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Italia Nostra opposes the huge dam system proposed for Venice and its Lagoon. First, for a central principle: if the Lagoon's environmental imbalance is a cause of flooding in Venice, and this has to be addressed before considering a Pharaonic project that could aggravate the problem.

In addition to this fundamental objection, Italia Nostra has dozens of reasons for opposing this costly project, commonly called the "Mo.S.E.", that failed its environmental impact assessment. Two dozen, in fact.

Environmental impacts

1. To anchor the huge dams on the sea bed, the construction companies would excavate about five million cubic metres of sediment, including parts of the hard layer of clay on which Venice itself rests.

2. Into the huge cavities to be dug in the Lagoon, the builders would then dump over 12,000 cement piles, over eight million tons of rock (enough to build the Great Pyramids at Giza!) for the foundations of their dams. They would also sink 50,000 tons of sheet metal for the underwater dams.

3. Just for construction, a further 10 hectares (25 acres) of Lagoon would be exacavated.

4. A huge flotilla of barges and ships will be necessary to remove the excavated material and bring in the rock, cement and metal.

5. The Lido outlet would be transformed with the creation of an artificial island, 9 hectares (22 acres) in size, for buildings and workshops, as well as a 20 metre (60 foot) high smokestack.

6. The coastline would be devastated at Ca'Roman, whose beaches are protected as a natural area under EU law.

7. Before the dams actually start operation, Venetians will have to undergo at least eight years of construction with high environmental impacts (for example, the sediment released to the Lagoon's waters could devastate shellfish harvested.)

8. When the dams are completed, anodes to protect their huge metals gates will release about 10 tons of zinc into the Lagoon each year. The toxic metal could accumulate in the food chain.

Costs

9. Construction will cost an estimated 3.7 billion Euros. In comparison, restoring the Lagoon's environmental balance would cost little.

10. Maintenance and operation of the dams will cost millions more each year. For example, up to 35 kilos (75 pounds) of molluscs and other animals and plants will encrust each square metre of metal gate. These will need regular cleaning. Moreover, every five years, each gate will need to be removed. The Lagoon will be become a permanent building site.

Will it be effective?

11. The colossal dams will render permanent the Lagoon's environmental imbalance: the deep channels dredged in the last century through its outlets will become concrete. The erosion that is now eating away the Lagoon's precious wetlands would become permanent, and this rich coastal lagoon, protected by European law, would be transformed into an area of open sea.

12. The dams may not even protect Venice! In the case of significant sea-level rise - 50 cm (20 inches) or more - according to scientists such as Paolo Antonio Pirazzoli, they will not be effective.

13. The dams may not protect Venice in the case of exceptional events, such as the devastating 1966 flood. Water would steadily pass between the individual gates. Moreover, torrential rains on the mainland would also pour into the Lagoon, as in 1966.

14. Another risk is that oscillation of the individual gates in the face of heavy seas would allow through more water and may in extreme cases result in a complete breakdown of the system.

15. For smaller flooding events, on the other hand, the dams would not be used. At present, the dams would be raised only for the highest tides (those +110 cm above median sea level). In 2002, low-lying areas of Venice, in particular St. Mark's Square, were repeatedly flooded by these lesser events.

16. Italy's environmental impact commission also warned that the maintenance of this huge, underwater structure could face unexpected difficulties.

Legal issues

17. Italy's special laws for Venice call for the restoration of the Lagoon's environmental balance, the elimination of petrol tankers and the opening of the fishing valleys - before building any dam structure. Italy's cabinet reaffirmed these priorities in March 2001. None of these has happened.

18. The special laws also call for public works that are testable, reversible and gradual. The huge dam project has none of these characteristics: it will be a rigid system, cemented permanently into the Lagoon bed.

19. The national Environmental Impact Assessment Commission gave the dam project a negative assessment in 1998 (legal maneuvres invalidated the subsequent formal Minister's decree - but not the assessment itself). The dam builders are starting construction on initial, "complementary" works, approved only by a regional commission. Italia Nostra argues - in court - that only the National Commission can approve these works.

The monopoly problem

20. The dams' builders, the New Venice Consortium, hold an - essentially a form of monopoly - on studying, designing and building public works in the Lagoon of Venice. Private companies have a natural and legitimate interest to compete and make profits in the marketplace. Major public policy decisions, however, need good government and transparency to ensure that the public good is protect. For large public works, both design and construction should be open to competitive bidding (under EU and even Italian law). For complex works, design and construction may be combined - but again with open competition. In Venice, the "exclusive concessionaire" has never faced competition. Moreover, the builders were also in charge of most preliminary scientific and technical studies, which could have been used to develop and evaluate alternative approaches.

21. The builders dominate public information about flooding in Venice. Their information centre, press office and high-quality videos and materials present beautiful images of the dam project with hardly any discussion of its impacts and risks.

Missing studies

22. The national Environmental Impact Assessment Commission identified a series of important issues that need to be studied. These include: predicting exceptional tide events; assessing environmental risks; studying the sediment layers to be excavated; and reviewing the changes in the Lagoon's dynamics the dams would create.

The wrong approach

23. The Lagoon, goes an ancient saying in Venice, has a thousand names. Italy's National Environmental Impact Assessment Commission warned that Venice can not be protected without "complex management of the Lagoon system". This "system" includes the city itself, surrounding islands, salt marshes and other key ecosystems, as well as the mainland area whose waters flow into the Lagoon. It needs "an articulated union of works and actions" that are testable, reversible and gradual, according to the Commission. Instead, the dams try to address the problem of high tides with one single, huge project.

24. For centuries, Venice and Venetians have intervened in the Lagoon with extreme prudence. All works were extensively tested and discussed. Today, this prudence and the underlying respect for the complexity of an exceptional ecosystem are as indispensible as ever.

Here the original text in the site of Italia Nostra - sezione di Venezia

The Lagoon of Venice has lost its natural balance.

The deep shipping channels dredged through the Lagoon are a key problem. In the early 1800s, the Lagoon's outlets to the Adriatic Sea were at most 4.5 metres (about 14 feet) deep. The Lagoon itself was shallow - under 1 metre (3 feet) deep on average. These depths preserved a natural balanced and were fine for sailing ships and fishing boats - not for a modern port. The construction of long jetties at each outlet in the late 1800s blocked sediment and created deeper passages (the three outlets are visible to the right of and below Venice in the satellite photo). The major damage came, however, with the dredging of deep ship channels in the 20th century: the oil tanker channel, dug in the 1960s, now cuts across the Lagoon like a wound, 14.5 metres (about 45 feet) deep.

The result? High tides - once partially blocked by the outlets - now enter the Lagoon quickly. On top of sea-level rise and other problems, this means that Venice floods more quickly and more often.

The deep channels also create strong currents that erode natural features such as salt marshes in the Lagoon, one of the Mediterranean's most largest wetlands and an important way-station for migrating birds.

A further problem is that large areas of the Lagoon have been filled in - for example, to create the industrial zone at Porto Marghera. Other areas have been closed to tides, in particular the once-public (now privately run) "fishing valleys". As a result, the Lagoon has 15 square kilometres (6 square miles) less area for high tides to expand, and flooding in Venice is worse.

For decades, politicians and planners strived to "modernise" Venice without paying attention to its environment. To reduce flooding in Venice, the Lagoon's environmental balance need to addressed first.

Here the original text in the site of Italia Nostra - sezione di Venezia

There are alternatives to the huge and costly dams. These alternatives not only can protect Venice, but also can restore the Lagoon's equilibrium. We provide an outline of key measures that need to be taken.

An action plan to protect Venice...At the Lagoon's three outlets to the sea:

Reduce the depth and cross-section of the Lagoon's outlets with flexible, reversible methods. Reduce also the depth of the shipping channels that cut through the Lagoon, in particular the oil tanker channel to Marghera. Recent studies have shown that these measures would significantly cut flooding in Venice - a fact that the Consortium behind the dams has finally admitted.

Remove oil tanker traffic from the Lagoon, and construct an outer port alongside the Lido island for the largest cruise ships - as already built in Monte Carlo. The huge tankers and cruise ships would not enter through the shallower channels. These measures are also important in and of themselves. Already in 1973, an Italian law calls for the removal of oil tankers from the fragile Lagoon! And the huge cruise ships that now pass St. Mark's Square dwarf the city and risk eroding its foundations.

Build new jetties outside the Lagoon to block the southern winds that create tide surges.

Develop compatible projects to close the Lagoon's outlets in the event of extreme surges. The Venice City Council recently reviewed a proposal called ARCA, which effectively reverses the Consortium's dams and their heavy environmental impacts: instead of gates in huge underwater foundations, ARCA proposes floating structures that can be filled with water and sunk in place when needed.

Study future methods of coastal protection in case of severe sea-level rise.

And throughout the Lagoon and surrounding areas:

Continue and expand local measures against flooding, such as ongoing work to raise streets in Venice. Most important is the protection of St. Mark's Square, one of Venice's lowest points.

Prohibit natural gas extraction in the upper Adriatic and its risk of further subsidence (falling land levels).

Re-open the "fishing valleys" to the tides (though preserving their fish farming), as well as other areas. This would allow exceptional tides to expand further in the Lagoon, reducing flooding in Venice.

Reduce risks of flooding on the mainland - in heavy rains, flood waters can flow into the Lagoon and towards Venice.

Protect and recover the Lagoon's eroded salt marshes with environmental engineering techniques, instead the coarse methods historically used by the Consortium. A 1999 LIFE Project, financed by the European Commission, tested techniques for salt marsh recovery.

Reduce motorboat traffic, whose waves and screw wash erode salt marshes (as well as Venice's foundations).

Cut water pollution in the Lagoon. The deep channels and strong currents have had one positive effect, flushing heavy pollution out of the Lagoon. Along with healing these deep cuts and restoring the Lagoon's equilibrium, pollution to the Lagoon (from industry, urban centres and intensive agriculture) has to be reduced.

Expand monitoring in the Lagoon and throughout the upper Adriatic to track sea-level rise.

Renew experiments to raise Venice and the islands of the Lagoon, following earlier tests on the island of Poveglia.

The equilibrium between sea and Lagoon, between land and water and between fresh and salt water "is the reason that the environmental and human mosaic that defines the Lagoon itself has survived", according to Italy's National Environmental Impact Commission. The Commission concluded that this equilibrium can only be guaranteed with an "articulated system of works and actions" that are testable, reversible and gradual, as Italy's laws for Venice require.

Here the original text in the site of Italia Nostra - sezione di Venezia

Two threats hang over Venice. The first comes from inside: the city’s crawling transformation into a chaotic “Disneyland”. The second comes from outside: it is represented by the “MoSE”, a huge dam project whose foundation stone was laid by Mr. Berlusconi (who else?) some weeks ago.

The MoSE (from Experimental Electromechanical Module) is a very “hard” and gigantic system of mobile barrages (they entail huge permanent installations) to block water at the three outlets between the Lagoon of Venice and the sea (the bocche di porto). The Lagoon’s environmental equilibrium depends on the exchange of sea and brackish water through these outlets. This includes the equilibrium of the waters, of vegetation, and of fauna in this precious natural environment. The MoSE would automatically block the access of seawater when tidal surges threaten to flood some of the city’s inhabited areas.

Why is this system judged by many to be of uncertain utility, harmful for the activity of Venice’s port (one of the main economic resources of the city) and devastating for the ecological equilibrium of the lagoon? In short, why do many consider the “MoSE” to be a “Mo(n)S(t)E(r)”. We will try to explain.

The problem: “Acque Alte”

Venice was built on low islands and sandbanks in the middle of a rich coastal lagoon. For over 1,000 years storm surges have washed exceptional high tides into Venice’s squares and alleys. Venetians call them acque alte – high waters – and, typically, they last two to three hours at a time.

In November 1966 pounding rain and an exceptional wind-swept tide flooded nearly all the city streets for 24 hours. The storm focused world attention on Venice. The reason? Venice had “sunk”.

