Venice Becoming A Ghost Of Itself

November 14, 2009

Venice_aerialThat most marvelous of European cities, Venice, is in danger of becoming little more than a post-modern simulacrum of its flamboyant past;  a flat-screen tourist resort instead of a vibrant living city.  The city’s population is now only around 60,000.  As the AP reports:

A dozen gondolas snaked down the Grand Canal on Saturday in a mock funeral procession bemoaning Venice’s approach to the dreaded status of living museum, with a population now below 60,000.  While the largely symbolic threshold is considered by some to signal the end of the city’s viability, Venetian officials say reports of Venice’s demise are premature, and even Saturday’s somber funeral ended with a surprise, bright hope for rebirth.  In fact, while native Venetians have been fleeing the expensive lagoon city for cheaper and easier living on the mainland, the population of the historic center was officially 60,025 as of Thursday, up from the 59,992 it had fallen to in recent weeks. ”They will have the funeral in a living village, not yet dead. And it won’t die, even if it goes to 59,999,” Mara Rumiz, the city official in charge of demographics, said in a telephone interview Friday. She said the numbers don’t take into account the inhabitants of Venice’s islands — including glassmaking Murano and the Lido beach — nor the many who are not officially registered, including students. Together, they add another 120,000 souls.

That’s all well and good, but a core of 60,000 is certainly not enough to keep the city as a going concern, with necessary services for its residents.  And living in Venice is not easy:

[L]ife in Venice is for the hardy and financially resilient. Housing costs and rents drop to as much as a third in the nearby city of Marghera. And consider the logistics of an everyday errand like grocery shopping. One would likely need a water taxi ride to a supermarket, another to get home with the groceries, and then with few elevators in residential buildings, there is a heavy load to lug upstairs. Historic Venice does not permit the comfort of a car parked outside the door … Venetians themselves would like to see more money put toward retaining natives, and are critical of such projects as the new Calatrava Bridge over the Grand Canal. Building the bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, ran well over projected costs while doing little to ease the lives of average Venetians.

There is, I think, little anyone outside the city can do to help.  Visiting the city more would simply add to the tourist side of the ledger and add to the pressures on the locals.  This is all very sad and difficult to watch.

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