Venice in grave danger

13 September 2016

Where the rest of the world sees tourism as creator of jobs and economic empowerment, the centuries-old city of Venice is suffering because of the negative side thereof.

In the past 15 years the city got 16 new hotels along the Grande Canale – in turn losing government institutions, legal and medical practices, banks, shops and even the German consulate – and that while the number of local inhabitants shrank with more than two thirds in the past 60 years (from 174 808 in 1951 to only 56 311 in 2014 – the last year figures are available for).

In short, reports the New York Times, Venice is emptying of inhabitants while the number of holiday-goers grow year after year. The author of the article is Salvatore Settis, chairperson of the Louvre Museum in Paris’ scientific advisory board and the author of a new book, If Venice Dies. He describes this invasion of tourists as a deadly plague, a “rapacious tourist monoculture threatens Venice’s existence, decimating the historic city and turning the Queen of the Adriatic into a Disneyfied shopping mall”.

Salvatore speaks of the destruction the growing number of tourists bring in their wake: the bigger the number of tourists, the more hotels are built, meaning less place for locals to stay. Job opportunities are forced out of the city and “those who remain have no choice but to serve in hotels, restaurants and shops selling glass souvenirs and carnival masks”.

The United Nations’ (UN) Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is now threatening to put Venice on the list of World Heritage sites in Danger. That is unless considerable progress is made in halting the city’s state of dilapidation before next February.

In June UNESCO voiced its concern over the “the combination of ongoing transformations and proposed projects threatening irreversible changes to the overall relationship between the City and its Lagoon”.

Suggested navigation canals deep under water and a metro system are further reasons for UNESCO’s concern and “would hasten erosion and strain the fragile ecological-urban system that has grown up around Venice”.

UNESCO has once before revoked a city’s World Heritage status– Dresden – and Settis is not convinced that the Italian government will do all in its power to safeguard Venice’s future.

As proof he cites laws made after the Costa Concordia ran aground on the Tuscan coast in January 2012. The decision was made that mega-ships will not be allowed closer than two miles to the coast. “But the Italian government, predictably, failed to stand up to the big money promised by the tourist companies: A loophole to that law was created just for Venice.” Settis warns against the nearly unthinkable: a passenger ship running aground at Piazza San Marco will annihilate centuries of invaluable history.

Venice has been profoundly altered by the millions of tourists who pour into the city each year, leading the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to issue a warning that the city would be placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger.” Fifty-five sites around the world are listed as endangered by Unesco, for reasons as varied as terrorism, tourism or want of repairs. CreditGetty Images

Venice has been profoundly altered by the millions of tourists who pour into the city each year, leading the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to issue a warning that the city would be placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger.”
Fifty-five sites around the world are listed as endangered by Unesco, for reasons as varied as terrorism, tourism or want of repairs.
CreditGetty Images

Nearly as unconceivable is imagining the sight when the M.S.C. Divinia, at 222 feet, anchors next to the Doge’s Palace – the ship twice as high as this building of 1 500 years.

Settis continues by referring to the previous mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, who was forced to resign after a multi-billion dollar scandal over a planned lagoon barrier project. A year later Luigi Brugnaro takes over as mayor. Brugnaro is an advocate for the further development of Venice’s tourism industry. Not only does he welcome huge ships, but he has even suggested selling of millions of dollars of valuable art from the city museums in order to counter Venice’s growing debt.

Even if the destruction of Venice is not to Italy’s advantage, the authorities simply keep looking on. And while the local authorities – city and region – are at a loggerheads with Rome, Settis says these same authorities did nothing to diversify the Venetian economy. To make changes now will force the few Venetians left behind to the streets. Settis says new policies are necessary to encourage young people to live in the historical city, further manufacturing and creating creative employment opportunities. And the empty buildings must be re-utilise.

Despite conservation of the environment and cultural heritage being central to the Italian constitution, no effective decisions have been made by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage on behalf of Venice. And sadly, the do not see the forest for the trees: “Nor are authorities developing any project whatsoever aimed not just at preserving the monuments of Venice, but at ensuring its citizensa future worth living.”

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