Since the early 1920s mainland factories have tapped underground freshwater, depressing the land under Venice in the process. By the time pumping was finally stopped in the 1970s, Venice had sunk by about 12 centimeters (almost five inches) – a small but important altitude change for a sea-level city.

In addition, deep shipping channels were dredged through the lagoon’s three inlets to transport raw materials – including crude oil for a neighboring petrochemical complex. The deeper channels brought stronger currents, speeding the Adriatic’s high tides towards Venice, exacerbating flooding and eroding the lagoon’s salt marshes.

And, the final nail, the northern Adriatic has risen by about 10 centimeters over the past century.

Today waters wash across St Mark’s Square – Venice’s lowest point – 50 or more times a year. Heavier storm surges now flood higher sections of Venice, too, forcing residents to don waterproof boots to reach their offices and schools.

The “Consorzio Venezia Nuova”

The November 1966 event led to a far-sighted 1973 law to protect Venice, much discussion, and limited action. In the early 1980s, a new organization was created: the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (the New Venice Consortium), uniting private and state-owned companies vying for what promised to be fat public works contracts to protect the city.

The Italian government soon named the New Venice Consortium its ‘exclusive concessionaire’ for public works to safeguard Venice. This means that the consortium essentially holds a monopoly on state-funded work to ‘save’ Venice and protect its lagoon, for everything from strategic planning to research, project design and construction. And since 1984 the Italian government has provided the consortium with over two billion Euros to study the lagoon’s ecology and hydrology, rebuild sea walls along the lagoon’s barrier islands, restore salt marshes and much more. All without any competitive bidding.

Of course, the great prize is the “MoSE”, the system of dams that the Consortium designed and now wants to build. To stop the flooding, Consorzio Venezia Nuova (the New Venice Consortium) has proposed a gigantic dam system: a line of 78 huge metal containers – each at least 20 by 20 metres in size – nestled in underwater foundations stretching across the three inlets between the Adriatic and the lagoon (each inlet is up to half a kilometre wide). For most of the time the hollow containers would be filled with water. To stop a storm surge from the Adriatic, air would be pumped into the containers – causing them to rise like enormous teeth across the inlets.

Look here to understand better what Mo.S.E. is Ú

Money and Power

Behind the Consortium (holding 40 per cent of its shares), is Impregilo – a Milan-based construction giant that builds dams, highways and power plants in over 40 countries.

The supervision of the concessionaire provided by the national government’s office in Venice (the Magistrato alle Acque), has been weak at best. The Consortium rather than the Magistrato holds nearly all the technical capacity and knowledge. Indeed, the Magistrato has hardly ever made a public proposal that differs from the Consortium’s position.

The Consortium and its allies are masters at PR. One little event can help to understand how they are able to employ the resources provided by the Italian Government to overcome all, even official, opposition to their “MoSE” project. In December 1998, Italy’s national Environmental Impact Assessment Commission failed the “MoSE” project. The next month, four professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) flew to Rome and held a press conference criticizing the decision. The dams, they said, were the best solution for Venice. They spoke, the Italian press reported, for MIT and for the ‘international scientific community’. Few papers noted that they were paid consultants to the consortium.

With its powerful, legally sanctioned role and its combination of PR savvy, technical expertise and political connections, the consortium has pushed its dam project steadily – like a steamroller.

Attempts to reform the state’s curious institutional structure in Venice have come to naught. For example, a 1995 law ended the system of exclusive concessionaire. The Italian Senate the next year passed a resolution calling on the government to carry out this law immediately. Nothing happened. Nor has Italy’s government created an independent strategic planning office for Venice and its lagoon, despite official decisions to do so.

Even European law has been interpreted in unexpected ways. Responding to the Green Party and Italy’s leading environmental group Italia Nostra in 1999, the European Commission opened an investigation into whether EU directives requiring competitive bidding for government contracts had been violated. Brussels initially took a hard line. But two years later the commission closed the case, accepting a proposal from the Italian government: components of the dam project (perhaps worth half its total value) would be open for bidding, but the bidding would be organized not by the government but the Consortium. Thus, the concessionaire was given even more power.

Why we call it “A Dangerous Monster”

To understand why we call the Mo.S.E. “A Dangerous Monster”, we must note that the equilibrium of the lagoon has depended for centuries on daily work to manage its numerous elements (the length and depth of the thousands of canals, characteristics of the vegetation, defence of the coastline, extension of the brackish basin, level of sediment supplied by the rivers).

This human intervention has for centuries protected and maintained a precious natural environment. Only thanks to this control has it been possible to defend the lagoon from the two natural destinies it could face: to become a swamp and eventually mainland, if the sediment flows were to prevail, or to become an open bay, if the force of the sea was to prevail.

Only a modern systemic vision allows us to preserve that equilibrium today. The solution to the exceptionally high tides (acque alte) is closely connected. As noted above, these acque alte have become steadily more aggressive as a consequence of several factors:

- the (now ceased) extraction of underground waters for industrial purposes in the Marghera industrial plants;

the reduction of the area where the tide can expand (caused by filling in parts of the Lagoon and the closure of fishing areas to the tides);

- the gigantic increase in the cross-section of shipping channels, allowing high tides to rush towards the city (in particular through the oil tanker); and finally

- a rise in the sea level (due to the global climatic events).

In the debate over the “MoSE”, local political forces concerned about the environment and interested in a sustainable development are opposed to those interests seeking economic opportunities linked to the public works. This debate can be summarized in the contrast between two projects: the MoSE and a low-impact alternative that has never been considered at official level.

Very schematically, the alternative approach has as its primary aim re-balancing the complex system of the lagoon, by acting on the whole set of elements that compose it. In a recent document (see in Annex) the main lines of the project include:

1. Reducing the depth, width and wind exposure of the Lagoon's three outlets to the sea. These measures can be compatible with current port traffic, and they would be experimental, gradual and reversible.

2 Completing work to raise the lowest parts of the city. The Venice City Administration is now systematically raising low points of the city as it undertakes urban maintenance, By raising and protecting low areas such as St. Mark’s Square, high-water flooding events could occur an average of less than 4 times a year, in most cases for only a limited duration and for only a small part of the city.

Together, these two first types of actions would reduce current flooding events to an average of only once every five years.

3 Removing oil tanker traffic from the Lagoon - as specified under Italy's 1973 special law for Venice - and building a dock along the Lido, outside the Lagoon, for the largest cruise ships that visit Venice would allow a further reduction in the depth of outlets and of shipping channels, eliminate additional flooding events, and help restore the Lagoon's environmental equilibrium.

Other vital actions are needed to protect this World Heritage Site: the Lagoon's morphology and its hydrodynamics need to be restored, water pollution in the Lagoon and its water basin should be reduced, and the production and movement of dangerous goods in the Lagoon should be stopped. (from the Appeal to UNESCO by the Committee to Save Venice with its Lagoon – see Annex.)

The official project (Mo.S.E.) proposes a heavy engineering approach that is pharaonically expensive, of uncertain effectiveness, potentially very harmful for the relevant elements of the ecosystem of the lagoon (and for its whole equilibrium) and irreversible.

But let us look a little closer at this “Mo(n)S(t)E(r)”.

What the Consortium does not mention

The political and PR power of the New Venice Consortium has heavily conditioned all the information about the Mo.S.E.. A propaganda campaign has convinced Italian and international public opinion that the Mo.S.E. is necessary to save Venice. But the Consortium’s propaganda omits some basic information.

1 The proposed dams failed their official environmental impact review in 1998.

2 The consortium wants to dredge about five million cubic meters of the Lagoon’s bed and dump almost eight million tons of rock and 700,000 tons of concrete in its place: altogether, enough material to build the three great Egyptian pyramids at Giza! At the Lido inlet, the consortium wants to build a new, artificial island. Over 50,000 tons of sheet metal would be submerged in the form of the container-shaped gates.

3 During long closures the dams could bottle up industrial and agricultural pollution in the lagoon, which is now flushed by the regular tides. The city also lacks modern sewage treatment. The 1998 review noted that predicting exceptional high tides is an uncertain business. The dams may need to be raised following many false alarms, thus increasing pollution risks.

4 Anodes to protect the metal gates from sea-water corrosion would release over 10 tons of zinc into the lagoon a year. The toxic metal could accumulate in the food chain.

5 The consortium’s project ignores a fundamental cause of flooding in Venice – the deep shipping channels through the lagoon’s inlets. The consortium wants to open them even further, replacing their current V shapes with straight cuts across the full width of each inlet. This, warns Paolo Perlasca of WWF/Italy’s Venice office, risks accelerating erosion in the lagoon and endangering its remaining salt marshes and mud flats, which are protected (at least on paper) by the European Union’s Habitats Directive.

6 The dams would be expensive to build. The consortium estimates total costs at over three billion Euros, but critics warn that the never-before-built system could cost far more.

7 After construction, the Consortium could then reap millions of dollars a year for their operation and maintenance. These costs are also extremely difficult to estimate, as the underwater structure would face ongoing corrosion and encrustation and would require extensive maintenance.

8 The dams may not even protect Venice from flooding. Global warming and sea-level rise could make them obsolete within a few decades. Renowned Venetian climate change scientist Paolo Antonio Pirazzoli writes that the dams ‘could hardly cope with a relative sea-level rise much greater than about 0.3 meters’. In its 2001 report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives as its most likely estimate for 2100 a 0.48-metre sea rise. The UN’s worst-case scenario forecasts this rise occurring within a few decades. Pirazzoli also predicts that water would pass between the dams’ containers, which would be an important factor during long closures. Also, in Venice’s worst flooding (as in 1966) torrential rains and swollen rivers add to the rising tides.

No hope?

Business and politics in Italy have become in the last years two faces of the same coin. The prime minister is the country’s richest man and owner of a sprawling media empire that includes three national TV networks. Berlusconi’s government has shown little interest in the environment: last October, his environment minister sacked 23 of the 40 members of the national environmental impact commission. The government appears to have wiped negative impact assessment of the “MoSE” from its memory.

Last year the new government allocated 450 million Euros for the first tranche of the dam project: a series of ‘complementary works’, including shipping locks to appease the Port of Venice (the only major economic interest with reservations about the scheme). Berlusconi has cut all other national money for Venice: all its funds for architectural restoration, for the city’s unique maintenance needs, and more.

Flooding is not Venice’s only environmental crisis. The nearby petrochemical complex is a highly polluting time bomb. In November, a toxic fire there nearly engulfed storage tanks containing deadly phosgene gas. In addition, mechanical clam-fishing techniques are destroying the ecology of the lagoon’s shallows. And motorboats bringing tourists and cargo through the city erode the canal walls – the foundations of Venice’s palaces. All these problems need public funds to help find solutions.

In Venice opposition to the dams continues. In September 2002 both the city and the provincial councils voted against the ‘complementary works’. In December an environmental alliance called Salvare Venezia con la Laguna (Save Venice with its Lagoon) presented its strategy to restore the lagoon’s equilibrium. Unlike the consortium’s risky surgery, the environmental proposal targeted Venice’s underlying illness. And in January 2003, political parties in the city sponsored public debates on the dams and possible alternatives – alternatives that the national government ignored when it approved the “MoSE” later this year.

What Venice needs, wrote US scientists Albert Ammerman and Charles McClennan in the journal Science two years ago, is ‘fresh thinking in the search for new, alternative solutions’. In Rome’s halls of power, however, there’s only one official project.

But time is running out: in April 2003, Italy’s national government gavea final go-ahead to the dams, and Berlusconi himself went in Venice to inaugurate what he called the beginning ofconstruction. Must we conclude that “ tout les jeux sont faits ”? I don’t think so. The Consortium will be busy for a couple of years building preliminary works – not the dams themselves.

If all those who oppose the Mo. S. E. and all those that have doubts about its utility couldexplain to international public opinion the real dimensions of the problem, perhaps we could stop this project that threatens to cancel the Lagoon of Venice and its environment, not less precious than the city’s stones, palaces and campi. This is our hope.

(This paper is based on an earlier article, “Death of Venice”,

by Anthony Zamparutti, The Ecologist, London, March 2003.)

