Soon we will have a regulation for making money, a Smart Control Room about which we know very little, and no sign of articulated or structured measures for governing the flows of tourists on the horizon.
By Sara Arco and Giuseppe Saccà
24 August 2022
Venice is unique, you know. This is why it is a sought-after destination for “foreigners” – everyone wants to visit it at least once in their lifetime. If on one hand today tourism is a vital economic resource for the city, the bad policies – one could even say the culpable absence of Politics – has made it a monoculture that overwhelms everything. And like a spider web, the monoculture of tourism is expanding to influence the real estate market, retail, crafts… it is an economy that insinuates itself everywhere and remakes the entire City in its image and likeness.
The first phase of the pandemic produced a paralysis in tourism. This unexpected interruption of the “inevitable” panta-rei would have allowed, where it was wanted, implementing some of the decisions recommended by the countless studies that have been produced for years to introduce innovative and more sustainable forms of governance in economic and social life. The start of a long process, which would have given its first results perhaps in a few decades.
But we preferred to return to “Dov’era, Com’era” – the same as it ever was.
A NEW REGULATION TO MAKE MONEY
The big novelty for 2023 would be the regulation “for the establishment and regulation of an entry fee” that is being discussed in the council commissions and should be approved in the first available City Council. Is the regulation up to the task? No.
What will be introduced is a donation for those who want to visit the city, with a mechanism that risks becoming oppressive for some and is open to lots of scams. It’s enough to look at article 5 (exemptions), where you find over 25 of them, all subject to self-certification. It is complicated to control millions of people, so much so that the system is expected to rely on external parties. A police city? Not only that, but there is also an ambiguous article 15 regarding hypothetical electronic control systems that recall the notorious turnstiles a great deal.
No service is connected to this contribution, which is set up like an actual tariff that must be paid to enter the city.
The regulation is conceptually flawed: the logic should be inverted. The entrances shouldn’t be controlled, but instead reservations should be encouraged with real incentives (raising the price of the museums and public transportation to then offer them at current price to those who have reservations is a mockery, in addition to being wholly insufficient).
Furthermore, the regulation is full of points that are delegated to the council for deciding the details of the actual functioning of the regulation itself, starting with the daily threshold of visitors who will have to pay the tourist fall (which ranges from three to ten euro). What is the limit? How will it be counted?
Here we arrive at one of the central points, the functioning of the Smart Control room – a technical jewel that has costs millions of euros.
THE SMART CONTROL ROOM: A BLACK BOX WE STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND
An article was published last June on il Post, an online news daily, which describes it “like a director’s control booth”, a “digital brain”.
“On a wall of the Smart Control Room there is a large videowall with dozens of different screens. Some display the direct real-time broadcast from around six hundred cameras in 25 frames, half of which are in insular Venice; other screens instead show maps and graphical representations of naval and vehicular traffic, both public and private, public transportation, foot traffic, air quality, crowding on bridges, openings available for parking, the situation with the tides, traffic in the canals and the functioning of MoSE.”
In front of these screens, everyone at three screens each, sit up to a maximum of eight employees, each with different jobs and access levels.
But is all that glitters gold?
According to the original project three types of data were to be collected: presence, flow, and origin. The key point for counting those present in the city is the utilization of cell phone data that comes from Telecom and provides the number of any mobile phone active in the City. The same is true for origin data.
The flow data isrecorded by sensors that count people crossing virtual barriers every minute, presences and the average speed in the area covered by the sensor. This is in order to see crowding and congestion when it develops.
Problems have already arisen regarding the type of cell-phone data used which have recently leaped to the headlines. In April, in the local and national press, there was talk of fully forty thousand visitors tracked in one night that were not registered in authorized lodgings. Were they all in unauthorized beds? It’s a shame that if a cell phone moves but remains inactive the system does not recognize the movement, because this happens most often in the evening and night.
Then there is the data provided to the press for Redentore: where did it come from? Certainly not from the Smart Control Room; in fact, during the debate in commission it emerged that the estimated number of presences was derived from the number of boats in the bacino captured by the cameras and from the 42,000 reservations on the banks that had been set aside, and from an estimate of the number of people that watched from private residence or from rive farther away that did not require reservations.
So what about the data from the Smart Control Room? What is being gathered? And, most of all, how is this data processed? What models are applied and adapted to improve efficiency?
To date not only are we unable to understand what data is being collected, but there is no information about studies and processing of this data. The administration always responds that they are defining the methods with which the data can be requested, and which data will be released to whom and under what conditions. But the months pass and at the moment nothing has moved despite the various solicitations and official acts presented in council.
Even if the Control Room could possibly be used as a tool for developing innovative analytical instruments for policies to govern the tourist flows in a sustainable way (social, environmental and economic), research bodies or stakeholders who, together with the public administration can do so have not yet been involved.
Today the Smart Control Room is just a collector of data that is “interpreted” in only one sense, not verified by third parties and then “fed” to the press following the logic of propaganda. This is no way for the City to make progress.
Soon we will have a regulation that will make money and a Smart Control Room about which we know quite little. Beyond this there is no sign on the horizon of articulated and structured measures for governing the flows of tourists. Suffice it think of the delays in the planning of the new terminals on the mainland that were announced with great pomp months ago, some of which are in absurd positions like at Montiron, or of the lack of a water-based ZTL in a “city-fish”, or to the redesign of local public transportation.
The real political fact is that the Brugnaro administration has surrendered to the idea the Venice must be characterized by a mostly predatory tourism monoculture, an idea which we reject.
Sara Arco is the Tourism Delegate from the Municipality of Venezia, Murano and Burano.
Giuseppe Saccà is head of the Democratic Party in the Venice City Council.