It is impossible to explain Venice by words: you cannot understand its uniqueness until you see this city with your own eyes. The beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks are the reasons why Venice is listed as a World Heritage Site in its entirety.

 Venice is made of 117 little islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. Venice has grown on the water and thanks to it, the city flourished for centuries as a Maritime Republic. However the water has been also the main Venetian enemy (after Napoleon): the city was born on a river mouth (the Brenta’s). During the Middle Ages the Venetians massively intervened on the surrounding ecosystem: the Brenta and other small rivers were deviated and the canals excavated in order to prevent the city’s sinking and permit their navigation.

 Nowadays the water is still a problem for Venice: the high-tide phenomenon is more and more frequent, due to the climatic changes. This photogenic event attracts and seduces millions of tourists every year, but for those who live and work in Venice the high-tide is an economical bother, as well as an impediment to a normal daily life. The municipality has activated several devices in order to inform people of the incoming phenomenon: an SMS is sent to mobiles the day before and, from the bell towers, an acoustic alarm alerts Venetians a couple of hours before (it sounds differently according to the supposed tide level). So people are informed they have to wear boots! But basically the diseases are not cancelled: the public transport is not regular because water-buses cannot pass under the bridges and a lot of fondamente, calli and campielli (the Venice streets) are underwater and not served by gangways. The M.O.S.E., the great engineering project still under construction, maybe one day will solve or, at least, will limit the damages.

 However I am not going to talk about that, because I think the water is not the main city hazard, but the millions of tourists I have mentioned before. The excessive commercial exploitation of the city centre is damaging the fragile Venetian equilibrium and creating serious problems for its population.

Moreover, a bad city management has been producing the gradual death of Venice.



 Mass tourism:

Tourism has been an important sector of Venetian industry since the 18th century, when it became a necessary step of the Grand Tour because of its beautiful cityscape, uniqueness, and rich musical and artistic cultural heritage. In the 19th century the city was a fashionable centre for the rich and famous, often staying or dining at luxury establishments such as the Danieli Hotel and the Cafè Florian. It continued being an in vogue city right into the early 20th century. In the 1980s, the Carnival of Venice was revived and the city has become a major centre of international conferences and festivals, such as the prestigious Venice Biennale and the Venice Film Festival, which attract visitors from all over the World for their theatrical, cultural, cinematic, artistic, and musical productions.

 Today Venice is the second most visited city in Italy (source: Hotel Price Index) and one of the most desired destination in the World. Euromonitor International estimates that 3’165’000 people visited Venice during the 2013 (the 45th most visited city in the World).

Nevertheless, according to the cultural association ItaliaNostra, in 2013 at least 30’000’000 of tourists visited Venice (that means 82’000 tourists a day in less than 4 km2) but in the majority they stayed in the city just for one day, booking an hotel in the nearby cities and arriving in Venice thanks to the public transports (so they are not included into the internationals statistics).

 A lot of shops in the area between San Marco and Rialto’s Bridge have been converted in touristic stores and all the public facilities are more and more “in tune” with the guests, while all the activities not strictly related to the tourism are moving to terraferma (inshore).

 The promotion of a policy of investments deeply connected to the mass tourism (considered as the cardinal economical source of the city) has soon created a huge facilities imbalance.


A non-policy of modernization:

The problem of the mass tourism is combined with a policy that does not care about the city modernization. The last intervention dates back to 1810 and was promoted by Napoleon.

 This is unfortunately a typical Italian affliction: preserving the historical/artistic heritage means to keep the status quo. The “experts” think that restoring an historical site could pervert its nature and spirit, as well as keep it less attractive to tourists.

 So Italy has created hundreds of laws “for the preservation”, as well as a lot of authorities for the artistic and cultural heritage management, producing the total paralysis of any initiative of urban redevelopment.

The Campanile di San Marco parable (the Venetian St. Mark’s Bell Tower) is maybe the best example to illustrate this concept. They said: “Com’era, dov’era”, which means “As it was, where it was”. So after the 1902 collapse, the Campanile was re-built in 1912 by copying the first one: exactly as it was, exactly where it was, creating an historical fake.

 Replacing a window with a new one could be a big problem in Venice: you have to question the Municipality Architectural Heritage Office, which needs from three to six months to answer, and usually the answer is a negative one. The main policy could be resumed as following: do not authorise any architectural intervention that can barely modify the buildings aspect.

So the private citizen has only two choices: to restore without authorization, or to let the house perish.


Public facilities:

This preservative mania unfortunately involves the public service too.

For example, the public transportation does not answer to the current needs. The “fashionable” transportation by boats on the water has always been preferred to a better and faster system such as the subway: there is a project of a lagoon subway for 35 years and still under consideration of the committees.

The result is the complete collapse of a system that is not able to match supply with demand. Furthermore the timetable seems to be conceived to satisfy tourists routes and needs rather than the citizens and workers ones.

The currently recession forced the transportation public service to cut down some lines, but it seems the top management preferred to cut the citizens lines than the tourists ones. Tourism is always considered as the main income source, the only strategic asset of the town.

 Also the waste management has great problems.

The ancient method door-to-door is still in force, demanding a great employment of human and economical sources, but not leading to results up to the civilised cities standards. The inability to act in the interest of the city and the lack of a modern system are carrying the actual waste management to the collapse. The public waste baskets are few (to do not ruin the landscape) and always full, so along the streets it is not so difficult to find piles of trash that rude tourists throw down.


