“Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening.”
— Emma Thompson
Magazines like to rank things. 50 Most Beautiful People. 20 Worst Dressed Housecats. Top 7 Private, 4-Year, Liberal Arts Institutions with Enrollment Between 1500 and 3750 in States with Beach Access and Grade-Inflating Professors. Best Places to Raise a Family. The major thing these lists tend to have in common is the fact that they’re subjective assessments masquerading as quantitative information. Maybe I like cats who wear bedazzled jeans jackets!
So, when it comes to deciding what sorts of places are good for raising families, I think it’s valuable to take a step back from the top 10 lists. Instead, give some serious thought about the things that are most important to you and your family and then find the place that’ll support those things.
What does city life offer that suburban and rural life don’t? Here are some of the aspects of urban family life that we appreciate:
Whether it’s the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the various lecture series available through the colleges and universities in the Boston area, or access to drawing classes, urban areas have a critical mass of people available to make it feasible for more educational opportunities to exist.
My daughter loves fish. Her favorite place is the New England Aquarium. My son loves making things. He loves the kinetic sculptures at the MIT Museum over in Cambridge. Their tastes may change – before she liked fish so much my daughter was obsessed with dinosaurs and there were several places for that (e.g., the Museum of Science and the Harvard Museum of Natural History). Regardless of what they’re into, big cities generally, and Boston in particular, provide opportunities to delve deep into it.
Part of this is access to pieces of American history. Every large urban area has some of this, whether in the form of historic landmarks, cultural institutions, like art museums, or cultural events, like concerts.
For us, it also means exposure to a wide variety of different cultures. Until kids see how other families and groups approach life, they won’t really understand, or even notice, how their own family does it. Seeing differences casts a bright light on practices and aspects of our own culture we otherwise tend to ignore. It also helps kids understand the similarities that cut across cultures. We went to the Franklin Park Zoo recently and heard other families speaking 7 different languages over the course of the day. I’m happy that my kids will grow up understanding that people who speak Korean enjoy watching baby gorillas as much as people who speak English do.
Speaking of cultural diversity, did you know that there are groups who get together every week to talk about computer programming languages? And there are people whose personal fashion choices involve brightly colored kilts? And there are over 100 varieties of nerds? And some people go to the park and have stick juggling competitions? I think there’s a tendency to think of cultural diversity as being based completely on ethnicity, but really culture encompasses much more than that. Cities are melting pots where new ideas and practices and cultures bounce into one another and give birth to litters of other new ideas and practices and cultures. I love the way life in the city exposes my family to a seemingly endless stream of newness: new foods, new games, new fashions, new music, and on and on and on. Each new thing is a potential jumping off point for a new interest or outlook on life.
All that newness means that there is a niche for everyone. When you get enough different people together in one place you eventually start to find that no one is alone in their interests. In a small town in a rural area there isn’t likely to be another computer programming enthusiast for my son to fold with, but when you get a few million people together, there’ll be at least one computer club. And a Saturday flag football league. And any number of other things.
What am I forgetting? What does city life offer you and your family?