Venice Reshaped? Tourist gentrification and sense of place. By Paola Minoia

Reshaping Venice as a city beyond utopic landscapes

Is the historic city of Venice a world city? Areas that were used as factories, residences, associations’ homes, monasteries, etc. have become spaces for arts, design, social gatherings, branded shopping, restaurants and wine bars, to keep alive the circuit of the new residents and their consumption interests. As mentioned before, Venice presents a lot of commonality with other gentrified cities, e.g. New York (Newman and Wyly 2006)
and other world cities, because it is stronger in its global links than as a gateway for the surrounding region; but at the same time, its vitality is too exclusively flattened on tourism, leisure and art consumption services. This extreme specificity challenges the very nature of Venice as a city, according to Ashworth and Page’s (2011) definition based on multifunctionality and tourists’ invisibility. Settis (2014) also describe Venice as a dying city. He recalls the need to maintain a social and anthropological diversity and particularly its civic capital: “rooted in long-term mechanisms of intergenerational transmission (…) it includes the notion of ‘civic culture’, a collective sense of values, rights and social memory having cultural, political and economic dimension” (p. 107). Moreover, for Settis “the right to the city shall be linked to the social function of property (…) and job right (…) strictly united by juridical, ethical, economic and functional links (p.109).

In fact, the tourist gentrification of Venice cannot only be seen as an outcome of coincident will expressed by wealthy bourgeoisies. As pointed out by Gotham (2005), we cannot only assume that demand-side factors left alone drive the process, but we need also to consider the production-side perspective and recognize the role of the local institutions in the tourist gentrification process. Political willingness of the local government would be determinant in guaranteeing protection and reactivation of place-based cultures and livelihoods, against corporative interests and the tourist consumption loop. However, as a matter of fact, Venice has lacked a real governance of the city development. The latest administrations have mostly valued Venice as an economic profitable resource rather than a complex living environment; not only they have overlooked the impacts of big events like the Carnival and Biennale festivals, of the cruise ships going to the Venice Terminal and of other mega infrastructures, but they do not show active role in residence rights in the historic centre. As said, rehabilitation has advanced in form of occasional, mostly privately funded projects targeting the physical capital while the social components have been marginalized. The vacuum of regulations in favour of traditional activities has increased the vulnerability of resident groups and their livelihoods. Instead, during the past two decades free market principles have been followed dogmatically by local administrations. The liberalization of retails has modified completely the commerce in the city and caused the closure of a pre-existing network of small shops, manufacturers and workshops. New regulations of fishing and fish markets contributed to an irreversible decline of most traditional, family-run cooperatives; while liberalization of B&B and the failed control of illegal hospitality have eroded the real housing offer. The internationalization of the housing market has made housing impossible to afford for most wages.

Fig. 1. “What happened to the character that had been positioned in the stone niche? Where are the residents? If saving Venice only means to preserve that piece of wall, we would have failed” (

More recently, a few residents have started showing resistance to this process of depletion of traditional knowledge and livelihoods. Exercises of place memories have taken place, recalling past traditions and uses of public spaces with old pictures, music and movies shared in Facebook, theatre performances, interviews to old people in newspapers, etc. New civic networks have also been created with a more advanced interest to intervene in the urban political discourse, letting local voices to fill the governance gap and asking for more determined protection of housing rights. One example is the Gruppo 25 Aprile, a civic platform for Venice and its lagoon constituted in 2014, in which active residents reclaim the centrality of the right to the city in the governance discourse for Venice: “Like native indians in America (in the 19th century) we now risk being forced out of our environment (…) Forced out of the lagoon, to live on the other side of the bridge (the mainland)” ( This idea of an emptying city is well represented through the metaphor of the empty niche in a wall of Venice (Fig.1), for the group asks the city rulers to engage more to preserve all urban components of the city, through more inclusive residential, employment and social service policies, and through proactive support to endangered cultures and livelihoods. Venice needs to be reshaped to regain social complexity and inclusiveness and go back to being a city. Basic commerce, fishing rights, artisan business, creative productions, knowledge centres, city gardens, playgrounds, spaces for elderly and migrant groups: who would not like to repopulate Venice if these conditions are met, despite the tourists?

Paola Minoia (2017), Venice reshaped? Tourism gentrification and sense of place. In Bellini N., Pasquinelli C. (eds) Tourism in the City -Towards an integrative agenda on urban tourism. Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 261-274.