and municipalities to legalize tiny houses across the country…

Some leaders in the movement hope to end the narrative that tiny houses are for families…

Tiny houses also need to be seen as viable affordable housing in the future, experts say…

Some of the leaders of the tiny-house movement said they hope to distance themselves from the rise in RVs and camper vans this year

It is interesting to see these four strategies together. Based on this article and previous articles I have seen claiming tiny houses are trending up, I have not seen enough evidence that there is a sizable shift toward tiny houses.

But, perhaps those who claim these four strategies are necessary would say that each point addresses something that holds the tiny house movement back. I would put these four into two broader categories that are worth exploring more.

The first category has to do with important local zoning regulations. Communities are prepared to handle single-family homes and many would be prepared to address multi-family housing. But, tiny houses are out of the ordinary and present unique challenges and opportunities. Should they be allowed on the same lot as an existing home? Do they go with micro-lots? Do they threaten the character of single-family homes? How many could be put on a regular residential plot of land? What are their water and services needs? Are these going to be cheaper or more luxury tiny homes? It would take some time to figure this out in many communities.

The second category involves the next three points. These are marketing and perception issues. Who are tiny houses for? What are they about? What social needs do they serve? The three points above try to answer these questions: tiny houses are for smaller households, they could be affordable housing, but they are not like RVs and camper vans. This puts them into an in-between category: not as permanent as a single-family house but not as mobile as an RV or camper van; cheaper than a typical house but there is still a cost (plus possible land costs); for some people but not others. Perhaps growing more quickly within a particular niche is what would help tiny houses as a whole become more popular.

There could be additional issues to address. If many more Americans wanted to order a tiny house in the next few weeks, could the orders be fulfilled relatively quickly? Do we have sufficient public and private spaces around tiny homes so that people can enjoy living in such a small space?

This is a lot to do. That can be okay; not all products have explosive growth and slow positive change could work out in the long run.

Acknowledging our topophilia

More geographic confinement during COVID-19 can help remind us of our important attachments to place(s):

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There is a word for love of a place: topophilia, popularized by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in 1974 as all of “the human being’s affective ties with the material environment.” In other words, it is the warm feelings you get from a place. It is a vivid, emotional, and personal experience, and it leads to unexplainable affections. One of my fellow Seattle natives made this point to me when he said he hated the rain in Boston but not Seattle. Why? “Only Seattle rain is nice.”

In his book A Reenchanted World, the sociologist James William Gibson defines topophilia as a spiritual connection, especially with nature. Oladele Ogunseitan, a microbiologist at the University of California at Irvine, demonstrates topophilia by showing that people are attracted to both objective and subjective—even unconscious—criteria. My friend’s affinity for the “Seattle rain” is probably fueled by what Ogunseitan calls “synesthetic tendency,” or the way particular, ordinary sensory perceptions affect our memory and emotions. If the smell of a fresh-cooked pie, the sound of a train whistle at night, or the feeling of a crisp autumn wind evokes a visceral memory of a particular place, you are experiencing a synesthetic tendency.

It is worth reflecting on your strongest positive synesthetic tendencies—and the place they remind you of. They are a good guide to your topophilic ideal, and thus an important factor to be aware of as you design a physical future in line with your happiness. It is notable that one of the world’s most famous happiness experts, Tal Ben-Shahar, left a teaching position at Harvard University several years ago, where he had created the university’s then-most-popular class, to return to his native Israel—because he felt the pull of his homeland…

You probably have your own Barcelona or Minnesota, somewhere that has a highly topophilic place in your heart. Perhaps you sometimes daydream about going back—but then you snap out of it. Moving is a huge commitment, and not one to be made on a synesthetic whim. The cost of a big move is prohibitive for many people who might like to find a new home. Even if work and family circumstances make it possible, the idea of starting a new job, making new friends, changing schools, facing the DMV—it’s too much for many.

This is more than an acknowledgment of the importance of places in our lives; this encompasses all of the senses. One quick example: there is a home near us that has a line of four or five of the same kind of trees along the sidewalk. When I run by there, the smell alone is enough to transport me to a familiar family vacation spot where that smell is more common.

The argument here helps push back against a more recent narrative in human history that suggests people can and should be mobile. While people not too long ago might have been anchored in a relatively small geographic area for a lifetime, people today are more used to moving for jobs and travel across longer distances. Of course, as is noted above, such mobility might lead to loving a new place or an unexpected place. But, if people form these attachments to places, how do they then respond to mobility? Perhaps mobility can reinforce topophilia; you do not know how much you like places until you are away from them.

