I see Venice as a symbol of current changes in our cities.
I grew up in South Tyrol, a region in northern Italy not far from Venice, that today ranks among the most popular tourist regions in the Alps. That’s where I witnessed how entire villages were radically transformed by tourism within just a few years. The same could be said about many cities, whether it’s Florence, Innsbruck or Heidelberg. Places where life was basically normal until just a few years ago are now dominated by tourist infrastructures catering to mass tourism.
But it’s not just tourism that transforms these cities. In Berlin entire districts have recently been subjected to radical and extremely rapid changes now that investors from across Europe have purchased apartments in the German capital: People are forced to leave their neighborhoods because rising real estate prices are pushing them out.
Venice is a truly spectacular and dramatic example of this phenomenon. It’s spectacular because Venice still remains one of the most beautiful cities in the world and mass tourism is bizarrely out of proportion with the city’s population. This development is also dramatic because Venice is no normal city: every Venetian who leaves his city and moves to the mainland leaves behind a way of life that thereby vanishes forever.
The underlying principle of this type of business is that public space is transformed into a commodity, which a select few can use for their private deals, while all losses are left to the general public. The ultimate scenario is an empty, crumbling city: nothing more than a stage set, a kind of Disneyland.
The obscure machinations of various interest groups spell the end of politics as we know it, and have left large segments of the population with a profound feeling of helplessness.
Many Venetians very clearly see their city’s problems, but they don’t take them seriously. It is primarily older residents who still show energy and perseverance. They seem to me as if they came right out of a play by Carlo Goldoni, the Venetian playwright who created the commedia italiana. They make humorous, ribald and direct comments on the decline of their old world, and leave no doubt that they will survive its downfall!