Friday, October 18, 2013

Sarah Mastroianni, journalist for Canada's Panoram Italia magazine, asked me what I thought...


Venice’s Struggle for Survival

2013/10/11 - Written by Sarah Mastroianni
Venice’s Struggle for Survival
Venice’s Struggle for Survival
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Throughout the course of its lengthy history, Venice – the city on the water – has  become home to innumerable artistic, architectural, and cultural treasures, as well as  historical figures such as Marco Polo, Antonio Vivaldi and Giacomo Casanova. But  despite the city’s illustrious past, present-day Venice is in trouble. It’s only fitting that  such a unique city should face an equally unique array of problems. The rising water  levels, increasingly frequent occurrences of “acqua alta,” sinking foundations, a falling  local population and ever-increasing throngs of tourists, have the city both literally and  figuratively fighting to stay afloat.    
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Marie Ohanesian Nardin, writer of the blog Italy to Los Angeles and Back and  long time resident of Venice, weighs in on the city’s water-related struggles,  commenting, “All too many times a year Venice’s residents must deal with  high tide invading ground floor homes and entryways, their shops, restaurants and  schools. They must prepare for such, and though the high tide may entertain tourists,  it is no light matter for the locals.”    
It’s during these times that sirens sound a warning throughout the streets and  locals can’t do much except wait for the high tides to abate and hope that the damage  is minimal.                              
“But Venetians are resilient people,” Nardin continues, “and take living with high  tide as part of their culture; they just wish it didn’t happen so often.”  It’s looking like Venetians might actually get their wish.                          
The aptly named Progetto MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico),  which is currently in progress, is expected to accomplish in Venice what Mosè (Moses)  did in biblical times: save the people from the water around them.                
How will it reach its goal? The Progetto MOSE, governed by the Consorzio  Venezia Nuova, consists of a series of electromechanical gates, which are being  installed underwater at the three mouths of the Venetian lagoon: Chioggia,  Malamocco and Lido. The gates will exist to effectively close off the lagoon from the  sea during high tides or extraordinary weather conditions in order to prevent the  water level from reaching dangerous heights within the city’s canals.

Clara Ceolin, Cultural Coordinator at the Centro Veneto in Toronto, was born  on the Lido and returns to Venice regularly with her family. On a recent trip she visited  one of the MOSE construction sites to get a better idea of just how a man-made  machine might be able to “fermare il mare,” (stop the  sea). “They’ve been working on it for years,” says  Ceolin, “but they had problems with money.”                
After many years of planning and numerous setbacks  along the way, the project is currently more than  60 percent completed. The much-anticipated MOSE  should finally become operational sometime in 2014,  but there’s still a catch.                      
“There are many people who say that it won’t be  useful at all,” reports Ceolin. Unfortunately, this might  actually be true: there is still much speculation as to  whether the gates will actually be capable of living up to  their purpose, since, to date, a project of this kind has  never been used in any other comparable situation in  the world. Despite the widespread worry, “We have a lot  of hope in the project,” she says.
But Venice’s water level issues aren’t the only ones  that make it an increasingly difficult place to live.  “The Venetian people feel their city is slipping  from their fingers and being monopolised by a tourism  industry that both provides the livelihood of many  locals and strips the city of the quality of life that only  Venice can offer,” Nardin says.                        
The love/hate relationship that Venetians have  with tourism is a complex one, not caused by one element  but by a combination of issues that negatively  impact the daily life of those who reside in the city. On  a very simple level, Venetians don’t appreciate the flood  of visitors – upwards of 9 million in 2012 – who, at  times, lack respect for their city and treat it as if it were  an amusement park instead of home to real people with  jobs, lives and families.
As if that weren’t enough, Nardin explains that  the cost of living in Venice is very high, with average  household spending in the Veneto reaching 2835 euros  per month (the third highest of Italy’s 20 regions), a  number which is being driven higher by the ripple  effects of the city trying to cater to millions of tourists.  Unable to make a living or enjoy their city, many locals  are leaving Venice in search of work and respite from  the flooding that assails their city, both in the form of  tourists and high tides. In 1961, there were 137,150 residents;  the number dropped to 58,991 in 2011.                        
What future is there for Venice with all her problems?  Similarly to Ceolin, Nardin has hope for the  Progetto MOSE and reaffirms her love for the city,  tourists and all. “Being in Venice is living in history:  when I step through her calli (alleyways), I can’t help  but wonder about those who have followed the same  route for centuries before me. And for someone like me  […] Venice will always be home.”

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