30 November 2020
By Giovanni Leone
VENICE. I write as an inhabitant of Venice, but also as President of the Social Promotion Association Do.VE (Dorsoduro Venezia), which is made up of shopkeepers (not only of glass objects or other items for tourists but starting from those in the neighborhood such as the baker, the newsstand, the grocery store, fishmonger, tobacconist, etc.), artisans, artists, professionals, inhabitants, etc. Do.VE works for a plural and polycentric conception of the city, in which the neighborhood sees its fundamental value and its importance as a recognized living city, not a postcard or a selfie to keep in one’s photo album but the experience of an extraordinary unity of environment and anthropic settlement of significant humanistic (social, poetic, …) and scientific (technical, materials, ecosystem, …) importance. It is in the beating heart of life of the sestiere (see note 1) as a civic, economic and social unit that we have decided to work, to try to bring back its dimension of living community to the center of Venice, aggregating the inhabitants that the commodification of the city has reduced in few (in the Italian text there is an untranslatable word pun). We want to nourish the sense of belonging to the community of Venice, a plural city in which different activities are located and coexist, exactly the opposite of the rational zoning approach of modern urban planning, which has led to functional segregation that is harmful to the life of the communities. In Venice, the rule is the exception, a theme that cannot be fully developed now here, suffice it to mention here its urban fabric (as dense as Arab cities) which urban regulations would not allow today.
We need to stop considering Venice as merchandise; rather we need to support it and help it grow as a city of the world that is above all a living city, recognizing its contradictory evidence of singularity (locality, and tradition) and generality (globality and universality), granting to the city a Special Statute that recognizes its value as a city of the world. This is not to say that Venice does not have forces and skills that allow it to govern the city and the lagoon, but important contributions to its economic and social revival can come from outside. The recognition of this specialty must also begin with taxes. Today many tourism multinationals are based in Venice but pay taxes elsewhere, without leaving the city what would be right. For example, leaving few points of VAT could be a useful measure. It is not to seek privileges that this request is made but to save the city not only from physical extinction (endangered by climate change) but also from social extinction (caused by the tourism industry as a prevalent or unique economic activity, as it is been in recent years, allowing for a drift that has heavily damaged the city).
Therefore, let’s say No to “hit and run” tourism, one day, two selfies and then off, as the hordes of tourists do, coming off the big cruise ships, which bring few advantages compared to the damage they cause, among which is the pollution that Venice has never known before. We invite tourists to come and stay for the time necessary to see and not just to look, to glance. Those who leave Venice must leave with the awareness that a different way of life is still possible. It is not true that a car is necessarily needed for each journey, it is not true that slowed down time reduces productivity (the opposite is true, it can increase the effectiveness and solidity of the change). Silence, time in space and space in time, introspection, and conscience are fundamental factors in Venice. We don’t need people who come to Venice just to say they’ve been there. We can offer guests the opportunity to have an enriching experience because Venice is not a simulacrum of itself. What matters is not only the splendor of its buildings and the past, but its potential in the present as a laboratory of the third millennium, in which to experiment forms of respect with good practices, sustainable on an economic, environmental and social level.
Tourism is important for Venice, as are the productive activities (starting from the commercial and industrial ones of Porto Marghera). Provided, however, that the excesses of over tourism are eliminated, and industrial activities are converted into a green perspective, which of course must be sustainable and profitable, not a poetic perspective, but a concrete one.
Of primary importance is the repopulation of Venice, as has happened repeatedly over time, when its population was drastically reduced by pandemics, such as at the time of the plague. The Jews themselves were invited and facilitated in their settlement [*after the plagues in 1575 and 1630 – Ed.] in a city that has always been a city of the world, as shown by the spaces granted to traders of all cultures and backgrounds (Fontego dei Tedeschi, Fontego dei Turchi, etc.).
The population has fallen to 50,000 inhabitants, a number among the lowest in the city’s history, perhaps comparable to the period of the plagues. It is true that the density of the population at the best times had to be decreased for reasons of healthiness, but the technique and the reduced need of space today would allow us to rethink the city today.
It is important that the public administration finally promotes real policies for housing. Since the Municipality decided not to grant more changes of zoning for new hotels there are numerous exceptions that have been granted in the island city. Meanwhile thousands of beds have been made in Mestre, in a hotel district built near the station to be able to easily reach the city of water. In this way there is no advantage for the mainland city because guests sleep there only because the cost is lower but they gravitate to Venice. Because the accommodation facilities are owned by multinationals, which bring very low tax revenues, the taxes are paid in the countries where the headquarters are located, the VAT goes to the State, and for the city only the tourist tax remains.
Useful contributions can come from the outside, from “foreigners” who want to settle, provided that we do not limit ourselves to selling Venice, promoting real estate speculation operations for lodgings (as has been done in recent years and still today, by multiplying the construction of hotels) or increasing the sales to those who can only live there occasionally, making it their second, third, or fourth house. These interventions bring financial benefits in the short term but not stable and long-term economic benefits.
Venice is wired with a fast fiber connection, so those who do not need to be always present in the workplace but can work remotely can settle in Venice and are welcome. In Venetian history, the inhabitants who make Venice their city of adoption (because it welcomes them) and of choice (because they choose to have their home there, to live there, – in Italian the word is abitare a term that comes from dress, and which should therefore be worn as a dress which must be adapted, and to which one adapts – in a double movement of welcome and acceptance).
Important international agencies on a European and world scale could be established in Venice, or production, logistics and service companies on a global multinational scale, bringing jobs and workers, therefore new inhabitants. Just developing the lagoon islands with hotels must be stopped, let’s make them an archipelago pulsating with life and work, beyond as places of contemplation.
Mestre and the mainland cities (Venice is not only the old town, but is a plural and polycentric town) have great potential as a hub for local, national and international mobility on a European and global scale. Today Venice is a great reality on a metropolitan and territorial scale, which needs to find consistency with the collaboration of all. From its origins this small town extended its territories and its authoritative influence on the mainland, up to Brescia just outside Milan, on the Alps, in the Adriatic Sea (which in the maps of the time is referred to as the Gulf of Venice), in the Mediterranean and up to China through the silk road.
Culture is a crucial element, not only as an exhibition but culture as cultivation (in the Italian text there is a word pun untranslatable), evolution, growth. One of the values of the city is its quality of life, the rich authenticity of the social relationships that are established between human beings and with the environment.
Venice is a place of the self, of conscience and introspection, it can also be disturbing to those who are unprepared because they can’t escape their thoughts, there are no cars and traffic lights to distract us by diverting the mind that floats freely (in the Italian text there is a word pun untranslatable) here but finally it stops giving a solid stability to the human being.
Il Presidente di Do.VE
Arch. Giovanni Leone
(Note 1) The term quarter is used commonly for an urban district and derives from the division into four parts of the settlements, typical since Roman times with the two main axes (cardo and decumano). Venice is instead divided into six parts which are called sestieri for this reason. Typical image of this subdivision of the city is the iron in front of the gondola which has 6 teeth in front (representing the 6 sestieri), 1 on the opposite side (representing the Giudecca island) and 3 inserts inside the 6 teeth of the sestieri representing the main lagoon islands (Murano, Burano and Torcello).