Italy Bans Mega Cruises In The Heart Of Venice, But It’s Not Enough To Save It From Collapse

Large cruise ships and freighters will not be able to cross the historic center of Venice. The Italian Government has issued the ban to save the Lagoon from destruction. The decree was approved this Wednesday, after a public consultation on the construction of a new terminal outside the center. Neighbors have decided that large vessels, such as cruise ships of more than 40,000 tons, dock far from the Laguna. From now on, and when the tourist flow reactivates, they will stop passing in front of San Marcos Square. The Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, recalled the photographs that have gone around the world, with those giant boats, “hundreds of meters long and as tall as apartment buildings”, passing too close to very fragile places. Venice was, before the coronavirus pandemic, among the main tourist places in Italy: it attracted more than 25 million visitors a year.

The danger posed by the passage of large ships through the heart of the city was denounced by UNESCO in 2015. The international organization warned of the need to alleviate the San Marcos basin and the Guidecca canal for cruise ships and the authorities were complained to. that urgently displace maritime traffic to other places. But they did not meet the demand. In March 2020, UNESCO published a lengthy report entitled ‘Venice Tourism Territorial Governance Project’, noting that “crucial issues, posing a significant threat” to its exceptional heritage, remained unresolved, which should be resolved as soon as possible. before.

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The problem had been detected for a long time and UNESCO regretted that Italy did not act to preserve the heritage environment. Banning is an important step, but is it enough to ward off the threat of destruction? No, as UNESCO strongly indicates. The mission in charge of the study and analysis of the situation in Venice and its Lagoon considered that so far the two most serious threats had not been addressed: tourism and the expulsion of residents that has caused the tourist overcrowding. In fact, it was warned that the salvation of the heritage of the city of the canals passes through the “necessary decrease in the number of visitors.”

“The exuberance of mass tourism, which has been a problem for many decades, has a very significant negative impact on heritage and its effects are generating complex problems in many fields. This problem has already resulted in a significant loss of historical authenticity, as well as the loss of cultural significance due to the basic change in the use of public and private houses in urban areas “, explained the specialists in the UNESCO report. And they were blunt in their conclusion: “Given that the current number of visitors represents a threat to the heritage value, the number of tourists must decrease substantially.”

The expulsion of residents, added from UNESCO, is also a phenomenon that has been identified as a threat to maintain a balanced urban life in the future. The ratio between the number of residents and the number of tourists has become “extremely disproportionate”: they barely exceed 50,000 residents, while each year, before COVID-19, the number of visits grew at a rate of 5.5% . The international organization recognizes the essential value of the local inhabitants of Venice and the islands of the Lagoon to protect the heritage value of the places declared Heritage of Humanity. It calls on the Italian government to support residents by “providing affordable housing, promoting employment and securing infrastructure to ensure that their number increases again,” they say. Venice is not a theme park.

The mayor’s office informed the UNESCO mission of the landing tax, which should have been introduced in July 2020. Tourists will pay their share of the maintenance of public services: six euros to enter and a reduced rate of three euros on days with less influx. For the most critical days of visits, it will be raised to a maximum of ten euros. However, the report clarified that the mayor’s office does not see the very high number of visitors as a threat.

UNESCO considers that the number of tourists in Venice far exceeds the capacity that the city can handle. “It has a destructive impact on the historic urban fabrics, on the environment of the Laguna and on the social and cultural identities of its inhabitants. It also makes the region’s economy unbalanced and vulnerable,” adds the international body. “The strategies are not aimed at significantly reducing the total number of visits,” UNESCO explained. The benefits perceived by tourism “prevent the development of more efficient and drastic measures of this problem.”

In addition, the absence of a management plan in the face of the challenges of coordination between the multiple governmental and private institutions involved in conservation and tourism, is another of the greatest threats to the heritage environment. The UNESCO mission found that the mayor of Venice “lacks the power and authority to coordinate the activities in an efficient manner necessary for its protection.” In short, UNESCO calls for Italy to be much more effective and build a solid framework to address the multiple issues that impact Venice’s sustainability.

To all these problems, it must be added that the lack of financing of public aid to implement the objectives of the Venice Special Law has had a very negative impact on the state of conservation of the city and on the properties classified as World Heritage. UNESCO denounces that the State came to contribute a maximum of 258 million euros to this law in 1997. But since that year it has been continuously decreasing until reaching zero for several years. In 2018 the aid amounted to 18 million euros and in 2019, to 36 million euros. This drastic decrease is due to the fact that the financial capacity was used to build the MoSE project (a barrier system designed to protect the city and its lagoon from the tidal phenomenon, known as acqua alta) for years. The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, considers that 150 million euros would be the necessary and adequate amount.

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