AppendixSave Venice Through Effective and Sustainable Alternativesto the "Mose" Project

This Appeal to Unesco was promoted from the “Committee to Save Venezia with its Lagoon”. The following groups support the Committee: Wwf-Italia, Italia Nostra, Verdi Ambiente Società, Sinistra Ecologista, Medicina Democratica, Camera del Lavoro Metropolitana di Venezia-Cgil, Associazione Airis, Associazione Bortolozzo, Associazione Batteria Rochetta e Dintorni, Associazione per la Difesa dei Murazzi Circolo Margaret Thatcher, Comitato Certosa-Sant'andrea Ecoistituto "Alex Langer" Del Veneto Estuario Nostro; Gruppo per la Difesa del Litorale – Cavallino, Gruppo Salvaguardia Ambiente "La Salsola".

We present this appeal about the grave risk facing Venice and its Lagoon to the leaders gathered here in Venice on the 30'` anniversary of UNESCO's World Heritage Convention.

Italian special laws protect this World Heritage Site, comprised of Venice jointly with its Lagoon.

Over nearly 20 years, however, the capacity of the Italian State to manage and protect Venice and its Lagoon has been steadily weakened. Since 1984, the Italian government has delegated all state actions - from studies and research to project design and construction - to a single, exclusive, private concessionaire, the Consorzio Venezia Nuova. Thus far, this Consortium has received 2.5 billion Euros of public money for such works. The Consortium has proposed a colossal system, commonly called "MoSE": three mobile dams across the Lagoon's three outlets to the sea to counter high-water flooding in Venice.

Italy's National Environmental Impact Assessment Commission, whose review was required under law, gave the dams a negative judgement. The entire project is unsustainable and obsolete:

• Both its construction and maintenance would have heavy and permanent impacts on the Lagoon.

• It is neither experimental, nor gradual, nor reversible - key requirements under Italy's special' laws for Venice - and thus does not respect the precautionary principle.

• The project is not able to respond to fast-rising high waters (unless there are frequent "false closures" - i.e., the mobiles dams are often shut for false alarms).

• The project will not defend Venice from flooding in the event of worst-case scenarios for sealevel rise caused by global climate change.

The "MoSE" is presented as a project that will "save" the city from high water flooding, a message broadcast at international level with expensive public relations. The Italian government appears ready to build this obsolete design, whose negative impacts have been increased by the recent addition of "complementary structures", including shipping locks. The national government, in its 2003 budget, proposes 600 million Euros for the first phase of the "MoSE" project, but earmarked nothing for other essential protection measures in Venice - such as the architectural restoration of the city, pollution control and environmental re-equilibrium of the Lagoon, and alternative measures to reduce flooding.

In September of this year, the Venice City Council and the Venice Provincial Council both voted a negative assessment on the initial, "complementary structures" of the MoSE, specifically the shipping locks. Both Councils called for the design and construction of alternative works, independent of the "MoSE", to increase effectively the "dissipative capacity" of the Lagoon's three outlets and thus to reduce high tide peaks.

Indeed, effective and sustainable alternatives exist to defend the city now from most flooding and help return the Lagoon to environmental equilibrium. Among actions to be taken immediately:

1. Reducing the depth, width and wind exposure of the Lagoon's three outlets to the sea. By eliminating the majority of flooding events. These measures can be compatible with current port traffic, and they would be experimental, gradual and reversible.

2 Complete work to raise the lowest parts of the city. Venice lies between +80 and +200 cm above the mean sea lever mark. The Venice City Administration is now systematically raising low points of the city as it undertakes urban maintenance.

Protecting St. Mark's Square, the lowest part of the city and thus the most exposed to flooding, is slightly more complicated. Now at last, the separate work to raise the borders of the St. Mark's area will begin.

By raising and protecting low areas to +110 cm above the mean sea level mark, high-water flooding events would occur an average of less than 4 times a year, in most cases for only a small part of the city. Raising and protecting them to +120 cm will cut flooding to an average of only 1.5 times a year, for a total duration of little more than 2 hours a year.

Together, these two types of actions would reduce current flooding events to an average of only once every five years.

3 Removing oil tanker traffic from the Lagoon - as specified under Italy's 1973 special law for Venice - and building a dock along the Lido, outside the Lagoon, for the largest cruise ships that visit Venice would allow a further reduction in the depth of outlets and of shipping channels, eliminate additional flooding events, and help restore the Lagoon's environmental equilibrium.

Other vital actions are needed to protect this World Heritage Site: the Lagoon's morphology and its hydrodynamics need to be restored, water pollution in the Lagoon and its water basin should be reduced, and the production and movement of dangerous goods in the Lagoon should be stopped.

Once all these actions are taken to protect the city and its Lagoon, together with the sea defense system already built along the Lagoon's outer coast, an effective, environmentally compatible, and affordable system to protect Venice will be in place. Following- this, an appropriate project to protect against sea-level rise could be realized.

Venice jointly with its Lagoon is a unique part of the world's common heritage. They deserve the most sustainable strategies for protection and restoration.

Comitato "Salvare Venezia con la Laguna"

The Lagoon of Venice has lost its natural balance.

The deep shipping channels dredged through the Lagoon are a key problem. In the early 1800s, the Lagoon's outlets to the Adriatic Sea were at most 4.5 metres (about 14 feet) deep. The Lagoon itself was shallow - under 1 metre (3 feet) deep on average. These depths preserved a natural balanced and were fine for sailing ships and fishing boats - not for a modern port. The construction of long jetties at each outlet in the late 1800s blocked sediment and created deeper passages (the three outlets are visible to the right of and below Venice in the satellite photo). The major damage came, however, with the dredging of deep ship channels in the 20th century: the oil tanker channel, dug in the 1960s, now cuts across the Lagoon like a wound, 14.5 metres (about 45 feet) deep.

The result? High tides - once partially blocked by the outlets - now enter the Lagoon quickly. On top of sea-level rise and other problems, this means that Venice floods more quickly and more often.

The deep channels also create strong currents that erode natural features such as salt marshes in the Lagoon, one of the Mediterranean's most largest wetlands and an important way-station for migrating birds.

A further problem is that large areas of the Lagoon have been filled in - for example, to create the industrial zone at Porto Marghera. Other areas have been closed to tides, in particular the once-public (now privately run) "fishing valleys". As a result, the Lagoon has 15 square kilometres (6 square miles) less area for high tides to expand, and flooding in Venice is worse.

For decades, politicians and planners strived to "modernise" Venice without paying attention to its environment. To reduce flooding in Venice, the Lagoon's environmental balance need to addressed first.

vai al testo in italiano

Look also at:

Italia Nostra VE: We Oppose the Dam System

Italia Nostra VE: Valid Alternatives Exist

The MoSE: a presentation in powerpoint

A dangerous Monster in the Lagoon

VIA: Why MoSE is not good (in Italian)

“This month a construction consortium will start pouring millions of tons of rock and cement into the Venice Lagoon – one of the Mediterranean’s most important wetlands. The consortium claims the dam project will 'save' the city from flooding. But the project failed its environmental impact assessment, threatens the ecology of the lagoon and – with global warming and rising sea-levels – may not even protect Venice anyway. Tony Zamparutti reports from Italy”Venice was built on low islands and sandbanks in the middle of a rich coastal lagoon. For over 1,000 years storm surges have washed exceptional high tides into Venice’s squares and alleys. Venetians call them acque alte – high waters – and, typically, they last two to three hours at a time. In November 1966, however, pounding rain and an exceptional wind-swept tide flooded nearly all the city streets for 24 hours. The storm focused world attention on Venice. The reason? Venice had 'sunk'. Since the early 1920s mainland factories have tapped underground freshwater, depressing the land under Venice in the process. By the time pumping was finally stopped in the 1970s Venice had sunk by about 12 centimeters (almost five inches) – a small but important altitude change for a sea-level city. In addition, deep shipping channels were dredged through the lagoon’s three inlets to transport raw materials – including crude oil for a neighbouring petrochemical complex. The deeper channels brought stronger currents, speeding the Adriatic’s high tides towards Venice, exacerbating flooding and eroding the lagoon’s salt marshes. And, the final nail, the northern Adriatic has risen by about 10 centimetres over the past century.

Today waters wash across St Mark’s Square – Venice’s best-known landmark and lowest point – 50 or more times a year. Heavier storm surges now flood higher sections of Venice, too, forcing residents to don waterproof boots to reach their offices and schools.

The proposed solution

To stop the flooding, Consorzio Venezia Nuovo (the New Venice Consortium) has proposed a gigantic dam system: a line of 78 huge metal containers – each at least 20 by 20 metres in size – nestled in underwater foundations stretching across the three inlets between the Adriatic and the lagoon (each inlet is up to half a kilometre wide). For most of the time the hollow containers would be filled with water. To stop a storm surge from the Adriatic, air would be pumped into the containers – causing them to rise like enormous teeth across the inlets.

At the consortium’s public information centre in Venice’s Campo Santo Stefano visiting school groups are shown video animations (accompanied by light music) of the blocks rising silently to the surface. As they do so, gulls circle overhead. A dream solution?

What the videos fail to tell you...

The video fails to mention a number of important facts.

1 The proposed dams failed their official environmental impact review in 1998.

2 The consortium wants to dredge about five million cubic metres of the lagoon’s bed and dump almost eight million tons of rock and 700,000 tons of concrete in its place. At the Lido inlet, the consortium wants to build a new, artificial island. Over 50,000 tons of sheet metal would be submerged in the form of the containers.

3 During long closures the dams could bottle up industrial and agricultural pollution in the lagoon, which is now flushed by the regular tides. The city also lacks modern sewage treatment. The 1998 review noted that predicting exceptional high tides is an uncertain business. The dams would need to be raised following many false alarms, thus increasing pollution risks.

4 Anodes to protect the metal gates from sea-water corrosion would release over 10 tons of zinc into the lagoon a year. The toxic metal could accumulate in the food chain.

5 The consortium’s project ignores a fundamental cause of flooding in Venice – the deep shipping channels through the lagoon’s inlets. The consortium wants to open them even further, replacing their current V shapes with straight cuts across the full width of each inlet. This, warns Paolo Perlasca of WWF/Italy’s Venice office, risks accelerating erosion in the lagoon and endangering its remaining salt marshes and mud flats, which are protected (at least on paper) by the European Union’s Habitats Directive.

6 The dams would be expensive to build. The consortium estimates total costs at €3.4 billion. But, as Professor Andreina Zitelli (co-author of the 1998 impact assessment) says, the system has never been tried at full scale. Any cost estimate is highly uncertain. Zitelli says the ‘estimates have changed so many times, they seem to be invented’ to suit the political moment.

7 If the dams are built, the consortium could then reap millions of dollars a year for their operation and maintenance. These costs are also extremely difficult to estimate, as the underwater structure would face ongoing corrosion and encrustation and would require extensive maintenance.

8 The dams may not even protect Venice from flooding. Global warming and sea-level rise could make them obsolete within a few decades. Renowned Venetian climate change scientist Paolo Antonio Pirazzoli writes that the dams ‘could hardly cope with a relative sea-level rise much greater than about 0.3 metres’. In its 2001 report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives as its most likely estimate for 2100 a 0.48-metre sea rise. The UN’s worst-case scenario forecasts this rise occuring within a few decades. Pirazzoli also predicts that water would pass between the dams’ containers, which would be an important factor during long closures. Also, in Venice’s worst flooding (as in 1966) torrential rains and swollen rivers add to the rising tides.

Overall, warns former Green Party senator for Venice Giorgio Sarto, the consortium proposes risky surgery rather than addressing the underlying illness affecting Venice and its lagoon. Moreover, Sarto notes, the project completely ignores a key prescription of Italy’s 1984 special law for Venice. In language that presages the precautionary principle, the law calls for all interventions to be ‘experimental, gradual and reversible’.

So why is Italy’s government investing so much attention – and potentially billions of euros – in what Pirazzoli describes as ‘an obsolete project to save Venice’?

Power behind the consortium

The New Venice Consortium was set up by the Italian government almost 20 years ago as an ‘exclusive concessionaire’ with a mandate to safeguard Venice, and unite private and state-owned companies vying for what promised to be fat public works contracts to protect the city.

