I suppose we should be thanking Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice. By exerting his political agenda, and denouncing the photography of Gianni Berengo Gardin, the brutal images of the big ships have been shared with indignation around the world. The exhibit has now opened at FAI Olivetti Negozio on Piazza San Marco, despite the mayor’s attempts to keep the photographs hidden. (versione italiana)
Brugnaro seems to be in denial.
When I asked him on twitter about the issue of mass tourism in Venice, he shot back: “non lascerò che alcuni “intellettuali da strapazzo” continuino a denigrare #Venezia dicendo di amarla.” Or in plain English, ” I will not let some “hack intellectuals” continue to denigrate Venice while saying he loves her. ”
It is now a badge of honor to be considered an intellectual hack by the mayor of Venice. We hacks see the devastation that the cruise ships and rampant tourism are causing. We see the inflated rents and illegal short-term rentals. We see the struggles of artisans, residents, and Venetian shopkeepers. We see the crowded calle and the disrespect. We see that the stones, which have existed for over 1,500 years are crumbling. Literally. This is not a metaphor for the loss of cultural integrity (hastened by the mayor’s misinformed proposition to sell the art work of Klimt and Chagall). The stones really are crumbling. Our steps, all 30 million of us that visit each year, are wearing down a city that can no longer sustain our love.
We are the foresti, the outsiders. Some of us come to Venice to replenish our souls, to experience her beauty, her food, and her art. We don’t buy cheap souvenirs and we don’t picnic on monuments. We search out artisans wherever we can find them. And we’ve become brokenhearted.
We‘re witnessing the demise of Venetian civilization. As the cruise ships exponentially grow in size and number, the residential population falls. Are there many contributing factors? Of course, but this inverse relationship epitomizes the issue.
When Calvino’s Marco Polo was describing Venice to the Kublai Kahn, he explained, “Without stones there is no arch.” Without Venetians, there will be no Venice. How can we, the people who are privileged to cross your bridges in our lifetime, help stop the exodus?
“How can we, who are the privileged who cross your bridges, held stop the exodus”? We can certainly encourage our own fellow world citizens and our political representatives, the latter who share EU and international culture/heritage committees with their Italian counterparts, to suggest
A) that cruise ships be banned from the fragile Venetian lagoon due to the ecological/architectural damage they inflict
b) that as an emergency measure to stop the exponential growth of tourism (c25 million tourists in 2015) a system of “timed” and limited tourist bookings be considered, as already exist for high demand, fragile monument or popular exhibit visits. (I was in Rome recently and access to the recently opened, House if Augustus/Livia is only permitted in small, booked tour groups to limit damage to the fragile frescoes, etc) Limiting the numbers of tourists to Venice – an international lottery? – especially between April- September would ease the physical pressure on the city’s infrastructure and resources and on Venetians, hopefully slowing down their migration to the mainland.
c) Access to Venice should also carry a financial premium – as all rare, fragile things of beauty do. A visitor tax, based on the numbers of occupancy nights, should be introduced. It’s purpose would be to both preserve/maintain the infrastructure and art /architectural treasures of Venice but to also encourage/support the return of indigenous business in Venice and new businesses, to provide non-tourism employment and services for Venetian residents. This would hopefully help curtail the ongoing migration to the mainland, and start to reduce the sale/leasing of property to non-Venetians.
d) Properties left dormant for any period of time, like so many apartment “holiday lets” should be heavily surcharged. Landlords/owners who rent to local residents, especially families, should qualify for significant tax exemptions.
e) The visitor tax should be price graded, with day trippers paying the highest rate and those staying the longest – who will spend the most in Venice on food/drink/transportation/local goods/services/museums/galleries etc – the least. Setting the tax high for day trippers – say, €250 per person – would instantly cut the numbers (in high season) by millions. (Being an island means a Venice tourist access tax is easily enforceable.) A single night’s stay would reduce, to, say €200; 3 days – €150; a week, €100; 2 weeks, €50 and a month or longer, €10.
“Virtual reality” tourism is already happening and will be soon be mass-produced allowing us all – hooked up to a visual device – to “stroll” along the narrow calli and along the canals of Venice (or Amsterdam). We will all – for a price – be able to see every painting and sculpture up close in the Accademia or Uffizi or the Louvre from the comfort of our livingrooms…without the surging crowds, stifling heat and huge expense.
Access to the real thing – whether the endangered city of Venice, or an endangered rain forest or other fragile site – should be limited, whether by lottery and even over a human lifetime, otherwise in this age of cheap flights, Venice would only be visited by millionaires who could afford to come anytime they wish.
Does this sound outlandish, outrageous, elitist? Maybe, but it’s been estimated that within 30-50 years there may be no native Venetians left at all if something radical isn’t done to save them from themselves (residents/politicians/property owners) who have all conspired to allow a living city be reduced to one where apartments become short term lets and are no longer affordable to locals; where servicing daytourists with ice cream stall and imported glass/masks from China has squeezed out local shops for residents and the city has become unaffordable and too difficult in which to raise a young family
If this continues, La Serenissima will be reduced to a museum theme park…perhaps even run by the Disney corporation at the behest of the Italian gov’t.
I love Venice, and Italy. I stay as long as I can and I try to leave as small a footprint as I can.
But when Venice becomes nothing more than a beautiful theme park, the ticket price will definitely be out of the reach of everyone but rich foreigners.
And when Venice is left without Venetians…what value will that represent? It won’t just be the lagoon that will be dead.
Thank you for sharing all of these ideas. I completely agree with a tourist/transportation tax. Rental properties too need to be regulated so there is actually affordable housing for residents. There needs to be a long term strategy for implementation and how best the money should be spent to strengthen the city. Fortunately, there are citizen groups currently working very hard to make positive changes. cari saluti, JoAnn
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