The death of Venice:

This blind and one-directional policy is getting to a slow depopulation of the city. The number of young people deciding to move to Mestre (the part of Venice grown up on the lagoon border) or the hinterlands is increasing every year. In the 16th century Venice had 200’000 inhabitants, today they are less the 55’000 and still decreasing.

Those few “survivors” feel lonely, emarginated by their own institutions and forced to live in those areas not yet invaded by the mass tourism. They are witnessing the transformation of the city in a tourist attraction, the morphing of Venice into “Veniceland” (as Disneyland), as they sadly started to call it.

This dramatic situation is due to the wrong city planning and management, unidirectional and more focused on the economical profit than the social equity and welfare, bringing the city to paralysis as well as to its gradual depopulation.

 Only a new urban and social long run plan conceived by a knowledgeable management could carry Venice to its rebirth as city.



Intervening in a city as Venice is not so easy.

Therefore each involvement should be discussed and shared with the citizenry and the small available resources should be concentrated on really essential projects.

It could have been avoided colossal and high-priced projects such as the M.O.S.E. or the Constitutional Bridge (Calatrava’s Bridge), preferring social and urban micro-re-qualification projects, able to awake the citizen social identity as well as a series of private initiatives.

 The social participation in the public management is another important topic.

Thanks to the social networks, independent groups of users have been constituted in order to suggest ideas, signal interventions or just promoting social initiatives. However, the city’s managers have always unheeded these free and passionate contributes, considering them useless and inappropriate.

For example, when the Venetian transportation company (A.C.T.V.) in 2013 decided to change the transportation timetable, a Facebook group tried to collaborate with the company to prevent potential problems for the users.

Unfortunately the company did not accept the users’ suggestions and when the timetable changed, those problems the users widely forecasted have been emerged.



No one can deny that tourism is a vital asset for Venice. However, the city cannot live basing its economy only on this sector. New commercial activities must be promoted and a “business bio-diversity” should be subsidized.

 In addition to that, tourism should be regulated in a more rational way, disciplining the touristic flows and the city pathways. For example, it could be interesting to promote alternative ways to discover the city, trying to decongest the main touristic stream and spreading it in a bigger area.

Moreover the visit of alternative sites could be encouraged. For example, the islands faced to the Bacino Marciano (like San Giorgio and the Giudecca) hide little known treasures, and from their banks it is possible to admire Venice from a different perspective.



Defining Venice as a “different” or a “particular” city and consequently banning any kind of energy upgrading intervention is not acceptable. The municipality must change its conservation concept. It should be understood that Venice must adapt itself to the 21th century needs and adopt any kind of sustainable progress as done in the other cities of the World. Venice cannot consume three time more energy as a normal city.

 From this perspective, the bureaucratic grip should be reduced and case study projects could be promoted, in order to demonstrate the benefits (even economical) of using solar or photovoltaic panels (now prohibited in Venice), insulated glazing windows and thermal insulations.

According to a recent research promoted by the Venetian architect Board, most of the houses in Venice are rated as F in the energy class scale. A series of small intervention such as windows upgrading as well as the development of a minimal insulation layer to the external walls could reduce the entire annual energetic balance up to 40%. Less consumptions means less monthly bills as well as less CO2 emissions.

So why Venice cannot be a more eco-friendly city?

Another interesting topic could be the real-estate market regulation.

Nowadays a speculator is totally free to buy and rent apartments to tourists; this market fosters a big housing bubble that does not permit to young couples and not very wealthy families to buy a house in Venice.

It could be interesting to create a touristic houses register, establishing an upper limit for the tenement (for tourist purposes), in order to incentivize the real citizen market.


Public facilities:

The public transportation system needs a careful planning and it should consider social participation in order to share ideas and proposals.

New forms of transportation should be discussed (boat sharing), and the system map could be reshaped in order to solve the actual frictions between tourists and citizens.

 As well as the waste management is concern, many alternatives could be developed and debated with the venetians.

On one hand, new generations could be educated, teaching them the importance of recycling. This really easy action has carried several other Italian cities to increase their recycling part in the total amount of waste. Indeed for an adult is easier to change its behaviour if this has been asked by his son: the generational interaction is the most extraordinary sword to a radical change of habits.

 From the other hand the waste collect system should be changed, especially because the actual one is not able to supply the total daily amount of waste. It could be useful studying how other historical cities have solved their waste management problems.

In Perugia, for example, in the historical city centre an automatized system (using robots) has been experimented. For the same purpose the city centre of Barcelona  is served by the automated vacuum waste collection system that ensures a good clearness level, avoiding an excessive waste stock.



 A different city is possible.

Even if Venice is actually flogged by problems only at first glance unsolvable, its citizens conditions could be changed and improved. It must be understood that Venice, despite it has 1500 years of history, can be transformed, adapting itself to the current humans lifestyle.

 After all, Venice is still a very liveable human-scale city. The imbalance caused by the excessive touristic exploitation could be fixed only by a good planning that considers the citizens’ needs, and during this process the social participation should be held in high regard.

 In conclusion, I believe that most of the above proposal could be developed with minimum investments and have immediate benefits for the venetians.

Next spring, after years of scandals and corruption, Venetians will elect the new major. We all hope it will be able to take, for the first time, important and radical decisions thinking about the citizens’ welfare and not only aimed by personal or lobbyist interests.

image: courtesy from