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When the Giant Cruise Ships Came to Town

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2022

Over the last decade, cruise ships began to visit the city of Stavanger, Norway. Soon, their size and the frequency of their visits began to dwarf the scale of the city’s center. Stavanger resident, filmmaker, and poet Odveig Klyve made this short silent film about these massive visitors.

The vistas from Stavanger are striking: sparkling ocean, with islands and mountains in the distance. Recently, however, a new industry’s arrival has obstructed the view and, as Klyve put it, changed the very feeling of the city. When cruise ships first came to the harbor, about ten years ago, Klyve remembers her neighbors being excited about the important economic boost that tourists would bring to the area; some residents even put up banners to welcome visitors into their gardens. Over time, however, the cruise industry has become a local controversy.

The ships have become more frequent — and much, much larger. The liners that pull into the harbor now are so tall and broad that they block out views entirely, fundamentally changing Stavanger’s atmosphere. “It takes away the sun,” Klyve told me. “It takes away the air. It’s claustrophobic.” And with the increased commerce has come noise and pollution. Klyve said that some of her harborside neighbors now have to wash their white-painted houses, which go gray because of the smog. Others simply miss being able to see the sea. In summer, up to five cruise ships pull into the harbor every day.

This wasn’t mentioned in the article accompanying the video, but one of the reasons the ships’ scale is so out-of-whack with the buildings in the city’s center is due to cultural preservation:

Stavanger’s core is to a large degree 18th- and 19th-century wooden houses that are protected and considered part of the city’s cultural heritage. This has caused the town centre and inner city to retain a small-town character with an unusually high ratio of detached houses.

The population of Stavanger’s metropolitan area is almost 320,000 and if you look at a satellite map of the city, there are massive docks and heavy industry just across the bay from the city’s core. But the satellite also caught a ridiculously gigantic cruise ship docked next to a neighborhood of small houses and the waterfront is just jam-packed with people disgorged from the ship’s innards. It’s a real metaphor for something and probably not a great environment for the people who live there.