Living close to downtown, my family has the advantages of being able to hop on a tram almost outside the door to go where they need to go, and to walk up the street to the supermarket for food. There's a playground across the street where Julian and Esther can play unattended for short periods. Julian had a friend over the other day and the boys, both 8, were able to take themselves over to the park to play soccer. My daughter Ellen can walk to her studio. Nicolas, my son-in-law, can walk to the office. What they gain in their quality of life seems to me to far outweigh life in the suburbs.
This was my feeling growing up in Brooklyn, New York, that we had so much available to us that we hardly lacked anything. The beach, fine museums, excellent parks, dance and music training, walk to school, easy walking to shops, world class libraries, continual interaction with internationals, people of various ethnicities and races, interreligious awareness, public transportation, theaters, concerts, baseball, ice skating, excellent colleges and high schools, living in the history of Walt Whitman, cafes, fine newspapers, languages. Truly the list is endless. I cannot imagine having grown up on a farm though it would have given me a whole different set of experiences.
Although the culture of Zurich is far different from New York, there is a quality to it that offers experience for children that can only enrich and expand the imagination. Something about it, perhaps that there is still some reasonable sense of safety, and that it is still civilized, reminds me of the years growing up in New York when we still believed in the goodness of ourselves as a people and that we could accomplish just about anything if we but tried. In those times, adults generally assumed responsibility for all the children in the neighborhood so that children were protected. Children had the freedom to be on the streets and to reinvent themselves in a milieu of spontaneous street games and neighborhood interactions. Of course we got into trouble, but it was the kind of trouble that tested the wits of adults and was far innocent of crime. It was the naivete of the 50s, but it was a lucky time to be born and to grow.
The children of Zurich whom I've met have some of this flavor. They are allowed to be children and not take on the worries of the world before their time. Granted this happens because the economic level allows this. But, my family was poor as were the families I grew up with; we took advantage of the rich soup that the culture offered and we made it our daily life intake. It's hard in Zurich to not feel what is there and available all the time. The emphasis on culture, on supporting the public climate is visible wherever you go. Adults still look after all the children, not just their own. It's an island that is still functioning in a civilized way.
I'm sure if I lived in Zurich full-time I'd have criticisms to report, but I have the great pleasure to visit and see and enjoy the best it has to offer. It understandable why so many great people of literature, the arts and sciences have found their way to Zurich. I can't entirely pinpoint or get at its mystique, but it has a special atmosphere that pulls you in and satisfies.