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Venice for the Venetians. Venice for the world.

Does the word “Venice” still conjure images of great beauty, supreme civilisation and enduring history? Even when gigantic cruise ships plough through the heart of the city or Piazza San Marco is jammed with litter and crowds? Vivienne Westwood’s support for our battle against these monsters is very important for the movement to save Venice.

Growth in the cruise industry in every direction has been exponential: ship size, number of ships as well as total passengers. And with that, the environmental impacts have been increasing too. For a place like Venice, this is becoming intolerably dangerous, not least because the health of the lagoon surrounding it is at risk.

Venice couldn't exist nor will it be able to survive without the coastal lagoon. They are inseparable elements of a single system and this explains Venice’s unique architecture, artistic heritage, cultural traditions as much as the fabulous birdlife in the lagoon, the distinctive plants of the saltmarsh or the delicious crabs and fish that end up on our plates. Both history and science tell us that the fate of Venice is intertwined with the lagoon that nourishes us while acting as a kind of buffer from storms in the Adriatic Sea.

The flow of currents and waves in the lagoon are less destructive where there are marshes, shallower waters and meandering channels compared to areas with open water and broad, straight, deep shipping canals. Heavy infrastructure interventions over the past century, shipping and the way the system has been (mis)managed have resulted in very obvious physical challenges for the “water-city” in addition to the inevitable consequences due to global climate change of generalised sea level rise and more frequent extreme weather events.

Everyone can picture the occasional floods that make Venice front page news while chronically higher water levels are consuming the fabric of the city by permeating the brickwork of canal banks and palaces. This is exacerbated by boat traffic — propeller action and waves wash away the cement and mortar holding stones and bricks together — and this intensifies with mass tourism that brings large groups for quick visits, demanding frequent deliveries and producing enormous volumes of waste and washing…

Venice is drowning from below and being suffocated from above with something like 30 million visitors per year. The associated demands on the city’s delicate infrastructure are completely out of scale and threaten the survival of the city. The sight of cruiseship skyscrapers is as incongruous as the juggernaut delivery boats in tiny canals that supply the tourist industry and bump against gondolas and crumbling palazzi. 

Development of our long term vision is being blocked by the short-sighted interests of the grab and run economy. More should be done to formulate a strategy for the future of Venice, considering its residents and all the world who loves it. This means making the overlap broader between how Venetians live and what visitors to the city are offered.

Venice isn’t alone in its problems: many of these issues are shared by cities elsewhere. Vivienne’s support for Venice is also important for the world. “Venice is a magnificent mirror on the world” — a source of inspiration and a microcosm of many of the most important global challenges. 

By Jane da Mosto, co-founder We are here Venice. For more information on how to save Venice head to the website www.weareherevenice.org 

Photography by Anna Zemella and Steven Varni.