As exclusive concessionaire, Sarto explains, the consortium holds a monopoly on state-funded work to ‘save’ Venice and protect its lagoon. This covers everything from strategic planning to research, project design and construction. And since 1984 the Italian government has provided the consortium with £1.6 billion to study the lagoon’s ecology and hydrology, rebuild sea walls along the lagoon’s barrier islands, restore salt marshes and much more besides. All without any competitive bidding.

Behind the consortium (holding 40 per cent of its shares), is Impregilo spa – a Milan-based construction giant that builds dams, highways and power plants in over 40 countries.

The consortium’s strength is further enhanced by powerful political allies. These include Veneto Region president Giancarlo Galan (also a member of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia Party) and Venice’s centre-left mayor Paolo Costa.

The supervision of the concessionaire provided by the national government’s office in Venice (the Magistrato alle Acque), has been weak at best. The consortium rather than the magistrato holds nearly all the technical capacity and knowledge, explains Sarto. The magistrato has hardly ever made a proposal that differs from the consortium’s position. After almost 20 years, Sarto says, that’s ‘a bit curious’. Another critic of the scheme is more colourful: as in a science fiction movie where aliens take over the minds and bodies of humans, ‘if you cut the Magistrato’s fingers, instead of blood the consortium will ooze out’.

But prominent critics are few. In Venice itself, many experts are co-opted. Stefano Boato of local green think-tank Ecoistituto del Veneto notes that the consortium hires specialists in fields from architecture to ecological science to hydraulic engineering. Some contracts go to university labs and departments, others go directly to consultants and professors. For example, in 1999 local newspaper La Nuova Venezia revealed that the consortium had paid Marino Folin, rector of IUAV (one of Venice’s two universities) over 480 million lira (about £170,000) for a feasibility study. It’s all legal, Boato says, but there’s always an element of self-censorship – especially for those who would like their contracts renewed.

The consortium and its allies are masters at PR. In January 1999, a month after Italy’s national Environmental Impact Assessment Commission failed the project, four professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) flew to Rome and held a press conference criticising the decision. The dams, they said, were the best solution for Venice. They spoke, the Italian press reported, for MIT and for the ‘international scientific community’. Few papers noted that they were paid consultants to the consortium.

With its powerful, legally sanctioned role and its combination of PR savvy, technical expertise and political connections, the consortium has pushed its dam project steadily – like a steamroller.

Attempts to reform the state’s curious institutional structure in Venice have come to naught. For example, a 1995 law ended the system of exclusive concessionaire. Sarto recounts that the following year, the senate passed his resolution calling on the government to carry out this law immediately. Nothing happened. Nor has Italy’s government created an independent strategic planning office for Venice and its lagoon, despite official decisions to do so.

Even European law has been interpreted in unexpected ways. Responding to the Green Party and Italy’s leading environmental group Italia Nostra in 1999, the European Commission opened an investigation into whether EU directives requiring competitive bidding for government contracts had been violated. Brussels initially took a hard line, Sarto says. But two years later the commission closed the case, accepting a proposal from the Italian government: components of the dam project (perhaps worth half its total value) would be open for bidding, but the bidding would be organised not by the government but the consortium. Thus, Sarto says, the concessionaire was given even more power.

Stage right… Berlusconi

Since the re-election of Berlusconi in April 2001, business and politics in Italy have become two faces of the same coin. The prime minister is the country’s richest man and owner of a sprawling media empire that includes three national TV networks. Berlusconi’s government has shown little interest in the environment: last October, his environment minister sacked 23 of the 40 members of the national environmental impact commission, including Professor Zitelli. The government appears to have wiped Zitelli’s negative impact assessment ruling from its memory.

Last year the new government allocated £300 million for the first tranche of the dam project: a series of ‘complementary works’, including shipping locks to appease the Port of Venice (the only major economic interest with reservations about the scheme). Berlusconi has cut all other national money for Venice: all its funds for architectural restoration, for the city’s unique maintenance needs, and more.

Flooding is not Venice’s only environmental crisis. The nearby petrochemical complex is a highly polluting time bomb. In November, a toxic fire there nearly engulfed storage tanks containing deadly phosgene gas. In addition, mechanical clam-fishing techniques are destroying the ecology of the lagoon’s shallows. And motorboats bringing tourists and cargo through the city erode the canal walls – the foundations of Venice’s palaces.

In Venice opposition continues. In September both the city and the provincial councils voted against the ‘complementary works’. In December an environmental alliance called Salvare Venezia con la Laguna (Save Venice with its Lagoon presented its strategy to restore the lagoon’s equilibrium. Unlike the consortium’s risky surgery, SVL targeted Venice’s underlying illness. And in January political parties in the city sponsored public debates on the dams.

What Venice needs, wrote US scientists Albert Ammerman and Charles McClennan in the journal Science two years ago, is ‘fresh thinking in the search for new, alternative solutions’. In Rome’s halls of power, however, there’s only one official project. And time is running out: Italy’s national government is threatening to give a final go-ahead to the dams, and Berlusconi himself has promised to go to Venice soon after to inaugurate construction.

Tony Zamparutti is a former official of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s environment directorate, and a member of Salvare Venezia con la Laguna – the environmental alliance opposing the New Venice Consortium and its dams.

A unique ecosystem (more on this later): today its territory belongs to 9 cities[1], and its history is strictly dependant on the evolution of a basin that, in turn, includes 110 cities in 4 regions[2]. If there is a large area that needs a unitary administration, this is it: the Venice Lagoon. As a matter of fact, this area has already had a unitary government for 1000 years. It has one no more, since the end of the 18th century, despite repeated efforts in the last decades.

An accident in nature

The Lagoon owes its survival to its unitary administration, guaranteed for ten centuries by the Serenissima Repubblica of Venice. This is the only lagoon in the world which has stayed as such for so many centuries. The lagoon is, by definition, a system in unstable equilibrium: an accident in nature.

The lagoon is created by the balance of two opposing forces. The rivers carry towards the sea the solid matter removed from the earth, which accumulates at the river mouth, is shaped as long semi submerged “bars” by the sea currents and then, hardened, becomes the more stable “ lidi” (shores). Between the lidi and the dry land a water mirror is formed, fed by the rivers’ freshwater and the sea’s saltwater entering from the “mouths” between the lidi. Water nor fresh nor salty, water of a different nature: “briny” water.

The briny water mirror is an environment different from every other. Its bed is not regular like the funnel-shaped one of the lakes, or the degrading one of the bays and the gulfs, or the steep one of the falesian coasts: it is shaped by the innumerable river beds that ran through it during the centuries, digging here and there, leaving variable amounts of debris. And where the complex play of the underwater channel system has left taller shores, there – for few hours a day or for few weeks a year – the terrain emerges from the water and hosts several different vegetal and animal species.

(In the lagoon formed by the Brenta, Sile, Musone, Piave and several other rivers north of the Po and Adige mouths, on some of the small semi submerged islands, the first fisherman families and then the people who ran from the hinterland to flee the barbarian waves had consolidated the terrain, building their dwellings and their villages and then their town, Venice, and giving themselves, through time, a strict regulatory plan, the only guarantee for a wise administration of a scarce and precious soil).

All this while the two opposing forces, the rivers and the sea, remain in balance, as a ball on top of a convex surface.

Two natural destinies

Here are, then, the two different and opposite destinies to which every lagoon, for its own very nature, is doomed.

When the rivers forces win, when the amassing of debris prevails (rocks, sand, mud, vegetal remains of forests carried away by floods), the lagoon, every lagoon, from an unstable and multiform briny water mirror becomes a pond, then a marsh, and finally, possibly drained by human work, a field.

When the sea wave forces win, the erosion carries away the solid debris which has consolidated through time and sweeps away anything that contends space to the salty water and resists the currents with its briny immobility: the lagoon (every lagoon) becomes a stretch of sea, a bay or a gulf.

The Serenissima Repubblica of Venice has fought against these two destinies for 1000 years. And it won, because every available mind, every appropriate technology, every accessible resource, every existing authority (and it was not negligible), every administration capability was cast into the effort[3].

The nest of power

Preserving the Lagoon was vital to the Serenissima. The lagoon was the haven that guaranteed safety from potential attacks from earth and sea; it was the place were the fleet, its essential device for state hegemony over its vast commercial empire, could be built, armed, repaired and sheltered; it was the place where the raw materials (wood above all, at least until terrible fires suggested to switch to light clay) that were needed to consolidate the terrain and to found and erect buildings could arrive, thanks to the control of the rivers and of their navigability; it was the large factory for essential goods for food preparation and conservation: several species of fishes and mollusks, whose fishing was strictly controlled [4]; birds, attracted by that particular habitat; salt from the vast coastal works; vegetables from the major islands and from the lido.

This was the Lagoon to the Serenissima: the nest where its strength was nurtured and where it became able to compete and to win, to defend itself and to restore itself. To make this possible, the Lagoon had to be preserved; it had to stay as it was even as it changed to different conditions and needs. This accident in nature had to turn into a permanent system.

A permanent system

A permanent system: these two words are the stake of Venice and its lagoon. A system: an organism made of a combination of elements, each one essential and vital, each one bound to the other by precise relationships, which could not be altered ad libitum without bringing the system to collapse. Permanent: able to remain as such in time, managed by the same mutable laws of nature, but subject to further changes created by the surrounding events and by human action.

To make this miracle true, to have the opposing forces of rivers and sea, earth and water cooperating without one prevailing on the other, and at the same time introducing the changes needed to make the lagoon liveable (by deepening a channel or opening a new one, by consolidating an isle, by opening breaches in another) meant to manage the lagoon with a scrupulous administration, based upon daily interventions, continuous surveillance, gradual innovative experiments (a new channel, a new embankment, a new intake) and monitoring of their effects.

Above all, it meant to use the laws of nature with a greater caution than nature itself would have used, because the stake was to make permanent a system that nature itself would eventually eliminate, one way or the other.

All of Venice good administration skills were used at this purpose. As Piero Bevilacqua wrote, the history of Venice is

The history of a success [...] in environment management that has its roots in a strict and long-sighted state action and in century-long daily efforts to restrain private and individual interests in favor of the common benefit of the waters and the city [5]

The lagoon government falls and the world changes

The fall of the Republic of Venice, in the year 1797, was without doubt the most evident cause for change: the end of a unitary administration of the lagoon finalized to that purpose and managed by that system. Greater events had happened which could not find no echo in that water mirror, in that corner of the Adriatic Sea.

The world had changed. Events in London and Paris had transformed the basic conditions for its evolution. The advent and the triumph of the economic and social system based upon the capitalistic model of production and the establishment of the bourgeoisie introduced and generalized completely new ways for regulating the relationships amongst men and between man and nature.

Industrial production was found able to multiply the quantity of available goods, freeing man from the bond of nature’s frugal rhythms. Every product of man or nature became, from an object with individuality and a usage value, a “good”: a mere depot of exchange value, an object which could be traded with any other. Individualism, the strong push under quantitative progress, had slowly erased the community values, especially where those rules were an obstacle to the “right” to privately own the available goods. The techniques for building roads, channels, banks and dams, bridges and new infrastructures were revolutionised by new technologies based upon the use of iron and concrete and the employ of machines instead of human and animal work.

The natural environment, until then respected and held as a partner in man’s project for world transformation and utilization, became mere raw material for a continuous recreation of the given conditions. And the State (which, in Venice, was the advocate of a balanced relationship between man and environment) became in any European country a tool for the affirmation of the capitalistic bourgeoisies, in harsh fight against each one in every other nation: to take control of different “environments” and of different “natures” which were to be exploited, transformed, alienated.

The very notion of time had changed. Measured no more on the long duration of the events, on the rhythms of natural occurrences, on the years-long effect of the more significant transformations (the planting of a forest, the consolidation of a shore, the remodelling of a river system) the unit of time was constantly getting closer to the fragmentation of the day: the hour, the minute, the second. The perspective was no longer the continuation of generations: it was a season of a man’s life, to which other and richer ones had to follow.

