Venice has often been described as a modern city crammed into ancient construction. With more than 30 million trampling tourists entering the lagoon every year and climate change threatening the framework, the culture and history preserved on the islands are succumbing to the tragedy of the commons. In this blog piece I will be covering two realities of modern Venice every traveler should be aware of: mass tourism and environmental degradation.
Tourism on an Enormous Scale
Just in the past 15 years, Venice has become the cruise capital of Europe and one of the top tourist destinations in the world, boasting two mega-ports and 30 million annual visitors. Tourists largely from the United States see Venice in a day: maybe get some gelato, see St. Mark’s Square, pass by the Doge’s Palace. But then, instead of staying, pile right back on a floating hotel for the night before sailing to another stop. Venice has always relied on tourism, but in recent years, visitors of these inane numbers are suffocating the city and driving out full-time residents.
According to The Independent, 120,000 people called Venice home just three decades ago. Today, there are fewer than 55,000. Some suspect that by 2030, no one will live permanently in Venice. The standard of living in Venice has also skyrocketed, making it almost impossible to live in the city without being a millionaire. Most apartments and houses not purchased by wealthy foreigners for vacation homes are converted to Airbnb rentals, there are almost no jobs unrelated to tourism in the city, locals are saying that “the soul of the city is dying,” and, worst of all, no one seems to know how to fix it.
However, locals and officials alike are fighting for new regulations. Some suggest charging a fee for visitors to enter the city. Others think that the government should play a more active role in controlling who and how many people get to enter and who gets to buy property in the city. Smaller actions include better dispersing tourists around the town rather than packing them in the center and providing new maps of greater northern Italy.
Luckily, we will not be going to Venice as your average tourist. To avoid becoming one of the millions that visit here each year, be sure to clean up after yourself, support local businesses, and always respect the residents who call this amazing city home.
The Sinking City
Due to rapid climate change, the ocean has been altered in alarming ways. The oceans is both rising and is more acidic, both are detrimental to the fragile sea-city of Venice. Flooding has damaged the first floor of hundreds of buildings around the city, adding to the already challenging housing crisis.
In an attempt to preserve the city, the Italian government has dumped millions into underwater gates and sea walls called the MOSE Project to protect the island from the Adriatic Sea. However, it remains uncertain if these precautions will be enough. As sea level rise continues exponentially due to heat expansion and sea ice melt, experts predict that the city will be entirely underwater in less than 80 years.
In addition to water rising, the city is sinking. Built on nothing more than a soft sand bed, the weight of the city has pushed to lagoon down 9 inches in just the past century. Companies on the mainland had also been pumping freshwater from under the lagoon for years before it was halted in the 1970s, depressing the water table further.
Along with other problems like sewage and pollution, many argue about what the best tactic is for handling the subsiding buildings. Some call for projects to continue to build upon the city, and other say that smaller practices such as banning large boats that cause large waves or closing down heavy industry on the mainland is the way to go. When in Venice, be sure to pick up any trash you see (especially from tourists) to prevent more pollution from entering the lagoon. In addition, do not support any large boating companies or other mass industries that are threatening the fragile urban ecosystem.