Recall the news from late 2006: The Aga Khan Foundation purchased land on the southeast corner of Allen Parkway at Montrose. According to HCAD, they still own the property, and while I’m sure their plans have been delayed for the same reason so many other large-scale construction projects have been in the past few years, I have not heard anything that leads me to believe the plans have changed.
Plans for the building of an Ismaili community center. Plans made and financed by an imam (the Aga Khan) who is the spiritual leader of an enormous Shia Muslim community.
Perhaps you’ve read a news story or 100 lately about how plans for a community center centered on the Muslim faith can stir emotions? And not, maybe, the nicest, noblest emotions? Perhaps you recall how some in the exurbs of Houston reacted a few years back to a smaller-scale but similar project? (Google “pig races Katy Islamic Association” if you’ve forgotten.)
Let me be very clear about several things:
1. Calling the Park51 development the “Ground Zero Mosque” is about as cricket as calling high fructose corn syrup corn sugar.
2. I still cling to the indoctrination I received during Saturday morning cartoons about what makes our country great. (This.)
3. I find nothing funny about peace, love, or understanding. (Reading the rest of this blog entry will be better with this video playing in the background. Try it.)
4. The Ismaili center has as much right to be here as any other organization.
5. Having a beautiful new building on this corner with space for cultural events, educational lectures, and religious gatherings will give Houston more feathers in our architectural and cultural caps.
6. Yes, anything built on this lot will generate more traffic at an already-horrible intersection. Maybe the Aga Khan Foundation could bump up the budget by a couple of hundred thousand to provide some fencing and off-street parking for the illegal dog park on the northwest corner of this intersection to mitigate the situation. Don’t dog parks make all development better?
Bottom line—how can Houston get ahead of the haters on this project? How can we plan to welcome this new cultural institution and head off any attempts to turn the development of the property into a media feeding frenzy focused on alarmingly-mustachoied hatemongers.
We need a coalition of the business, religious, cultural leaders, and concerned, connected citizens of our town to start planning now so that we can demonstrate to the world (once again) that Houston welcomes all comers, invites cross-cultural communication and collaboration, and thrives because of our diversity.