The Lagoon changes

You only need to look at a map of the Venice Lagoon to notice the effects of the big transformations which have taken place in people’s conscience and in the world since the fall of the Republic.

When the sheltering umbrella of rules that preserved the proprietary regimes vanished, together with the recognition of the lagoon as a common good, great parts of the lagoon’s territory were privatized and exploited to reap immediate gains. Some parts were drained and converted to fields, some others transformed into basins surrounded by banks (“fishing basins”) where fishing activities could be performed, some others, later, were converted into industrial zones: big portions of the basin were taken away from the waters’ rhythms and from the play of floods and tides. When the area where the greater high tides and the floods of the rivers running into the lagoon could broaden was reduced (by more or less a third in half a century), the floods in inhabited centres increased in frequency and intensity.

A similar effect was caused by the deepening of the major entry channels (designed now like straight roads and no more by accounting for the natural path of the water) and of “bocche di porto” (port mouths) both because of dredges done to allow entry to the bigger ships and simply because the monitoring and maintenance work systematically performed by the Serenissima was not carried on anymore. Huge masses of water flew from the sea to the Lagoon each time the lunar phases, the wind and the atmospheric depression widened the gap between external and internal waters [6].

The effects of the greater intake of saltwater and of the reduction of the expansion basin surface were aggravated by two more events. First, the dismissal of the continuous maintenance work of the channel network in zones more removed from the port mouths made the marginal parts of the lagoon hardly reachable by the tidal wave, further reducing the effective expansion basin. Then, industrial production needs demanded the construction of many layer water pits in the dry land, causing the lowering of the water level and of the solid compact stratum of clay (the “caranto”) which sustains the mud and the sand upon which Venice and the other lagoon towns are built.

The collapse and its effects

On the 4th of November 1966 the joint effect of river floods and exceptional high tide made the water rise to an abnormally high level for many hours. The water reached almost 200 cm above the average sea level, while its average height on the streets and on the ground floors in houses and shops was between 100 and 150 cm. Many cried for catastrophe. The world public opinion was moved, fearing that Venice was disappearing into the waters: if not then, in a future not very far away.

There were debates, there were studies, people understood and tried to do something. The long pre-legislative work which was carried on between Rome and the Lagoon, with the timely backing of major newspapers, and which ended with the parliamentary discussion about law 171/1973, came to a new awareness of the problem, of its causes, of its possible solutions.

It was understood that any further reduction of the lagoon area had to be banned, and that studies were to be performed in order to restore the previous extension. The devastating initiative for building a new giant “industrial third zone”, bigger than the two already existing, was definitely cancelled: the “casse di colmata” (filling caissons) already built had to be abandoned to the play of the tides.

In more general terms, the State took the task of ensuring the “regulation of the lagoon sea levels, in order to save the urban dwellings from the high waters” through “works that respect the hydro-geologic, ecologic and environmental values and by no means could hinder or compromise the maintenance of the lagoon’s physical unity and continuity” [7].

The hypothesis of controlling the saltwater intake by the port mouths through fixed or mobile throttles was made, but this solution was completed by a mosaic of many other pieces. It was prescribed that, in technical solution designs, “the effect of opening the fishing basins to the tidal expansion on hydrodynamic regimes” was to be taken into account and that it was necessary to work for “the reduction of tidal resistances in the lagoon north zone” to “restore the seabeds in S.Nicolò channel and in the mouths of Malamocco and Chioggia, now deeply eroded, to normal levels” by augmenting “the energy dissipations of the tidal flux along the path inside the port-channels” [8].

A systemic vision and an engineer’s vision

It was the start of the recognition that the Lagoon was a system, and it had to be managed as such. It was not by accident that the task of preparing a series of territorial solutions for the area was appointed to a local plan of “cities of the Venice and Chioggia lagoon”.

The plan was promptly prepared, but it never came to the final approval. In place of the management unit of the Serenissima, the clumsy Italian Republic could only put up a fuzzy mechanism, expression of the contrasting (and therefore paralyzing) forces of towns and Region, and, moreover, under the Region’s final control. That mechanism did not work, because it could never have worked.

But, beside it, the State and the Ministry of Public Works (and its local operating arm, which was what the ancient and glorious “Magistrato delle Acque”, Water Magistrate, had become) were acting upon their logics. The project later known as Mo.S.E. (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Electromechanical Experimental Module) was outlined and designed, together with the constitution of the private company to which the State was to delegate powers, competences and public resources in order to study, design and carry out the necessary works.

While the State was pursuing a path that can only be called former-century (as I will explain later) and the Region was sinking the Plan, the City of Venice was getting ready to dialectically work with other subjects inside its limited institutional competences (and its not negligible politic powers). On the city government side, even with the smallest resources, studies and analysis on the Lagoon were perfected.

The restoration of the lagoon ecosystem

Especially relevant was a study called “Restoring, preserving and using the lagoon ecosystem” [9]. After pointing out how the degenerating process in the lagoon was erasing its specific characters and after describing the tendencies at work and their causes, the document drew a general picture of needed interventions.

After taking into account that “the defence of the lagoon and of the human dwellings from exceptional high waters has to be undertaken through the implementation of specific movable bars for temporary – but complete – shutting of the port mouths”, the document says that

“to block and reverse the degenerative tendency at work and to put the lagoon area into a situation where its environmental evolutionary processes can be continuously controlled it is necessary to put into work a set of coordinated decisions which are here listed:

- banning further layer withdrawals in order to stop the human-generated lowering;

- restoring the ability to control the tidal fluxes in the lagoon, acting upon the present asset of the port mouths, of the water propagation system, of the tidal expansion area, in order to attain a reduction of the water volumes exchanged between sea and rivers (without negative consequences for the quality of lagoon water, with reference to the antipollution works) and to mitigate the dynamics of the lagoon water, achieving a reduction of the erosion process and a decrease of the tidal heights and widths, and therefore of the frequency of the high-waters phenomenon;

- preservation of the shores, starting from Pellestrina, reorganizing their structure, carrying out works against the coastal erosion, restoring natural ways of coastal transportation and refurbishing the lidi and the sea beds, artificially if necessary;

- determining usages and ways of use compatible with the different parts of the lagoon area, of the shores, of the dry land;

- controlling and reducing water and air pollution” [10].

An echo of the results of this approach resonates in the law formulation that, after a long and passionate parliamentary debate, integrated in 1984 the special law of 1973. In this law, in fact, the interventions were declared to be aimed at:

“the rebalancing of the lagoon, the arrest and the inversion of the degradation process of the lagoon basin, the removal of the causes that affected it, the decrease of the tidal levels inside the lagoon, the defence through local intervention of the cities’ insulae (isles), the protection of lagoon urban dwellings against exceptional high waters, if necessary by means of movable dams at the port mouths in order to control tides” [11].

A dynamic agreement

The law looked as the result of a compromise between two different ways of thinking, as described by Luigi Scano: one believes that the lagoon is “a regular water basin driven by mechanical laws” and the other “views the lagoon as a delicate and complex ecosystem, driven by laws that – by a small stretch – are more akin to cybernetics, and is more interested in the preservation and the global restoration of its basic features as a transition zone between sea and dry land, through a coordinated set of diffused interventions” [12].

Not by accident, the port mouths devices, the “faucets” through which the sea water flux could be controlled, were, as the law dictated, one (and the first) of a series of interventions that had to be scheduled and, systematically, performed. But it was not so. Sometimes the power of the legislator is smaller than the power of those who enforce the laws. The execution of the law was appointed to the Ministry of Public Works which was, in those years, strongly in the hands of those forces (the PSDI – social democrats – of Franco Nicolazzi, the part of the PSI – socialists – which followed Craxi and the powerful De Michelis, relevant parts of DC – christian democrats) who passionately sponsored the “mechanicistic” view and the “faucets” solution.

Since then, the debate about Venice and its lagoon had reduced to a debate about MoSE. And the greater parts of the (public) funds invested in preserving of the lagoon went to that extraordinary colossus (and institutional monster) which is the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (New Venice Consortium). But we will talk about this later; let’s see first what the MoSE is.

What is the MoSE

The MoSE (Experimental Electro mechanic Module) is, in summary, a system composed by 79 big metal caissons, whose larger surface measures more than 20x20 meters, divided in four sets by the three port mouths: 21+20 by the Bocca di Lido, 20 by Malamocco, 18 by Chioggia. Each caisson is hinged to a big concrete underwater structure and, normally, it is filled with water. According to the project, any time the weather forecasts suggest that the tide level is about to exceed the desired height (generally 100cm above the average sea level) a pumping system should inflate the caissons, which should raise and put an obstacle to the intake of sea water.

The system demands several subsidiary and accessory works, which in total would require the transportation of 5 millions cube meters of raw materials, the insertion of 12.055 concrete poles measuring between 10 and 19 meters down to a depth of -42,5 meters, of 5.960 metal palancole (movable bars) measuring between 10 and 28 meters, of 157 enormous caissons in reinforced concrete, of 560.000 square meters of stones, and, in the end, the construction of an artificial isle measuring 135.000 square meters, with buildings high 4 to 10 meters and a 20 meters smokestack.

Criticisms to MoSE

The project stirred many articulated criticisms. It received an ample and articulated negative verdict by the Government Commission (ministers Ronchi and Melandri) which was appointed with the task of evaluating its environmental impact [13]; it was then fought at length by the Venice City Council, from which an ambiguous final evaluation was extorted by means of a twisted interpretation (a tipical feat of italian poor politics [14]). The criticisms are summarized in several documents by the Venice section of Italia Nostra. They can be summarized by a relatively small number of points:

The project would cause certain and measurable damages to the lagoon environment, both in the lengthy building phase –unique places of great beauty would be destroyed, like the dunes in Ca’Roman and Alberoni and the Secca del Bacan - and through the final designed transformations; it should suffice to consider that the giant submerged structures which should hinge the caissons would sever the natural continuity between the lagoon bed and the sea bed in the only three segments remaining since the lagoon formation.

The project would shelter the inhabited places only from high tides of marine origin, not from river floods (to which regard, it would instead be an obstacle to water defluxion). It should be noted that during the 1996 exceptional events, the rivers’ overflow was decisive, and today the hydraulic conditions are even worse. The project would then be not only useless to the very purpose it should serve for, it would be dangerous.

The designed system would react to events (high tides in excess of 110 cm) whose frequency is absolutely unknown. If the 110 cm limit were to be trespassed frequently (one of the formulated hypothesis allows for 400 times a year) the lagoon would become a closed basin and the pollution would became deadly [15], moreover the port would stop functioning. If the oceans level were to rise for more than 30 cm, the system would become obsolete and the caissons would be bypassed by the tides [16].

The project implementation is exceedingly costly (estimates are growing year by year: lately they have reached 7-8.000 millions of euros). But what is really surprising is that no-one knows how much the management of this composite mechanism will cost, nor is it known who will be appointed for its building, nor who will pay for it, and how. We only have to consider that every year something between 10 and 35 kg of biological encrustations deposit on a one square meter of metal caisson, and it can be removed only by disassembling huge parts and by cleaning them on-land.

The project is dangerous to the general equilibrium of the lagoon for two more reasons too. It is estimated that it would release 12 tons of zinc per year on account of the anodic anticorrosion protection of the paratoie (movable bars); this is the 50% of the whole sustainable load of the whole lagoon basin, and zinc accumulates in the food cycle. Moreover, it is estimated that the further deepening of the channels, as required by the project, and the consequent more intense water exchange with the sea, would cause a significantly increased erosion of the lagoon bed: thus a permanent drain of the very substance that, together with water, the Lagoon is made of.

The fundamental errors of the MoSE system

Beyond any specific criticism, it seems to me that two fundamental critiques are to be moved to the designed system.

