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Aftermath of the floods
View from my apartment.
Acqua Alta (High-tide flood)

A wind, the sacred sound of the siren at about 9pm, the sound would escalate to warn both residents and tourists. The “aqua alta” is arriving. One tone is 1.1 metres, two tones is 1.2 metres, three tones is 1.3 metres and so on. I relearnt how to walk as walking at normal speed causes the water to splash. 2 hours later, I finally make it to my colleagues’ apartment, wearing cheap waterproof boots. I’d had to wade through a shallow river among buildings,so this was my “aqua alta” experience.

Wading and walking through the floods
Wading through the floods.

Tidal waters rumbled into Venice, layering catastrophic floods on the lagoon city. And so leaving residents and tourists panicking over the viability of living on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Because of climate change, reports say this could become far more common by 2100, recurring every five months. The floods were because of a storm in the Southwest of Italy, blowing winds from the Southeast to Northwest across the Adriatic, and so pushing water towards Venice. Across the city the smell of sewage and canal water slicked across shops, hotel lobbies and restaurants. In an interview with Washington post Vladimiro Cavagnis, a fourth-generation gondolier described

A history that, little by little, with water, will end up like Atlantis. People are destroyed, anguished, sad. They see a city that is disappearing.

Ground floors of many building overtaken by the floods
The flooded streets.

The city has always experienced periodic flooding from Aqua Alta (high tides) but the frequency of these has increased. And so this increased frequency has been disrupting the city’s rhythm. In that single moment, halting the conditons of Over-toursim although causing catastrophic damage.

A flooded Piazetta San Marco
A flooded Piazzetta san Marco
A flooded Piazza san Marco
A deserted Piazza san Marco
Mass-market tourism

Venice attracts many millions of visitors a year. Because of its Popularity in Poetry and culture, tourists are looking to enjoy the city’s sense of magic and romantism. There are many historic building around the canals. And this gives the city a unique romantic atmosphere that has attracted tourists for hundreds of years. However, Tourists are now flooding the city due to the Mass-market . This unsustainable situation generating tensions between locals and tourists.With over tourism threatening to turn Venice from a real living city to a living museum city.

Tourists go away !!! you’re destroying this area!

 Corriere del Veneto newspaper reported this and many other hostile signs. Venetians posted these flyers telling visitors to leave. This exhibits some of the tensions currently enduring between locals and tourists. Local authorities continue to seek ways to negotiate the floods of tourists swarming the city.

Raised platform to aid movement and accessibility in the aftermath of floods
Raised platforms to aid movement.

Many people have described winter as the best season to see Venice these days. The idea is that there would be a reduction in tourism and the numbers of tourists. The prices of goods would also be more favourable because the locals are not looking to take full advantage. At this time of the winter, San Marco and Dorsoduro are expected to be simply beautiful . We did not have to worry about stepping on peoples toes or involuntarily becoming part of people’s pictures. The cold weather and shorter days would also mean that the atmosphere becomes quieter and more relaxed.

Over-tourism, the other flood

By travelling in the winter, we had more opportunities to get involved with local life . Many venetians will completely avoid Venice in the summer. Juan Martinez, a reporter for DW, quotes one Venetian as describing the reduction of population sizes from over 170,000 to 50,000 and its transformation into a Disney-like city. This drastic loss of population describing the effects of over tourism on the city.

There are many reasons for the decline of the Venetian population, including social and economic factors. Tourism has been a major driver of this change, leading to:

 

  • Increased costs of living for everyone.
  • Tourist shops replacing normal mixes of retail stores.
  • Rising housing cost as tourists compete with Locals for space.
  • Overcrowded transportation systems as thousands of tourists arrive daily.

All these people concentrated within an area of 3 square miles. And so leading to a worsening of experiences not only for locals, but also for visitors.

Tourists destroy what they are looking for by finding it

Wrote Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, a german poet and this very much applies to Venice’s situation. Tourists and residents can prepare for the floodwater by wearing wellington boots and in some areas the council provides raised walking platforms. However, the buildings are not so lucky. The water eats away at the clay bricks causing them to crumble as it fills most buildings. In a tweet, the Mayor Brugnaro described it as “a wound that would leave a permanent mark”. To preserve buildings and Mitigate this problem, The MOSE project has been initiated in 2003. The project is mounting a run of submerged barricades to reduce the amount of water entering the lagoon. A corruption scandal involving the former mayor has delayed the project. MOSE also faces  numerous criticisms about its efficiency as the rising sea levels now show.

A compromise?

