Report: “Venice is completely privatized”. From a pearl of culture to a great expanse of real estate for a few

A scene from the Dolce e Gabbana fashion show in Piazza San Marco a few weeks ago
Urbanist Paola Somma, a former professor at IUAV, releases a controversial analysis. The turnaround in the management of spaces over the last twenty years is examined

By Enrico Tantucci

8 Oct. 2021

The Analysis

Venice is lost. Over twenty years of a systematic selloff of its buildings to private, for-profit entities have gradually emptied it of its urban function, and the few remaining residents are the residual witnesses to a process of privatization that is now irreversible.

This is the radical but articulated hypothesis contained in a just released book, which describes in detail the individual large real estate operations that have impacted the city, with the continuous selloff of public assets and functions.

The book is entitled “Private Sector Venice – The City for Everyone for the Profit of Few”, written by Venetian urbanist Paola Somma, a former professor at IUAV who has for years followed the urban transformation of Venice with increasing concern. The book, writes Somma, “is not the product of archival research, but of simply re-reading the daily news (up to last June). The information passes before our eyes every day, and we haven’t always known or wanted to connect one with the other”.

The process began as long as forty years ago, when the neo-liberals decided that “the city was worth too much to be left to the communities that lived and worked there, and that it needed to be transformed in to investment opportunities”.

“Since then the conversion of the places richest in art into event spaces and concentrators of real estate income has proceeded on three fronts in parallel: the irreversible alteration of the city’s demographic fabric, in quantitative and above all in qualitative terms; interventions on the physical structure of the city to facilitate the arrival and stay of ever increasing numbers of tourists; changing the role of the State, which at all levels of government has become the executor of market directives”.

The first part of the book focuses on particular aspects of the privatization of Venice linked to different types of clientele.

The islands of the lagoon are being converted into luxury hotels. The areas around Piazza San Marco, Rialto and the Santa Lucia Station turned into commercial centers.

The area that goes from the Accademia bridge to Punta della Dogana is the art tourism zone. The remaining spaces are still for residences. But these spaces too are under assault by the conversion of homes and other buildings into tourist rentals or lodgings.

According to Paola Somma such a redesign could never have been carried out without the modification of urban planning and zoning by the Municipality over time, and with no political distinctions.

Three chapters are also dedicated to three symbolic locations in the city, associated with three other projects linked to their economic exploitation. The first is Rialto, associated in particular with the purchase of the Fontego dei Tedeschi by the Benetton Group, which then leased it for use by the luxury department store DFS.

Then there is Arsenale, divided between the Biennale and the City, both of which use it mainly for exhibitions.

San Marco is particularly under the control of Assicurazioni Generali, with the project underway for the reuse of the Procuratie Vecchie and the remodeling of the Giardini Reali, then contracted to be managed by the Venice Gardens Foundation.

However, the author’s “j’accuse” spares no one – from the pro-business turn of the Fondazione Musei Civici to the substantially secondary and functional role played uncritically by the universities in Venice in the economic reshaping of the city.

Then there is the role of the City itself, which has encouraged this privatization in every way, offering the spaces of the city to those who want to use them for profit, in exchange for an economic return.

It’s a very harsh analysis, and in some ways without hope for the future of this city. Perhaps not everyone will agree, but it is nonetheless cause for reflecting seriously about what Venice has become, and most importantly how it intends to go forward.


Source: La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre

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