First of all, the project is centred upon only one of the goals that should be pursued: the reduction of the effect of exceptional high tides on inhabited centres. Let’s forget for a moment that even this goal does not seem reachable with acceptable confidence (notwithstanding the exceedingly high cost, not even wholly determined); the system deems as irrelevant all other damages done to the lagoon ecosystem, it does not thwart them [17] and, at the contrary, it quite magnifies them. So, for instance, instead of aiming for a reduction of the greater channels’ beds that bring the seawater – which would drastically reduce the effects of high tides – they are going to be deepened and widened. Moreover, these transformations would be irreversible, as they would be done through huge works in concrete.

This means that every other intervention in order to restore the equilibrium of the lagoon ecosystem (from the refurbishing of the inner lagoon to the reopening of the fishing basins, from the maintenance of the lesser channel network to the replanting of damaged vegetation and so on) becomes marginal and insufficiently funded, with no assurance of continuity and regularity.

In second place, this goal is pursued through techniques that to call hard and heavy would be an understatement. Techniques that are anyway far away from the “gradualism, experimentability and reversibility” criteria that the Serenissima Repubblica of Venice had pursued for centuries and that the national culture had understood as being the key words for the survival of the Lagoon, and that the Italian Parliament inserted into the legislative corpus [18]. It is impossible to understand what, in the proposed system, is gradual, experimental and, above all, reversible.

A simplified, mechanical, technicistic, stiff, partial solution, where reality and history call for a compound, systemic, flexible and manageable solution: the only one that would suit the living body of the Lagoon, reductively viewed by the MoSE promoters as just a big bathtub with three faucets.

An ideological root…

These kind of mistakes have two roots, a cultural and ideological root and an institutional one.

We could define the MoSE system as the last song of that 18th century ideology that tried to solve the dialectic conflicts between human society and nature by means of heavy substitution of natural environments with artificial elements. Every time the former were an obstacle to a need - be it real or made up - of society. The human intervention, that is, as a demiurgic substitution to nature. Substitution of nature’s laws with construction techniques, with mechanics, with the power of related technologies. Or, better, as the nature’s laws cannot be eliminated by decree, a progressive reduction of the area where natural laws prevail and a progressive expansion of the area where techniques (and concrete, iron, tar…) dominate. In the end, the planet division into two areas, strictly delimited, one subject to technique and the other to nature.

How much this demiurgic ideology is illusory, in this late-18thcentury revival, we are reminded every year as events increasingly devastate larger regions of the planet. The events of the Venice Lagoon have announced it, in that far 1966. It seemed that the people who manage the Lagoon (mostly from cities far away from it) had understood. And so it was, for a period of time too short to have a significant effect. The Great Works are fashionable once again. For reasons that are not only ideological, but very much material too. To understand this let’s see the other side: the institutions.

The institutional root

The main character of the whole operation (research, experimentation, design, implementation) for the preservation of the Lagoon is not a public authority, a “piece of the State”. It is a consortium of private industries: mostly building companies. The most relevant are Impregilo Spa (39.4%), Grandi Lavori Fincosit (16.65%), Società Italiana Condotte d’Acqua (2.5%), ENI group’s SAIPEM (2.5%), Mazzi Scarl (1.85%). The remainder is made of some sub-consortiums that gather minor companies.

Through a series of passages and administrative acts, these pool of companies is appointed with an extraordinary and uncommon set of tasks: it is the State’s exclusive agent for the study, the experimentation, the design and the implementation of the Lagoon preservation works, all financed by public funds. The resources given to this institutional Monstrum are so extraordinarily huge that it had the possibility to have a real monopoly upon research and promotion of the devised solutions.

All attempts to bring before international courts the anomaly of such a large appointment being given without a proper call for tender (and by this reason out of all competition rules) have been deftly averted. Italia Nostra filed an appeal to the European Committee in July 1998. The appeal was accepted and a proceeding for infraction of European directives was appointed to the Italian Government.

But, after an interlocutory phase, the European Committee chose a political solution to the matter and closed the procedure with a settlement. Even if the matter complexity was acknowledged and the Committee admitted not having any certainties, it tried to solve the question with a stretched solution. The decision was, the Consortium would sub-contract a part of future works through a public competition organized by the Consortium itself. The management of works at the port mouths (MoSE) was left to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, which is still the agent for the most delicate and debated interventions for the preservation of the lagoon.

In the Lagoon a power has been actually created, stronger than any other in the area, for which the mission of the most relevant actors (the totality of the Consortium members) is to raise the business volume, and therefore the quality of the works to carry on and the materials to employ (iron, steel, concrete). In such a frame, the Consortium work will hardly be able to get inspired by those knowledges, those technical procedures, that wise balance of experimentation, graduality and reversibility that centuries of administrative wisdom had distilled and that Italian politics (in a phase far from its highest, but infinitely higher than the current one) had understood and embraced.

Possible alternatives

The things to do are long known [19].

In first place, the sea water intake has to be reduced, bringing the shapes of the port mouths and of the access channels back to conditions compatible with the sustainable navigation inside the Lagoon. This crucial intervention clearly contrasts with the needs of oil traffic, which should be banned (as the law dictates since 1973), and the continuing passage of the huge cruising ships. It would also imply the need to seriously deal with the problem of reducing pollution, especially land based source pollution.

The risk of river floods, which highly contributed to the exceptional high water in 1966, has also to be reduced. The control of water sources in the whole basin surrounding the lagoon is a task which has been planned for years, and in part already been funded.

Works must then be undertaken so that the living lagoon can take back at least a part of the spaces which have been subtracted during the last century: besides the “casse di colmata” of the intended Third Industrial Zone (that is, vast lagoon areas already drained but still not utilized by the industries) the fishing basins must be opened back to currents, replacing the dirt banks with the traditional grids that can let tidal water pass through, and the maintenance works to the channel network must be restarted.

The relationship between earth and water in the lagoon morphology must be restored, protecting and recovering the “barene” (solid formations which rise and sink from time to time due to the play of the tides) eroded by the wave motion and by the increased hydrodynamic of the lagoon basin, through natural engineering techniques very different from the hard ones employed by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, leading back into the lagoon basin, in a controllable and reversible way, part of the rivers flood, in order to stop the erosion process with the help of debris accumulation.

The systematic work, long started by a relevant city company, to locally protect the island inhabited areas by elevating the Venice pavement by 110/120 cm must be continued. This work could bring to an end the discomfort caused to the inhabitants by the high water phenomenon.

Finally, proposals different from MoSE to further reduce the intake of sea water, in case of exceptionally high tides, must be studied in depth. Ideas and proposals have been put forward in the last years. The fact that those projects have not been studied as in depth as MoSE is another evidence of the basic mistake: to have appointed a single actor, in absolute monopoly conditions, with huge public funds to study, experiment and implement a project, in the only interest of the Consorzio members. Members who are, let’s not forget it, building companies: mostly noteworthy companies, of course, but whose mission, whose culture and whose interests are far different from the ones required to deal with the Lagoon problem with coherence and continuity with the tradition, and therefore with the safeguard of a universal good.

[1]Venice, Chioggia, Campagna Lupia, Mira, Quarto d'Altino, Codevigo, Iesolo, Musile and, today, Cavallino.

[2]Venice, Padua, Treviso, Vicenza.

[3] See: Bevilacqua P.(1995), Venezia e le acque (Venice and the waters), Donzelli, Roma, in particular pages 85 and following; I. Cacciavillani (1984), Le leggi veneziane sul territorio 1471-1789. Boschi, fiumi, navigazioni (Venetian territorial laws 1471-1789. Woods, rivers, navigation), Signum, Limena.

[4] In many Venice sites can still be seen, near the Piscine (fish markets) the marble plates stating the minimum sizes of every species for sale.

[5] P. Bevilacqua cit., p. 21.

[6] “During the first years of the 18th century the depth of the three port mouths was between -3.5 and -4.5 meters […] At the end of the 18th century the depth reached -7 m by the Lido and -10 m by Malamocco. In the last century the rapidly rising port industry and the expansion of industrial activities needed sea beds even deeper. Excavation works were started that brought the Malamocco mouth at -14.5 m and the Vittorio Emanuele channel (-10 m) and Malamocco-Marghera channel (-14.5 m) and Oil channel (-14.5 m), that traverse the Lagoon like a deep wound, were traced. The great mass of water that enters the Lagoon now through these deep inputs, as it was to be expected, started autoerosion processes: in 1997 the Malamocco mouth reached -17 m. Again in Malamocco, inside the mouth, is now the deepest point in the Adriatic sea: 57 m!” From a summary of data published by several official sources and edited for the Italia Nostra / Venice section website (http://www.provincia.venezia.it/italianostra/3laguna/)

[7]Law 16th April 1973, n. 171, article 12, comma 2, letter a)

[8] Directions for the setup of the comprehensive plan of Venice, approved by the ministry council in the 27 march 1975 session.

[9] City Council of Venice, Ripristino, conservazione ed uso dell’ecosistema lagunare (Restoration, conservation and use of the lagoon ecosystem), Venezia 1982. Written by Corrado Avanzi, Valentino Fossato, Paolo Gatto, Riccardo Rabagliati, Paolo Rosa Salva, Andreina Zitelli, with the help of Giampaolo Rallo, Roberto Stevanato; co-ordinators Augusto Ghetti, Roberto Passino. The document was the foundation for Osservazioni del Comune di Venezia al progetto di piano comprensoriale (VeniceCity Council remarks about the comprehensorial plan project), Venezia 1982, where the following quotes are taken from.

[10]Osservazioni del Comune di Venezia cit.

[11]Law 29 novembre 1984 n. 798, 3.1.a).

[12] Luigi Scano, Venezia: Terra e acqua (Venice: Earth and water), Edizioni delle autonomie, Roma 1985

[13]Text available on http//eddyburg.it

[14] The Council majority approved a document that imposed eleven mandatory conditions. Should these conditions be accepted, the project would have had been totally reviewed. The Mayor presented the document to the special Committee appointed to approve the project. The Committee rejected the most significant “conditions” and only accepted mere recommendations for the implementation phase!

[15] Keep in mind that all town sewers flow into the lagoon, and depuration is done today through the tidal water exchange.

[16] The Intergovernamental Panel of Climate Change estimation of rise of average sea level are between +9 and +88 cm, most probably +48 cm. MoSE is based on the forecast of a maximum increase of only +22 cm. Paolo Antonio Pirazzoli, (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Meudon, France), “Did the Italian Government Approve an Obsolete Project to Save Venice?”, in Eos,Transactions, American Geophysical Union , Vol. 83, No. 20,14 May 2002, pp 217-223.

[17] And when it intervenes on the rest of the Lagoon its techniques and results are very much criticisable

[18] Law 798 of 1984. It should be reminded that a further special legislative measure, law 139 of 1992, states that, before the construction of MoSE could be started, the hydraulic balance of the lagoon must be restored, the oil traffic must be banned and the fishing valleys must be opened.

[19] A comprehensive summary of the proposed interventions can be found at the website http://www.provincia.venezia.it/italianostra/3laguna/3laguna.htm, and in the document La salvaguardia di venezia dalle acque alte. Un piano di azione strategico alternativo al Mo.S.E. (The safeguard of Venice from high waters. A strategic plan in alternative to MoSE), by the Venice Section of Italia Nostra and the Committee Salvare Venezia e la Laguna (Save Venice and its Lagoon), January 2003.

Following this document, on the 24th December 1998 the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage have issued a decree (the so-called Ronchi-Melandri decree), which rejects the project and defers it after other more priority operations. The Veneto Region has made an appeal and won its claim at the Tribunal for Regional Administrative Affairs (TAR) due to formal mistakes in the decree. However, the TAR decision does not affect the content of the VIA commission’s conclusions that point out doubts and concerns about the MoSE, and are still valid and satisfactory.

The Commission believes that the safeguard of Venice cannot be pursued outside a more general management of the lagoon system, meaning the whole of the draining lagoon basin and the large rivers flowing in the same lagoon, the coast and sea sector between the mouths of the Adige and Brenta rivers, the lagoon mouths, the lagoon basin and its morphologic and anthropic units: because the events that occur in all these elements undergo a complex and non linear interaction.

