Can Venetians be the solution to the Queen of the Sea’s urban challenges?
The debate on the possibility of redesigning a sustainable Venice is a ‘hot’ topic that has been discussed several times in the past, such as by the Financial Times, with the article 'Can Venice Reinvent Itself?'. Venice is indeed a one-of-a-kind city, a Unesco World Heritage site since 1987, that faces challenges that are currently mining its own identity, pointing out the difficulty of being a city on a human scale, able to attract new residents and hold the current dwellers (at the moment 50,000 out of 20 million tourists each year), and able to create new streams of business, other than tourism, escaping the curse of being considered a sort of amusement park rather than a real city.
The Italian Urban GoodCamp team has delved into this topic through a series of interviews with 'experts' of Venice, people who live and work in the city, who care about its problems and who are actively involved in projects gravitating around it. The overall goal of these interviews was to understand which levers could be activated in order to transform this iconic city from an open-air museum into a real contemporary city, protecting its multifaceted environment that embraces both the lagoon and the city.
The interviews pointed out the need that Venice has a real need to be sustainable not only from a financial perspective, but also from a social and environmental point of view. Residents seem indeed to be pushed away by a rising cost of housing, a small offer in terms of public services to locals and few opportunities of work outside of the tourism and hospitality industry.
Professor Massimo Warglien, professor at the Department of Management of Ca’ Foscari University and Venetian by adoption, launched and currently coordinates VenyWhere, a project that aims to create a new layer of residents made of remote workers, facilitating the arrival in the city of "temporary citizens" who can contribute to the economic and social net of the city. By analyzing today's trends in digital nomadism and new "workers from anywhere", VenyWhere intends to offer three types of support to its users: a. provide residential and co-working spaces; b. present ancillary services to encourage the integration of newcomers; c. promote social innovation and new active citizenship at the service of the community. The long-term goal is that these people, who initially may move to Venice for a limited time, in the end decide to stay, to promote a new type of residency and contribute to the redesign of a more sustainable city. The concept of fluid residentiality of the "worker from anywhere" may be an answer to the depopulation of urban spaces in Venice, if these incoming residents can create a real bond with the city and its dwellers.
Elisabetta Armellin, artist and entrepreneur, founder of the V73 brand that acts as an ambassador of Italian fashion all over the world, is definitely ‘in love’ with Venice, since she was studying there, at the Academy of Fine Arts. The V in her brand represents Venice, indeed. For her, the whole city is a source of inspiration; in many V73 bags there are small references to the architecture of Venice and even the materials she uses are part of the Venice traditional craftsmanship. Elisabetta is nostalgic about the ateliers she admired as a student, and is quite pessimistic regarding the future of the artisanal touch that made Venice famous all over the world, because of the presence of cheap and low quality imitations that are currently emptying Venice of its creative and renowned artisanal signature. Education of incoming visitors can be a key to fight against the suffocating overtourism dynamics of the city, in her opinion: tourists need to learn how to enjoy and respect the artistry of the ancient know-hows of Venice and maybe, this way, some of them may decide to pick up the craft and become the next generation of artists, taking inspiration from the city as she does.
Ludovico Dejak, young Venetian by birth, who studied in Rome but then returned to the lagoon to be the co-founder of Venice Calls, a local non-profit organisation based on the Giudecca island in Venice. Because of the issues related to ‘Acqua Alta’ - High Tide, Ludovico, together with the Venice Calls team, tries to sensitise younger generations on climate change and its impact on our Planet, and of course on the city. They regularly organise clean-ups of the lagoon with partners such as the WWF and the Guggenheim Foundation, where they create teams of volunteers who
collect garbage around the islands of the lagoon, record the items found and map where they accumulated the most. This is just one of the initiatives that Venice Calls launched to protect the lagoon, but of course he recognises the importance as well as the challenge of creating a real ecosystem where all local nonprofits can work together, in an effective way to help the city.
And here Universities can play a very important role, as facilitators for urban cooperation and co-creation processes for the design of a sustainable urban ecosystem, while generating innovative learning environments engaging with residents, companies and local governance, in order to bring together the creative minds that populate the lagoon. This has the goal to make Venice a city with a strong ‘Where Factor’, as American urban studies theorist Richard Florida states in his book “Who is your city?”, meaning a city where people decide to move, live and create their future.
Photo by Christian Holzinger on Unsplash