I am not a politician and have no ambitions or designs of any kind regarding public life: I am furthermore a foreigner and live abroad but I come to Venice, the city I love more than any other in the world, whenever I can. This letter wishes to contribute to a necessary reaction against the creative immobility that the pandemic seems to have brought about among Venetians, apparently making some think that Venice can only survive by again becoming what it was before last February, invaded by hordes of foreign visitors intent on passing the least time possible in the city, time spent absorbing – I might say sucking up – its beauty but giving nothing whatever in return, except confusion, rubbish in the streets and, sometimes, actual material damage. The disappearance of tourism has devastated the economy of the city, which over the years had more or less decided to rely solely on this source of income. The current financial and emotional depression is the measure of the scale of such an erroneous choice, the consequence, in particular, of inertia and intellectual sloth.
Fortunately I am not alone in thinking that Venice can have a different future, without huge ships, without thousands of groups of tourists trailing after each other in the streets, without “in-and-out” visitors or at least with a limited, well-controlled number of day trippers. The proposals I am now putting forward are intended to favour changes that many wish for: a Venice where the number of residents increases in an exponential way, bringing with it facilities and services in such a way that Venice is reborn as a true city, full of restaurants for local people, of children playing in the squares, of butchers’ shops and fruiterers, as in Milan or Bologna. They are proposals based on the historic experience of Venice, a city which over the centuries always protected the lagoon as one protects one’s own house, which protected its own safety by not allowing massive foreign vessels penetrate its waters, which dedicated itself to all aspects of seafaring and navigation as the undisputed queen of the Mediterranean, which always treated its own citizens with respect, and which over the centuries generated a cultural product that was and is the envy of the world. Let us therefore return to these splendours but with a plan for the 21st century. In the glorious past of the city there are the germs of its future, a future which can be equally glorious or even more so.
I would hope to make the reasoned contribution of one who, being “outside” may have the objective advantage of studying the problems of the Venetians from a distance – detached but by no means indifferent! I have five practical and feasible proposals which, if adopted over time and after an adequate, scientific and systematic preparation, would change the future of the city. Will they be of interest to the people of Venice and the candidates for mayor? I truly hope so and would encourage them to criticise my proposals constructively in the newspapers and wherever else they please. I have said what I think and will not reply: it is for the electors to decide what they want for their city and for the politicians to implement such wishes, transforming them into a strategy and an action plan.
These are my proposals:
1 Aspire to become the European Capital of Culture, not for a year but every day. Make an inventory of all spaces available for public performances – fortunately there are dozens of places suitable for such functions – and train a task force of “impresarios” to develop contacts with academies, conservatories, acting schools and other cultural institutions in Italy and abroad, so as to guarantee a continual flow of excellent musicians, singers, choirs, soloists, trios, quartets, orchestras, actors, directors, film historians, screenwriters, curators, designers, organisers of exhibitions, plays, puppet shows, mime, galleries, and any other innovative and viable cultural form. Prepare a packed and interesting programme that will make a visit to Venice, at any time of the year, a rich and surprising experience. Let the world know that whatever taste one may have in the cultural field, Venice will offer the best, always. At the same time, transform the Lido into a permanent cultural centre for all aspects of the cinema, including production, which will be open all year round for enthusiasts, and not just in the two weeks of the festival. All of this would cost comparatively little but would substantially raise the quality of tourism, particularly of the resident kind, given that a great part of the cultural events would take place in the afternoon or evening, so bringing customers to the restaurants and hotels. The more residential tourism grew, the less space there would be for the “in-and-out” type, i.e. day trippers. A decision should therefore be reached, based on the work of a commission of experts, on the maximum number of visitors the city can host daily without being exposed to damage. Those who do not spend the night there and who do not belong to exempted categories (such as for example, all citizens of Veneto and Friuli, those who work in the historic centre but do not live there, the relatives of Venetians and many others to be identified in a study to be carried out over time) will therefore have to book their visits. Those who do not do so and are identified by the specially appointed inspectors of the Municipality will have to pay a fine which will be high enough to constitute a real deterrent. All of this is very easy to implement from the technical point of view (and I am told a legal solution can also be found). Booking just to enter will be free but a booking which includes basic services, such as the vaporetti, admission to museums, the use of public conveniences, will be subject to a reasonable charge and will ensure a more hospitable reception for visitors than at present.
2 Aspire to become the first city in the world entirely dedicated to the study of the environment, ecology, global warming and pollution. Challenge the European institutions to transfer all of their offices that deal with these great and urgent problems physically to Venice. Also challenge the UN to move similar offices of theirs to Venice, so that all those whose formal business it is to deal with these questions must put on their wellington boots and fight the effects of global warming at the front, and not from the comfortable distance of Belgium or New York. Similarly with all the institutions, foundations, think-tanks that deal with the environment – there are hundreds of them in the world, many of them very rich – invite them to transfer to Venice, the new citadel of the environment. Contact the thousands of private companies operating in this sector and facilitate them in opening offices, also with common services, in the city, so allowing them to have direct contact with all those who deal with these same problems but at the public level, in a virtuous network. Ask the companies involved in transport using alternative energy to help Venice to change all public transport, including the ACTV, Veritas and the taxis, over to the use of electricity, hydrogen or other sources of non-polluting energy, in a reasonably short space of time. In return, Venice will be able to offer all these new residents a magical city where they can live with their families, a healthy city, people-friendly, unpolluted and safe, from which, with its superb airport, it is easy to travel to all major cities in the world. This quality residential flow, combined with the results achieved by the implementation of Point 1 above, would help the city to come to life again, because all these families will need bread, artichokes, stationers, shoemakers, and restaurants where they can meet. Hotels will see their rooms occupied, even in November, by people dealing with the environment at a high level, who have come to participate in work meetings, conferences, symposia.