This also highlights the material world in ways that we sometimes ignore. Our environments matter, even if we are in an age of screens, private spaces, and lots of driving. There can be a lot of focus on this within private spaces – think decluttering trends or an emphasis on layouts and design in homes – but less emphasis on public or community spaces. To put it in the terms of James Howard Kunstler, are our collective environments worth paying attention to?

First Black House speaker in Illinois represents a suburban district

The American suburbs are more diverse than ever. This was illustrated when Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch was elected yesterday as the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives:

Welch, an eight-year lawmaker from west suburban Hillside, ultimately won 70 votes in the 118-member Democratic-controlled House, 10 more than he needed for victory. The vote came after months of debate over whether Madigan and the baggage of bribery scandal that has circled him for months had become too heavy a burden for a diverse caucus to endure.

Every news report on this I have seen notes that Welch is the first Black speaker. It is also worth noting that Welch is from Hillside, a small community roughly fifteen miles due west of Chicago’s Loop at the western edge of Cook County. Home to an early shopping mall in the Chicago suburbs as well as several cemeteries, postwar suburban growth consisted primarily of white residents. In 1960, Hillside was 99.8% white and in 1990 it was 86.3% white. The suburb is now diverse: 41.5% Black, 36.5% Latino, and 21.3% white. His district also covers a number of other diverse suburbs such as Maywood and Bellwood.

This connects with broader trends in the American suburbs. More Blacks have moved to suburbs in recent decades. In a number of suburbs with increasing Black populations, whites have moved out, echoing white flight patterns in large cities. This affects the experiences in and character of communities as well as political patterns.

With notable events like this, the image of suburbs may slowly change. There is still not an evenness of groups across suburbs – could Illinois residents imagine a Black House Speaker from DuPage County or McHenry County? – but the suburbs of Chicago and many other big cities are not exactly as white as they once were.

The “world’s most expensive home” – $340 million! – about to go on sale

Architectural Digest displays and summarizes the features of what is a very expensive property in Los Angeles:

After nearly a decade of design and development work, what is being billed as “the world’s most expensive home” is finally ready for its close-up. Set on a five-acre parcel in the posh Los Angeles enclave of Bel Air—and aptly named The One—the 105,000-square-foot property’s interiors have remained a closely guarded secret. Until now. AD has been an exclusive look at what’s inside this record-setting property—and the design and aesthetic minds that made it happen.

Surrounded on three sides by a moat and a 400-foot-long jogging track, the estate appears to float above the city. Completed over eight years—and requiring 600 works to build—the home was designed by architect Paul McClean, who was enlisted by owner and developer Nile Niami to help it live up to its reported $340 million price tag…

Beyond the eye-catching design are the home’s equally jaw-dropping stats. There are 42 bathrooms, 21 bedrooms, a 5,500-square-foot master suite, a 30-car garage gallery with two car-display turntables, a four-lane bowling alley, a spa level, a 30-seat movie theater, a “philanthropy wing (with a capacity of 200) for charity galas with floating pods overlooking Los Angeles, a 10,000-square-foot sky deck, and five swimming pools…

Due to recently approved city ordinances, a house of this magnitude will never again be built in Los Angeles, which means The One will truly remain one of a kind. “This project has been such a long and educational journey for us all,” McClean notes. “It was approached with excitement and was thrilling to create, but I don’t think any of us realized just how much effort and time it would take to complete the project.”

What a house – and at a particular time. With concerns about mansionization in Los Angeles plus COVID-19 and its effects exacerbating inequality in capital and housing and shedding light on how much space people have, here is an incredibly large and expensive home. Given the limited pool of actors with the resources to purchase this home, these larger patterns might not matter much.

Down the road, because of its size and price alone does this become a local or international landmark? Or, because it is a single-family home in an exclusive location, will this house rarely be seen? Some of this might depend on who the owner is. The next step in the news coverage is to figure out who purchases the home and what they do with it and then the legacy of the property will come later.

It would be interesting to compare this home to previous properties that claimed to be the most expensive or the largest. I recall an effort in Florida to construct a 75,000 foot home; a documentary about the home detailed some of the process and issues that arose.