Achieving balance between desire and internationally mandated requirements should be a priority. The changing attitude of venetians to their environment has also indirectly increased the risk of flooding. For centuries, new buildings have been built on top of the old foundations. This steadily raised the city. However, an adherence to the preservation of forms has ultimately stagnated the city. The MOSE may turn to an impressive example of human power in holding back nature, a better long-term approach would be to work with nature. Re-naturalizing the barrier islands to slow the tide and taking an inspiration from Dutch methods of working with water.

Travel in the winter remains a valid alternative to experience a more local side of the city. Eating in locally run restaurants rather than fast food chains. Tourists should also purchase locally produced goods rather than only imported stock. An appreciation that this is a working city where people live are ways to help Venice. The very best thing for Venice is to go there respectfully, enthusiastically, doing our best to keep La Serenissima afloat.


References:

Alex Horton and Andrew Freedman, T. (2020). 70% of Venice Is Now Submerged, And It’s a Disturbing Preview For Coastal Cities. [online] ScienceAlert. Available at: https://www.sciencealert.com/venice-is-flooding-and-it-s-a-disturbing-glimpse-into-the-future-for-coastal-cities [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Anne Hanley (2020). Corruption, rising water and a battle for survival – what next for Venice, a beautiful city on the brink?. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/italy/veneto/venice/articles/venice-flooding-advice/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Calma, J. (2020). Venice’s historic flooding blamed on human failure and climate change. [online] The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/14/20963878/venice-high-tide-climate-change-flood-barrier-sea-levels [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Carl Amos, G. (2020). Venice’s grand plan to stop flooding isn’t going to work. [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/1461629/venices-grand-plan-to-stop-flooding-isnt-going-to-work/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

(www.dw.com), D. (2020). How to avoid the tourist masses in Venice | DW | 21.02.2018. [online] DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/how-to-avoid-the-tourist-masses-in-venice/a-42647278 [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

(www.dw.com), D. (2020). Venice: Growing protests against tourists | DW | 19.08.2016. [online] DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/venice-growing-protests-against-tourists/a-19488200 [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Eaglescliffe, B. (2020). Venice, Italy, Is Being Destroyed by Tourism and Flooding. [Blog] Wander Wisdom. Available at: http://January 10, 2020 [Accessed 12 Jan. 2020].

Ecologist, U. (2020). Venice Confronts Population Loss, Environmental Problems. [online] UrbanEcology.org. Available at: http://www.urbanecology.org/venice-confronts-population-loss-environmental-problems/ [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Frost, N. (2020). Photos show Venice submerged under floodwater. [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/1444460/venice-is-submerged-under-the-worst-floods-in-a-decade/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Ivana Kottasová, C. (2020). Venice was suffering overtourism, an aging population and sinking foundations. Then the floods came. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/14/europe/venice-floods-problems-intl/index.html [Accessed 13 Jan. 2020].

Liefgreen, D. (2020). Tourists Ruined Venice. Now Floods Are Making It Uninhabitable. [online] Fa-mag.com. Available at: https://www.fa-mag.com/news/tourists-ruined-venice–now-floods-are-making-it-uninhabitable-53001.html [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Monella, L. (2020). Italy to resume barrier project that could have stopped Venice floods. [online] euronews. Available at: https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/14/italy-to-resume-unfinished-barrier-project-that-could-have-stopped-venice-floods [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Robbins, N. (2020). Deep trouble: can Venice hold back the tide?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/10/venice-floods-sea-level-rise-mose-project [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Walsh, N. (2020). Why Does Venice Flood, and What is Being Done About It?. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/928594/why-does-venice-flood-and-what-is-being-done-about-it [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Image Index

View from my apartment – Shot by author, (Muhammad Ogunniyi, 2019)

Wading through the floods. – Joe deSousa (2016). Wading through St. Mark’s square. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mustangjoe/29126644990. [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

The flooded streets.- A.Currell (2010). Venice Flooded Thanksgiving 2010. (image) available from:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/23748404@N00/5264840357/in/photostream/.[Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

A flooded Piazzetta san Marco – Wolfgang Moroder. (2008). (image) available from: Flooded Piazza San Marco in Venicehttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/Acqua_alta_in_Piazza_San_Marco-original.jpg[Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

A deserted Piazza san Marco – A.Currell (2010). Venice Flooded Thanksgiving 2010. (image) Available from : https://www.flickr.com/photos/23748404@N00/5264840357/in/photostream/. [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Raised platforms to aid movement. – Giovanni.mello (2008). (image) Available from: Acqua alta at Venice: tourists on footbridges waiting to visit San Marco Churchhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/gianni_mello/sets/72157605853449781/.[Accessed 12 Jan. 2020]

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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