The Commission believes that the Project, by combining into a single action and typology all the operations to reduce the ordinary high tides and the interventions aimed at regulating the exceptional “high waters”, also through manoeuvrable barriers at the port mouth to regulate the tides and therefore implying an increasingly higher number of closures, is not able to manage the most frequent average-high tides, if not to the detriment of the port activities and the open and continuous exchange between sea and lagoon.

The Commission believes that the management of the continuous exchange between sea and lagoon is one of the unavoidable elements to recompose and maintain the fragile and instable equilibrium between the sea and the mainland environment, from which it comes from.

This equilibrium between fresh and salted waters is not merely a morphologic and hydrodynamic condition, but is the reason for the very survival of the environmental and anthropic mosaic that defines the nature of the lagoon.

The Commission believes that this equilibrium can only be obtained with an articulated combination of works and actions respecting the characteristics of experimentation, reversibility and gradualism concurring to the achievement of this scope.

Therefore, the Commission deemed indispensable a strict connection between the project evaluation and the Action Plan for the morphologic recovery of the lagoon elaborated proposed within the Licence of the Water Magistrate.

Following the above considerations, the Commission negatively notes that the Project lacks of research and does not define the environmental indicators on which to target the operations and work planning.

As regards the Morphologic Recovery Plan, the Commission deems appropriate but not sufficient the contrasting action started off by the Action Plan for the morphologic recovery of the lagoon.

The Commission believes that the objectives stated by the Proposer of the Action Plan for the morphologic recovery of the lagoon are not fully undertaken, and the actions to achieve them are contradictory and unable to guarantee the dynamic equilibrium in the long term.

The Commission negatively remarks that the Project lacks an explicit discussion about the evolution process that - following the not only morphological operations proposed – would have to lead to a new condition of the lagoon dynamic equilibrium. Nor the general Plan for the morphologic recovery of the lagoon, nor the SIA provide adequate analytical references on this respect.

The Proposer states – having not provided any evidence or demonstration – that the erosion of the lagoon-beds and sandbanks is a more relevant event than the overall deficit of sediments in the lagoon: the Commission deems this evaluation misleading. The project renounces to pursue the cancellation of this deficit as a priority: as a result, it is not clear which kind of rebalance it wants or it can achieve.

The Commission believes that the indifference of the actions proposed in terms of regulation of both the river and the drainage waters and the volumes of the tides exchanged at the mouths cannot be assumed as a criteria of acceptance in the comparison among the various possible solutions, nor as a criteria to optimise the same Project, until the current condition of the lagoon morphological evolution is not experimentally verified and the action plan is not proven effective, in order to aim at:

• the annulment of the deficit in the exchanges of solid material between the lagoon basin subsystem and the other subsystems;

• the determining of sections of equilibrium in both the lagoon and the mouths channels;

• the lagoon rebalance and the restoration of resilience conditions and vitality in the lagoon ecosystem,

Therefore, the Commission believes that is absolutely necessary to proceed with such verifications and critical review, of both the hydrodynamic, morphological and environmental indicators that can define the re-equilibrium objectives, and the effectiveness and consistency of the numeric models proposed.

In conclusion, the Commission believes that:

a) the Project does not assure the pursuing of the objectives stated in the Plan for the morphologic rebalance. In fact, the same Proponent puts the project on a different level and thus does not contribute the rebalance;

b) the Project can be incompatible with the potential necessity of implementing further actions at the mouths, in order to pursue the restoration of the lagoon morphology and overall protection. The Commission finds this necessity probable. The incompatibility comes from the Project philosophy to pursue the greatest possible uniformity in terms of management, thus avoiding the need to integrate it with other possible actions. This provides the Project with the characteristics of experimentation, reversibility and gradualism that are required by the sentence of the Higher Council of Public Works n.209 1982 aimed at the good integrated management of the lagoon system.

The Commission deems necessary to adapt all the proposed actions and all the other actions that can contribute to the integrated management of the lagoon system and to the cooperative capacity needed for:

• maintain the balance between freshwater and seawater,

• improve the capacity of intercepting the lagoon sediments,

• maximise the transfer of solid material from the sea to the lagoon to guarantee safe maritime traffic, and from the lagoon to the mainland by checking the eutrophic agents.

Regarding wide-spectrum actions

The Commission believes that the set of actions foreseen by the special legislation constitutes the indispensable starting point for the lagoon morphological rebalance.

The Commission, although believing that wide-spectrum actions are more functional to the management of the morphological evolution, thinks that they are not alternative to the regulation of the tide flows through operations at the mouths, considering that their overall contribution to the reduction of the tide levels in the lagoon must be maximised in any case.

Therefore, the Commission believes that any kind of action for tides regulation imposed on the lagoon mouths must integrate with wide-spectrum actions deemed useful for pursuing the objectives stated in the special legislation for Venice.

The Commission evaluates that:

• all the actions to revitalise the most inner parts of the lagoon are positive and adequate;

• the activity to keep inside the lagoon the materials removed by the navigable channels through the restoration of morphological structures is appropriate. However, greater attention must be paid to their re-naturalisation and environmental consolidation;

• overall the closure of the straight trait in the channel Malamocco - Marghera and the reopening of the Fisolo Channel do not bring significant changes;

• the artificial continuous bringing of sediments into the lagoon deserves deeper consideration and generalisation.

The Commission deems that a re-calibration of the dissipative capacity of the channels at the port mouths is essential, especially with an appropriate composition between the mouths depth and shallowness, in order to both reduce the level of the most frequent tides in the lagoon, and to increase their capacity to intercept the sediments. All this must be carried out following principles of experimentation, reversibility and gradualism, by managing at the same time the process of rebalance of the channels sections and the process of consolidation of the lagoon morphological units.

The Commission believes that the modifications to the piers presented by the Proponents are harmful and inadequate.

Regarding the draining basin

The Commission believes that the regulation of the superficial natural and reclaimed hydrography flowing in the lagoon is indispensable; this regulation must be put to the defence of the anthropic activities in the draining basin, to minimise the water volumes that, by flowing into the lagoon, contribute to determine composite events of exceptional “high waters”, and to pursue the maximum sustainable bringing of freshwater and sediments to the lagoon basin.

If no actions for the water regulation of the draining basin will be carried out, should exceptional events occur, like in 1966, huge water quantities would be introduced into the lagoon from the mainland, in spite of the project movable barriers. The feasibility of the hydro-regulation actions is not yet proven but is, however, an indispensable pre-requisite to state that the proposed works can protect Venice from exceptional events.

Therefore, the Commission believes that the raising of the minimum levels of the inhabited areas of the lagoon is anyway necessary, in order to protect these areas by the water flows of the hydrographic system and of the draining basin, and to reduce as much as possible the failures in any type of system for the reduction of the recurrent tides. The Commission believes it is a priority to increasingly raise the urban settlements in the lagoon up to the maximum possible level, with the best available technologies.

The Commission believes that this action is necessary and it remains a priority even if the examined project should be implemented.


Regarding the project reliability: the forecast system, the rises in the lagoon and the movable bars resonance

The Commission believes that the Project does not sufficiently guarantee the achievement of the stated objectives, because it strongly depends on the forecast systems.

The Commission believes that the confidence gap of the current forecast for average-high and exceptional tides ahead of 3 to 6 hours is still significantly large compared to the lagoon tides and the high waters events. In fact, this gap of approximately ± 20 cm, includes all the normal fluctuations of the tides and of all the events of soil submersion at + 100 cm with a return time of 1 year.

In particular, the Commission finds that the achievement of the following two main objectives is in doubt:

• to block the flooding of the inhabited areas at +100 level, within the SIA forecast of frequency and time length

• a sustainable number of closures or announced closures, in particular for the port system

The Commission also believes that the proved sensitivity of the “high water” events to the local weather conditions, together with the verified progressive increase of the entity and rapidity of short and medium term weather phenomena and their complexity, of both tide and hydrological type, makes the forecast system one of the most crucial factors for the operative effectiveness of the examined Project.

The Commission believes that the Project does not adequately deal with compound tide events, because long-lasting or frequent closures of the mouths can:

• put the environmental system under cumulative stress, for at least 24 hours;

• increase the risk of possible failure of the forecast system;

• decrease the possibility to forecast the rise in the lagoon water levels after the closure of the movable barriers, due to wind forces, direct rain, superficial hydraulic networks draining and flowing into the lagoon and the quantity of water initially flown into the lagoon.

The Commission believes that the Proponent underestimates the overall maximum rise, due to an incomplete estimation of the possible flows from the mainland to the lagoon, of the direct rain, and also due to an underestimation of the sirocco and bora winds (south and north).

The Commission assesses that with high frequency wavy motion, the system could likely fail due to its resonance, resulting in a significant increase of the flows into the lagoon from the traferri and the additional stress to the anchoring and foundations systems.

The Commission agrees with what the Expert Committee has already pointed out, that the physical studies and modelling have not reproduced the most serious conditions that can more easily generate this resonance. Thus, the system does not seem sufficiently tested and reliable.

The Commission also notes that the system of underwater structures (bars, hinges, joints, etc.) looks weak in comparison with the aggressiveness of the physical and biological agents. At the moment, there are no such structures that, under water for a long period of time, can be defended by the physical and chemical deterioration and from the micro-fouling bio-deterioration. Therefore, the bio-deteriorating action is unpredictable and the upholding requirements cannot be estimated.


Regarding the local security

The Commission believes that the a priori decision to set the level of the local security at +100 cm s.I.P.S. in Venice and Murano is groundless.

The Commission believes that the implementation of a system of integrated technologies is the priority, in coordination and synergy with the twenty-years extraordinary upholding programme already agreed by the City of Venice, the Veneto region, the Water Magistrate, according to art. 5 of Law 5 February 1992, n.139.

This programme, in consideration of all the different structural situations, is currently the most suitable operation in order to maximise the benefits provided by local security actions with the local population consensus, as it sets the level of public pavement at +120 cm s.I.P.S. and at over +160 cm s.I.P.S. the level for residential security.

The Commission deems that the Municipality of Venice assessment on this plan feasibility is reliable, with an overall cost of approximately 118 billion liras in addition to the cost already budgeted for ordinary urban upholding.

The Commission wishes that such technologies would also be extended to non-residential building units.

The Commission believes that also the so-called “MacroInsulae” project, an intervention of perimetral protection with fixed and mobile devices for groups of islands, deserves attention and further development.

This solution looks potentially effective and simple. It can protect from high waters up to the level of +140 cm s.I.P.S., similarly (and even better) to what already implemented in Malamocco.

The Commission positively evaluates the experiences of ground-rises between +110 cm and +120 cm s.l.P. S. in case of architectural, historical and monumental goods and believes that the level of +100 cm s.l.P.S. is the maximum protection level possible to respect the monumentality of St. Mark and Rialto islands.

The Commission negatively remarks the Proponent’s lack of in-depth analysis, about consolidated or experimental technologies for territorial rise, deep or shallow.

Currently, the most mature and potential technologies are the confined superficial lifting and the pressurised re-injection in deep acquifers. The Commission deems useful and necessary to update these actions feasibility studies through further research and tests, also in view of the potential growth of the average sea level due to eustatic phenomena.

The Commission believes that the results obtained by rising security levels must be evaluated, not only in terms of floodable urban surface reduction, but, most of all, in terms of reduction of the average frequency of flooding occurrences.

Regarding costs/benefits and interference with port activities

The Commission negatively remarks the fact that the Project does not provide an assessment of the economic and environmental impact resulting from the restoration of the main and secondary hydrographic networks.

The Commission thinks it is wrong to consider recovery and morphologic rebalance costs as loss, in terms of variations to the current lagoon state, because the current morphologic state of the lagoon is not balanced and cannot represent the ultimate objective of the hydrological rebalance, nor of the morphologic recovery of the lagoon. They both must be considered inevitable costs for the lagoon conservation.

The rise of the lagoon inhabited areas to higher levels and the decrease of the tide levels due to morphologic interventions, determines a reduction in the risk of flooding and damages that cannot be overlooked in the overall evaluation of the option “T”, i.e. the comparison term to which refer the assessment of the proposed Project impact and benefits.

