The administration, in responding to UNESCO’s observations, should open discussions with the city, starting with the City Council, and stop accusing anyone who criticizes his work, be they institutions, parties, associations and others, of being partial in their analysis as well as self-referential, rather than going into the merit of the criticisms. The Mayor should be the first to be open to debate, which could only improve his quality in governing the city.
The UNESCO document certainly places a primary emphasis on the theme of overtourism, where the failures of the administration are evident. It is enough to think of the continual postponement of any form of experimentation in governing the flows of tourists, with proposals that are themselves deficient, and in any case always delayed in their application. Not to mention having a tool that all of Italy envies us, that is the regulation of tourist rentals, for which there is not even a draft to discuss.
But there is much more in the UNESCO document.
It speaks clearly of the lack of coordination between entities and institutions and inadequate planning tools. The self-referentiality of the Mayor doesn’t help, and the case of the Lagoon Authority is emblematic: what is the Mayor doing to get this game underway? Now he also has a friendly government to deal with, the vice-Mayor of the Municipality is very close politically to the competent Minister (Salvini), and yet everyone is silent. The stalemate has strong repercussions also on the level of employment with over two hundred workers between Consorzio Venezia Nuova, Thetis and Comar who are experiencing a situation of profound uncertainty. The Authority should oversee not only MOSE (completion of the work, raising the dams, etc.) but also widespread safeguarding. And here we return to the UNESCO report and its concerns about the long-term strategy for coping with climate change: MOSE is not sufficient to solve the problems (and it is not yet fully tested nor completed). Regarding this the administration’s agenda shows that it is not enough to declare yourself the world capital of sustainability to actually be so.
Is the UNESCO report one hundred percent correct? We don’t believe so. UNESCO, by its very nature, is the bearer of a conservative idea of the historical and natural environment, and, in the difficult balance that the lagoon and the entire vast area must strike between protection and sustainable development, it is the champion of an idea of a city that can rightly be criticized in some passages. But it presents a vision and carries it forward with coherence, and it has been instrumental in the making of some choices that would otherwise have never been made. Above all else the passage of the cruise ships in the bacino di San Marco. So, what vision does the current administration bring with it instead? Regarding tourism, it is clear to all that the administration is the bearer of a version of management that is “adaptive” – with the result of strengthening the tourism monoculture – and not radically “transformative”.
The economic and social trends are well-known and it is not only UNESCO that is worried about what is happening. It is no coincidence that Venice is a city that has a very high number of government commissioners. Does the Mayor have anything to say about it? It is Rome’s fault, or is it his inability to be Mayor, that is, to lead the development of the city in cooperation with the other institutions?
We don’t expect the Administration to adopt all of UNESCO’s recommendations, but we do hope it will have the strength to dialogue with us in an open debate with the city, and to carry forward a vision that ferries Venice from being the world capital of overtourism to the world capital of sustainability with concrete actions and not just proclamations, on a path of economic and social development that is lacking today. From the Port to the Airport, from Porto Marghera to the strengthening of the entire tertiary sector as well as of artisan activities. We don’t believe that Venice will be listed as an At-Risk Heritage Site, but beyond what UNESCO decides in September, the real issue is the incapacity of those who today govern the Municipality of Venice to imagine a development strategy to put on the table, with which it could also dialogue with, and not only, UNESCO.
Giuseppe Saccà is group leader of the Democratic Party in the City Council, Venice.
Sara Arco is delegate to tourism for the Municipality of Venice, Murano, Burano.
Translated by Paul Rosenberg