On December 5th and 6th of last year, while the shock of the exceptional high water of November 12th was still felt in the city and in the world, the Club of Venice plenary meeting was held in Venice, at Palazzo Franchetti. ytali had the rare privilege of speaking, with its editor, Guido Moltedo, as the authoritative “voice” of the city in a dramatically emblematic moment of her present critical situation.
The text of his contribution, in Italian and English, has been published in the new number of Convergences, the public communication review of the Club. Courtesy of the Secretary-General of the Club, Vincenzo Le Voci, we are pleased to publish it for our readers.
“This intervention of mine can only begin with the words pronounced by Ursula von der Leyen before the European Parliament on 27 November last: “Venice is under water, a vital issue”. These are words that the citizens of Venice, but I believe the whole international community, have greatly appreciated. these words must be taken very seriously. Now, as they say, words must be followed by concrete facts, actions and policies.
On Wednesday afternoon, those in Venice repeatedly heard the siren of the high water alert. They were only technical tests, fortunately. But the disturbing sound has once again reminded us that a traumatic event like the one experienced on the night of November 12th can happen again. The warning siren recalls ominously the alarm siren announcing the imminence of bombings during the last world war.
And yes, here in Venice we are at war. Against a known enemy, but increasingly unpredictable and threatening. It is a war that we certainly cannot fight alone. The words of the President of the European Union finally recognize that the salvation of Venice is not just about our city. The salvation of Venice concerns the whole world. Saving it means saving a considerable part of the planet from the catastrophe already too many times announced by reoccurring serious, unprecedented climatic phenomena. Many coastal cities, on all continents, experience the nightmare of seeing one day, not too far away, submerged by the sea.
Venice and its lagoon, therefore a paradigm of efforts to combat the increasingly insidious effects of the climate crisis. The defense and safeguarding of Venice must obviously be guaranteed by a series of measures, the first of which is the restoration of a balance of the lagoon ecosystem. So no bigger cruise ships, not just in front of San Marco. No bigger ships in the lagoon itself. Construction of an off shore port outside the lagoon, to limit as much as possible the entry of ships, including commercial ones. Completion of the system of mobile barriers, the Mose, but, above all, an enormous hydrogeological work, to ensure that the sluice gates are raised as few times as possible. Furthermore, appropriations for the maintenance of cultural heritage, exposed more than elsewhere to atmospheric and marine corrosion. Again: measures to contain the other serious threat that is submerging the city: over-tourism.
There has long been a lively debate on these issues in the city and in all places and institutions where the future of Venice is being discussed.
The information on Venice largely privileges its known problems and follows a narrative that has been the same for decades. And which can be summarized with two famous titles: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Charles Aznavour’s How Sad Venice Can Be.
The clichés dominate the narration of Venetian events. They are not based on false data. But their reiteration seems the only possible register to tell this city.
Anyone who works in the media world is worried about the uncontrolled spread of fake news. But those who, journalists, live and work in a city like Venice, follow its events, are worried, perhaps even more, by an over-information based on a unique thought that favours dramatization. An over-information that lives on very intense and shorter cycles of news, at the end of which nothing remains.
Venice was on the front pages of newspapers and on TV news from all over the world due to the exceptional acqua alta of November 12th. Reporters came from all over the world. And now? Venice cannot make headlines only when and why an exceptional acqua alta brings it to its knees.
The defense of Venice, the protection of its future, must also take place on other communication plans, not necessarily linked to emergencies, that also exist and obviously must be told. I think of the two serious episodes of cruise ships that had lost their way in the Giudecca canal, in June and July last. I am thinking of the recurrent alarm for over-tourism. Or for the city that keeps losing inhabitants.
Of course, it is true, Venice is losing its inhabitants and many “normal” activities, other than those related to tourism, disappear every day. But there is still a large part of resilient population, which testifies to a city still alive and active. It is an urban life, however, almost completely neglected in journalistic reports and even more in the imagination of many visitors.
Not a few Venetians happened to be stopped by a tourist who asked: what time does Venice close at night?
The real risk for Venice is that it is crystallized in the image of a depopulated city, almost ghosted, now reduced to a theme park, a Disneyland. A Disneyland occasionally threatened in its very existence, threatened to sink forever into the water.
Venice must send a vital message. It must come out of a spiral that risks becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy. If it loses inhabitants, everything must be done to stop the bleeding of the residents, and everything must be done together to attract new ones, as it has always happened in its history.
Venice is a city with a history of cosmopolitanism and diversity. It can go back to being it, the only condition for having a future. The task of good, correct information, which really helps to restore new strength in Venice, is to change the narrative register. It is necessary to get out of the binomial hyper-tourist destination / sinking city in which Venice is embedded. The many stories of initiatives, small and medium, that make it a city still alive, activities not only related to tourism that also exist in the city, must be narrated.
Venice must be told as a city where it is nice to reside, it is convenient to reside. A totally pedestrian city, it is one of the few places in the world where a young couple can make and raise children, with the satisfaction of seeing them play outdoors without problems.
If we talk about Venice as the environmental paradigm of our time, we must highlight its positive side, of cities with a high quality of life. And environmentally sustainable. Tackling the dangers of the climate crisis implies a profound change in our lifestyles: the Venetians already do it, they have started to do it since the very foundation of their city. Venice’s past is its future. And it is a model for many urban centers around the world.
Venice has a great production tradition, even industrial. Its survival, its future, cannot be only based on its physical defense but also on an ambitious plan that relaunches it as a productive and lively city.
Paradoxically, but not so much, the existential drama of Venice is not linked to the risk of being submerged in water. The solutions for his defense will be found. Its existential drama is rather linked to the growing danger of being submerged by tourism. Worse than the waterflood, there is the over-tourism flood.
These two dramas, however somehow related to each other, must be studied and addressed with suitable resources, ideas and tools. Their study can give rise to ideas and initiatives so that they are contrasted, not only as local problems, but because of their universal value in a planet stressed by the climate crisis.
In this sense, Venice can be the seat of a European agency that deals with the tourism industry, studies and further exploits the great opportunities and resources it generates, but also studies the enormous problems of sustainability and compatibility that it entails for the communities involved, and identify the appropriate tools for control, monitoring and containment. Just as the headquarters of a European agency dedicated to new phenomena created by the climate crisis can be.
On these two terrains, or on one of them, the European Union must be active in Venice. It’s time to take action to give consequence and meaning to the words of the President of the European Commission.
The Club of Venice, which was born here in 1986, and which has met several times in this city, can help to give voice to this request. And this is what we ask the participants of today’s meeting here. We ask that they bring this request to their respective governments and to the European Union”.