3 Find, probably in the European institutions, the funds necessary for a structural relaunching of Murano and the glass produced there. This is already underway, but there is need for much more funding and, to obtain it, a systematic and ambitious plan of action. Murano must also become the most important experimental centre for glass in the world, inventing colours made with substances that harm neither man nor the environment and new artisan and industrial processing techniques for glass. In addition, Murano must become carbon-neutral, learning or inventing the various systems for recycling waste materials and, even more importantly, recycling the thermal energy of its furnaces, which burn day and night for 11 months in the year and lose a mountain of energy, all of which should be recovered and used for the benefit of Murano and Venice. I do not support protectionism but if it is true, as reported in the press, that every year through the customs of Venice two million glass objects are imported from China, the tourists who buy them must absolutely know where they come from. All such glass pieces before arriving in Italy must be diamond-engraved with the clearly visible brand MADE IN CHINA, and similarly all pieces made in Murano must be engraved with the brand of the island. Furthermore, as a deterrent, I would like to see, both in Venice and Murano, little stations providing an instantaneous chemical-physical analysis of the glass to determine its origin: the IUAV, at my urging, has developed such a device of small size, and it is time now, in my opinion, to use it, if only for the sake of clarity and honesty with regard to Italian and foreign visitors. Murano, with its history and artistic and artisan production, must definitely aim at quality rather than quantity, and become an example to follow and a jewel in the crown of Venice and the whole of Italy in the concrete combination of work, quality and environment in the name of that virtuous “sustainability” which we all want nowadays.
4 Venice has an illustrious seafaring past. It is necessary then to launch a plan for transforming Marghera, between Fusina and the Ponte della Libertà, into the most attractive marina for pleasure craft in the Mediterranean. A safe place for the boats of thousands of Italians and Europeans, close to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, protected against bad weather, and easily accessible over land by motorway or train or by sea via the Canale dei Petroli. Cleanse the polluted grounds from the entire area – sooner or later it will have to be done so let’s do it now, even if it costs the state a one-off investment of hundreds of millions – and construct the shipyards, assistance services, docks, piers, villas and houses in leafy parks for those who work or wish to be near their boats and create the entire infrastructure which will support this gigantic marina. This part, i.e. not the remediation works themselves but the development of the marina and supporting services, could and should be financed by private parties, by Equity Funds that invest in infrastructure or Sovereign Funds making long-term investments, so creating thousands of jobs for those who live in Mestre or Marghera. At the same time, implement an ambitious programme for the regeneration of the entire lagoon, the health of which is essential for that of Venice and Mestre, and turn it into a source of revenue for the Municipality with an ambitious carbon-capture programme. Have Duferco or another party construct a port in the Adriatic for the big ships and organise a service for passengers and goods with boats that will transport them into the lagoon or city, or on to the mainland. Close the lagoon forever to the big ships, leaving it open to very small, small and medium-sized ones, perhaps using the free parts of the Arsenale to receive, repair, exhibit and sell them.
5 Do all this in absolute and passionate respect for the law, as advocated by General Buratti in his intelligent article in the Gazzettino of 22nd May last. Become a beacon in Italy for the fight against the infiltration of criminal elements into daily life and the enslavement of the labouring classes who are overburdened with the most menial work and who have no real rights, or certainty or hope for a better future. Enough of the stalls that plague the most beautiful parts of the city, like the Riva degli Schiavoni, and that instead of selling artisan Venetian products, offer only junk – and apparently some of them existing only to launder dirty money –; enough of the kitchen-hands and porters controlled by criminal cooperatives and paid in the black, enough of work with no dignity or security which is only a modern form of slavery and enough of the “untouchables” who operate above and outside all laws and regulations, throwing a dark shadow over the very integrity of the city institutions which should discipline and control them. Venice must become a clean city again, in all senses of the word.
That’s it. A simple plan and closely linked to the history of Venice, even if it might seem revolutionary to some. Not far-fetched or wishy washy, but practical and entirely feasible. The city is full of ideas, if not the same as mine then possibly better, and of women and men of great intelligence, ability and integrity. It has world-class cultural institutions and foundations, from the Universities to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, from the Istituto Veneto to the Conservatorio, from the Ateneo Veneto to the Querini Stampalia, peopled with minds that the next mayor must listen to attentively before forming an ambitious and exciting vision for Venice of the 21st century. Candidates, embrace and absorb the cultural and manufacturing depth of the Serenissima, and make the future of Venice as glorious as its past!
copyright David Landau
Header image by Andrea Merola