“The numbers do tell us, though, that we can and must oppose those who say that the city is dead, perhaps to push it further into the role of a theme park, merely a business investment… The ‘city that resists’, despite the difficult times, resists with open ideas and paths. This is why we cannot accept the “end” that so many speak of.”
By Gianfranco Bettin
12 August 2022
The discussion has been opened by Venessia.com and those who think and act, even in difficult times. With the anguish we sometimes feel as we watch the rising tide, so in Venice we watch the descending number of residents. In recent years the fate of the city has been suspended between these two poles. On one hand, MoSE will not be enough, and more will be required, because the tides are now a global issue, albeit accelerated and aggravated by local tampering with the lagoon ecosystem. On the other hand, palliative or demagogic measures will not be sufficient to restore an adequate social and demographic dimension. It is not by chance that the Special Law, with which the State undertakes to protect Venice, addresses both issues: physical safeguards and socio-economic and demographic regeneration.
In recent days (and for years) Venessia.com has again rightly and forcefully attracted attention to this last point, signaling how we have fallen below the “psychological threshold” of 50,000 residents in the six sestieri and Giudecca. I have had to explain elsewhere, in Italy and abroad, that this Venice of which we speak is not a “historic center” and that, although the Municipality occupies a larger territory, in reality it is a whole CITY. Therefore, the loss of population here is not comparable to that of other “historic centers” (in Rome, Florence, Paris, Berlin, London, etc.).
In Venice not just a part, but a whole city is impoverished. This is something different and more radical. The numbers clearly speak of a stark truth: we pass from the 175 thousand inhabitants post-WWII to 80,000 forty years ago, to the current fewer than 50,000 present in the “sestieri and Giudecca”. However, we must avoid creating even more resignation by reading the numbers, encouraging those who hasten to declare the city dead. After all, the fifty thousand referred to are residents of a city that is remains such. If to these residents we add the almost ten thousand between Murano, Burano and the minor islands, and the 18,000 on Lido and Malamocco-Pellestrina, there are around 80,000 residents. The entire city of Treviso numbers about the same, and Belluno is less that half of that, and nobody dreams of saying that they are not (any longer) cities. Even as it stands today, insular Venice, which rightly feels the pain of population loss, is one of the major cities of Veneto and the Northeast.
This is not about (self) consolation. That would be pathetic.
The numbers do tell us, though, that we can and must oppose those who say that the city is dead, perhaps to push it further into the role of a theme park, merely a business investment. If this were really so, if the game was already lost, for example, why not reduce the investments in the Special Law to only the parts destined for physical safeguards (protecting a Venice that is a museum of itself and further used for profit)? Obviously safeguarding is crucial. But if we are no longer a city, why not cut investments for restoring properties, subsidies for purchases, funds for residential policies and for the building of new residences to favor the settlement of residents and repopulation? And why not give up defending and strengthening services and functions meant for residents, if they are in continuous decline and now residual? To this we must reiterate that in Venice – the “historic” – still live tens of thousands of people and family units, however they may be composed.
It is their resistance, their insistence on staying, which makes it still possible to speak of a true city, even if it is marked by demographic decline and socio-economic difficulties. This resistance and that of many groups, committees (such as those gathered in “Quartieri in movimento”, which has long proposed initiatives, ideas and aggregation of forces), associations, and categories that have defended the right to live, the possibility of working, studying and living in the city have at times succeeded in imposing or favoring choices, provisions, policies that have slowed the drift, even if unevenly and insufficiently.
However, without those struggles and those provisions (such as those in the Special Law mentioned above) the challenge would have already been, and for some time, truly lost. This is also demonstrated by the very proposals being discussed and worked on today, from the reform of the Special Law up to ways to manage the flows of tourists (and their intersection with the issue of residence – see the proposals of the group “Alta tensione abitativa” and others by Venessia.com itself) or the various ideas regarding economic and productive regeneration and so on. The “city that resists”, despite the difficult times, resists with open ideas and paths. This is why we cannot accept the “end” that so many speak of. When it is not the understandable effect of a civic pain that fears the worst, the idea that Venice is no longer a city is just a smokescreen for speculators who think only of pushing it to be lost completely, fallen entirely into the hands of predators.