My family and I have been on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean for the past week. It’s my first cruise, and I’m amazed at how quickly and effectively community develops. I’ve become cordial with dozens of people. My four-year-old son Marco has gotten to know about a dozen kids with whom he plays every day either at the swimming pool or at the kids’ daycare area, “Kids Club.” Thanks to those relationships, he has matured socially months in the week he’s been here.
When my wife, my two sons (4 and 7 months), and I are not on land exploring the port at which we’re docked, we’re always doing something somewhere on the boat. In other words, other than sleeping, we don’t spend time in our room. That means we’re eating in one of about eight restaurants, strolling around checking things out, hanging at the swimming pool, watching entertainment (piano players, bands, singers, acrobats, etc.), playing games (shuffleboard, golf, etc.), or Marco is playing at Kids’ Club. As soon as we get back to our room from anywhere, we go right out again to do something in the community.
Why is it that we’ve gotten to know more people here in one week than we’ve gotten to know in our neighborhood in a year? Perhaps in the list of reasons below we can find some suggestions to make our neighborhoods into better communities:
- We’re trapped into spending time in the immediate community. Our rooms are small, there is no television to watch other than cable news, we have no Internet connections in our rooms, and unless we’re docked at a port, we can’t leave the ship. On the ship at sea, there is no cell phone service.
- Everything is within short walking distance. The ship may be big, but it’s still only a couple of city blocks long, and inside there are 2000+ people and lots of publicly available attractions. So, very often when we have nothing in particular to do, we just walk around.
- There are few dangers. We have no cars here, which makes walking and hanging out much more carefree. Also, because outsiders can’t get in here and leave at will, we don’t fear that someone will rob us or abduct our children.
I’m convinced that we can make our neighborhoods more like cruise ships for our children. I’ll address each of the points above in turn below:
- Time: Living in a small home will force kids to go outside, but most important is limiting or eliminating their consumption of “screen activities” – i.e. television, videogames, and the Internet. As for limiting the distance kids can go, *not* driving them anywhere – i.e. letting them go as far as they can walk or bicycle – works well. And we adults should turn off our cell phones or ignore them when we’re roaming the neighborhood.
- Short Walking Distance: Ideally, you should live in a place where everything that interests your children is within a walkable distance. Before middle school, this means friends’ houses, schools, and parks. Ideally, “parks” should include ample natural green space and sports facilities like basketball courts and a swimming pool. When kids get older, they’ll also want to frequent retail stores, so ones children are most interested in – convenience stores, diners, sporting goods stores, etc. – should be a walk or bike ride away.
- Few Dangers: As for minimizing dangers from car traffic, new urbanist communities like The Waters are a great model. They force car traffic to slow down or to entirely avoid places where people walk. As for minimizing danger from outsiders, while we can’t seal our neighborhoods off from outsiders, if many adult residents are always outside, engaged in neighborhood activities, malevolent strangers will not be able to roam around anonymously. So, in other words, you and other adults need to spend time outside to make your neighborhood safer.
What do you all think of cruise ship communities as a model for neighborhoods? There are other examples, too – Club Med, places in the aftermath of natural disasters or power outages, etc.