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When neighbors disrupt our lives

By Staff | Mar 23, 2012

By John M. Andrist,

The Journal

Most of us take ownership in the town where we live, particularly those of us in small communities, but even big city folks talk about “New York, my kind of town.”

It’s part of our identity. It’s ours. Or is it? Think about it for a moment.

In my town I own a 75-foot lot. That’s all. Even though I’ve been in that house on that lot for over half a century, I don’t own any more of Crosby than the fellow who just bought a place one block to the north of me.

With the explosion of oil development there are a good many changes taking place all over this region.

The folks find it unsettling when they walk down the street and realize they don’t know most of the faces.

And yet our town is the town of these newcomers, too-those strangers, the truck drivers, the oil field workers, the land men.

We know better than ever that a booming economy brings quite a few shady looking people. But we also know most of the newcomers are good people-common folks.

A local merchant operating a wellness center told me Sunday that business is booming from oil field folks who tell her over and over again that they are thankful for a place like hers. “Not all workers spend all their free time in a bar,” they say.

It is as unsettling, as it is predictable, that space is going to become a major issue.

Zoning laws restrict most of the space in our cities to single family dwellings. It troubles some of our leaders that some of those single family dwellings are being converted to rooming houses-even rent-a-bed facilities that house up to a dozen folks.

And yet we have so many people who need a warm bed. Are we supposed to throw those people out onto the street?

It’s pretty hard to make a case that public health and safety can be measured by how many square feet we have under our roofs.

And yet it is understandable that people who once enjoyed a quiet neighborhood are going to be upset when a dozen or more people and cars are coming and going from the house next door.

There is a lesson here for everyone, perhaps two or three of them.

The first is that a city belongs to everyone, no matter how long they have lived here.

The second is we need to be very cautious in establishing rules for private property. Health and safety are clear exceptions. Public nuisance is another, although it has one foot on the slippery slope.

A third lesson is we don’t have an unmitigated right to control who our neighbors are. We have zoning laws to protect some of our interests, but even zoning rules often become draconian, and overstep.

A final thought: We don’t have a responsibility to be neighborly or welcoming to people with different lifestyles and backgrounds, but life is more pleasant if we are.

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