The demonstration at Punta della Dogana fits usefully into the electoral climate, because it presents the positions of the economic sectors that have been most penalized by the sudden and drastic reduction in the number of tourists.
By Giovanni Leone
28 August 2020
[Ed. Note: on 28 August, Venice Port workers and water transportation drivers of all sorts held a demonstration notably attended by both current Mayor Luigi Brugnaro and his main competitor in the upcoming election, PD candidate Pierpaolo Barretta, at Punta della Dogana, the same place that the No Grandi Navi supporters celebrated the absence of cruise ships this season just a couple of weeks ago. The demonstrators called for the return of the cruise ships. The sudden and complete absence of the ships, and alongside that the loss of a large percentage of the normal number of visitors, has created a very serious crisis for these people. In this article Giovanni Leone offers his perspective on the demonstration and possible ways forward.]
This morning’s demonstration at Punta della Dogana fits usefully into the electoral climate, because it presents the positions of the economic sectors that have been most penalized by the sudden and drastic reduction in the numbers of tourists, in a city that has been able to catch a breath on the level of livability but which is short of breath on the economic level. There is great risk of job loss, and not only in the area of tourism. The responsibility for this state of affairs and the current critical condition lies with a city that has gambled on the tourism concession, one way and without possibility of turning back, with short-term advantages and enormous long-term risks, being vulnerable to any disturbance to an economic sector, that of tourism, which is not just the dominant, but the one and only. Differentiation of business activity is an essential step to be able to confront inevitable crisis conditions, and Venice did not have escape routes nor plan B’s.
In the Bacino di San Marco it was clear how the port was the Trojan horse, so much so that along with the tugs, pilot boats and boats for rescue and emergencies, today there were boats in every form that until yesterday were meant for transporting hordes of tourists (taxis, Alilaguna, tourist ferries, transport companies, some gondolier), because – let’s not forget – in a city that is suffocated by the sea of tourists, this is not only a problem of employment, though that is relevant and cannot be overlooked for the weight that the tourism sector has on the city’s economy. Conversion cannot be just a slogan – it must be a process to launch immediately, taking measures to support the conversion of businesses.
These lobbies are powerful in the city, able to influence policy, and have enjoyed greater economic advantages at the expense of an overall structural weakening of the city economy.
For its part, the political class appears to be beholden to special interests and unable to indicate an orientation, or to propose a new idea of the city that is capable of overcoming the current unsupportable opposition between environment, health and work. These are put in competition with, and considered as alternatives to each other, rather than reconciling them in the perspective of sustainable development of the Venetian lagoon habitat, where the urban settlement and a delicately balanced environment which must be inhabited respectfully live together, is an issue ignored by those who want to make the predatory past a permanent present, depriving us of a future.
In light of events in the city, it is worrying to see the lack of a real study and debate about possible and practical ideas for reconciling the activity of the Port with the environment, taking out of the lagoon the ships that now have dimensions that are not compatible with the lagoon environment. Venice needs decisions that must be shared and debated with the citizens in order to truly be effective, avoiding a reduction to confrontation between subdivisions of the team for pro and the team for con, as was the case with the referendum of early December 2019 for the separation of Venice and Mestre, and sparing us formulas such as the Clini-Passera decree which, while it prohibits ships over 40,000 tons from traveling Canale della Giudecca and in Bacino San Marco, it suspends that prohibition until an alternative solution is identified without indicating or setting any timeline for the identification and approval of an alternative proposal.
In a difficult moment such as the current one it is irresponsible to give in to the temptation to exploit and feed social conflict and opposition: politics and the entire city community are asked to a commit to reconciliation of the different demands and positions, and calmly consider ideas and proposals.
Giovanni Leone is an architect living in Venice, the city of his choice (having wanted to live in this house in the form of a city) and adoption (after having landed there from the other end of Italy), where he was welcomed: first in the community of out-of-town students, and migrants/inhabitants, who metabolize and spread around the world the awareness that a different way of life, on a human scale, is possible; later welcomed in the Venetian community, especially among the populace, introduced to the pleasures of the lagoon, the culture of land (gardens and fields) and water (boats and fishing) and islands; before, during and after, from a habitat that is an environmental and social context to be worn as a dress in whose pockets the spirit of the place is deposited.