During the work in progress, both the Port Authority and the Harbour’s Master of Venice have underlined that the Proponent’s project forecast and specific simulations do not sufficiently reassure on the actual possibility of maintaining – during the works – the usual level of maritime traffic through the Mouths, nor do they guarantee adequate shipping safety.

There are risks for the port activity deriving from the increased number of closures and of notices of closures, even if not followed by actual closures.

Regarding the environmental impact

In order to evaluate the Project possible effects on the involved environment, the Commission has considered the exceptionality of the given ecosystem, deriving from the combined action of natural and anthropic factors over a number of centuries, unique for its structure and its functional rules.

The Commission notices that this exceptional value is also been recognised with special acts on an international, national and regional level. Bearing in mind that for its assessment the Commission has deemed indispensable to take into account the spatial and temporal articulation of the system, at least three important components should be evaluated, both separately and in their mutual interrelations: the lagoon, the city of Venice, the draining basin.

The Commission has also verified that within this system there are other particularly significant naturalistic and ecosystemical areas, such as the shore cordon at Cà Roman and the area of velme in Bacan.

The Commission acknowledges the special conditions of the system dynamic equilibrium, that in the past have allowed to assimilate the pressures produced by the human action with the consequent preservation of both the main ecologic functions (balancing between erosive and deposit actions, equilibrium among the various levels of ecologic production, conservation of specific elements of biodiversity, etc.), and the diversified fruition exercised by the Venice population. The Commission also acknowledges that this dynamic equilibrium has been infringed during the present century, because of increased highly stressful anthropic activities on the environment.

The Commission evaluates that the SIA methodological framework cannot be considered correct and exhaustive for this case study, because:

• the indicators have been selected according to imprecise criteria and difficult to use forecasting variables, mixing forecasting indicators with control criteria, and sometimes using inappropriate indicators for the concerned evaluation;

• the SIA contains some serious analytic deficiency, for instance there no in-depth analysis is provided on the most environmentally sensitive sites involved in the proposed works. In addition, some significant impacts have not been properly assessed, such as the effects on the hygienic-sanitary situation on the city of Venice;

• the overall evaluation picture lacks a parameterisation of the indicators and a quantitative estimation of the related impacts. These would be prerequisites to formulate a comprehensive assessment of the expected effects.

The Commission has verified, on the basis of the wide amount of available information, that the Project implementation would involve serious impacts during the carrying out of the works, such as:

• significant amounts of priority environmental units (only roughly defined by SIA) that host important species for the ecosystem biodiversity would be used, such as the Cà Roman coast;

• environmental units, such as the Bacan velme, will be significantly affected, although they represent a fundamental and internationally valuable site for the lagoon ornithofauna;

• there will be significant alterations to the current landscape, as the same SIA underlines, among which the building of a large artificial island at the entrance of the Lido mouth,

• there will be general pressures and alterations connected with the size of the construction site (thus quite large). On this regard, we need to mention that approximately 8 million tons of stone material coming from distant - and sometimes very far – quarries will be used, that existing pieces of work will be demolished (piers at the Malamocco and Chioggia mouths) for 350.000 cubic mts., and that the sediment dredging, movement and unloading will overall involve approximately 5.000.000 cubic mts. of material and because of that a particularly large shipping fleet will need to be used;

• the whole construction works will last 8 years, if the estimation is respected; the impacts produced on each involved area will last for years with potentially combined effects, which the SIA does not take into consideration. Should the resources will be scarcer in the future, this estimation of time length will not be respected

• in this case, the construction site could insist in the area for more than 10 years, with a consequent prolonging of the impacts.

Again on the environmental implications of the Project implementation, the Commission also believes that:

• the high variability of the geotechnical characteristics of the sediment area would have needed more direct research on the subsoil, in order to establish more precisely the subsiding in each point of the dam profile and to be able to estimate how will the soil behave under the weight of the proposed work;

• it stands out quite clearly that the work represents a very much intrusive intervention in the shores physical-morphologic context, and that in its present design it does not have characteristics of reversibility;

• modification of substantial parts of the work, should in the future arise the need to modify the mouths profile to ensure continuous openings between sea and lagoon, as the Committe points out, would imply significant demolitions or the building of further structures in areas and sites other than the port mouths;

• the consequences and costs of a possible dismissal or abandonment of the work, before or at the expiring of its lifetime , have not been assessed, nor the very problematic aspect of how the galleries and sites will be upheld has been clarified. The same Proponent, and the Higher Council of the Public Works, states that these galleries are a breeding-ground for methane gas, and thus require continuous air conditioning;

• the examined proposed operations are so relevant that, as also the Expert Committee notices, would require considerable demolitions and would constitute an expensive and technologically complex enterprise, having the construction sites to work in difficult weather and sea conditions.

The Commission has verified that the Project and the SIA do not include adequate interventions of mitigation and/or compensation.

The Commission considers that the analysis has highlighted the possibility of highly critical environmental risks in case of very frequent successive closures, or in case of a high number of closures during per year (possibility assumed for the future in order to justify the need to implement the project):

• there could be a significant increase of the risk of anoxic crisis in important lagoon areas, both in terms of ecosystem and in terms of aquaculture activities;

• the regulation of the high waters, obtained with the closure of the Port mouths, will reduce the exchange capacity between sea and lagoon , thus diminishing the possibility to dilute the lagoon pollution. The concentration of some particularly dangerous substances, such as zinc, will significant increase;

• as far as it is known by now, the interruption of the water exchange between sea and lagoon must be considered highly risky in terms of hygienic-sanitary conditions in Venice. As it is well known, the depuration of potentially dangerous urban waste is currently based on the environmental system self-capacity of significantly reducing the factors of microbiological risk, through various self-depuration mechanisms that depend on the city channels quality and good keeping.

The Commission considers that the above-mentioned impacts and risks will be particularly aggravated by the current critical lagoon vulnerability.

In the current conditions the “interconnected city/lagoon/territory” ecosystem must be considered fragile, scarcely resilient and thus potentially unable to face new significant stress. Its resilience is scarce and thus the priority precondition for any type of intervention must be the completion of the programmes of ecological consolidation, which the institutions have already started off, such as:

• the Recovery Plan of the Veneto Region to minimise the waste of nutrients coming from the draining basin. This objective has not yet been achieved. Achievement is forecasted for year 2020;

• the effectiveness of the self-depuration processes, that currently allow a reduction of the risks connected with urban waste, must be better guaranteed. Thus, the City of Venice must conclude the current channel cleaning work in progress.

• the lagoon morphology recovery objectives must be completed, together with the recovery of the related mosaic of sandbanks and velme, also through a review of the quality and effectiveness of the first actions carried out under the Special Law for Venice;

• the Special Law for Venice planned implementation programme must be brought forward, also in its not yet implemented chapters, such as the opening of the fishing valleys, the tides expansion and the replacement of the oil traffic in the lagoon;

• the programme of lagoon decontamination must be brought forward. The actions foreseen by the Ronchi-Costa decree must be planned and implemented.

The Commission believes that, in order to respect the general criteria of environmental receptiveness, it would be necessary to achieve the system ecological consolidation through the above-mentioned measures before executing any kind of regulation work.

The Commission has verified that nor the Project, nor the SIA have been based on scenarios that preliminarily require the implementation of the above-mentioned consolidation intervention, which could perhaps allow a better absorption of the above-envisaged impacts. Thus, the Commission believes that the Project implementation would result in erosions that are potentially critical for the remained receptiveness of the involved ecosystem.

Finally, the Commission has verified that there is not urgency connected with eustatic events that justify a rapid carrying out of the Project, because:

• as the international “Committee” of experts also points out, “in case of an increase of the sea level induced by the climate change the beginning of the phenomenon is expected to be slow”; according to the most critical scenarios indicated by the Proponent and by the same Committee the estimation is of approximately 3 cm a decade for the first 50 years;

• the eustatic trend of the last 25 years in Venice does not indicate an increase of the average sea level. For the time being, nothing confirms the hypothesis of a correlation between the increase of the planet temperature, and specifically of the Mediterranean Sea, and the increase of the eustatic levels. Thus, nowadays in Venice we are not in critical conditions as regards the eustatic growth;

• however, for the next century we cannot completely exclude even more critical scenarios of eustatism than what have been hypothesised, that would make the project dams useless. In this perspective what becomes really crucial is the activation of a serious policy of monitoring and control at the level of the whole Mediterranean basin, in order to recognise in time the real trend of eustatic growth and to take in due time the most appropriate decisions (that could also include a substantial review of the current project)

• even recently, alternative technical solutions or significant integrations to the current project have been presented. Up to now, they have not yet been comparatively evaluated nor analysed in depth. Delaying the project implementation not only would dismiss the option of regulating the port mouths, but would also allow to operate this regulation when it will really be necessary, following the results of the monitoring on the actual eustatism. This time bracket could thus be utilised to define a project that does not present the serious deficiency of the current one, and to complete the indispensable interventions of precautionary environmental consolidation, according to what has been pointed out above.

All this said and considered, the Commission believes that the proposed works cannot be considered compatible with the current critical conditions of the involved ecosystem, including the lagoon, the city of Venice and the related draining basin, for

• their inadequacy in relation to the objectives of lagoon morphological rebalance

• the lack of integration (and potential damage) with the other actions aimed at protecting Venice from average-high waters and from exceptional high waters.

• the detriment to the port activity

• the relevant and potentially irreversible environmental impacts.

10 December 1998

Also Le Corbusier spoke about Venice modernity illustrating the separation between pedestrian and mechanic traffic. But the Buchanan analyse is certainly more complete. Who lives in Venice can anyway note that Buchanan overlooks some important features, as the water ferries by gondola, indispensable for some of the more important pedestrian paths (first of all, the parh from Piazza San Marco till Railroad station and Piazzale Roma through the ferry of San Tomà and Frari Church), then some important pivots as the Campo dei Frari. So he speaks about the fact that there are “only three bridges over the Grand Canal, and this makes for considerable inconvenience of pedestrian movement”. Three bridges were enough, and only the will of a stupid publicity pushed some administrators to begin the building of a fourth – completely useless – bridge upon the Grand Canal.

An interesting enhancement of Buchanan research could be to link the traffic analysis - then the analysis of pedestrian traffic – to the analysuis of public spaces ( look at the site of my friends Suzanne and Henry Lennard, International Making Cities Liveable Conferences). Perhaps my friend Joel H. Crawford will work on it, and he will give you some information about that in his beautiful site: http://www.carefree.com

Venice

412. It may appear to be taking liberties with the title of this chapter to include Venice as an example of current practice. But it is a working city and one of the very few in the world which, on the face of it, manages without the motor vehicle. So we decided to examine it to see what lessons could be learned.

413. Venice is a city of about 140,000 people on a group of islands in the Laguna of Venice. The city is connected by a causeway carrying both road and rail to the mainland at Mestre where there is a sizeable industrialised hinterland, where many residents of Venice find employment. So it is not absolutely true to say that Venice is a self-contained community not dependent on motor vehicles. Supplies, visitors and commuters arrive at and leave the city by road and rail. Nevertheless both road and rail are strictly confined to terminals at the north western fringe of the islands, and all the distribution to and from these terminals, and all the busy life of the city (bigger than Huddersfield, and with one of the largest tourist trades in the world), is carried on without wheeled motor vehicles. It is certainly not done without motor vehicles, because a great deal of the movement and transport is now contrived by motor boats on the canals.

414. Venice proves in fact to be an extraordinarily interesting example of a network and environmental area system, rendered crystal clear because the distributory network consists of canals instead of roads. The primary distributor is the Grand Canal - a major highway, two miles long and varying in width from 120 to 230 feet. The shallow depth of water and the restricted headroom below the bridges place a limitation on the type of vehicle, and speeds are officially restricted to just over 5 m.p.h. Water bus services operate on the Grand Canal. The ample width and the low volume and speed of traffic make it possible to mix the traffic functions, and the distributor is used both for movement and for direct access to some premises. The Grand Canal gives access to a further 28 miles of waterways which can be described as district distributors (usable by water buses) dividing the city into some 14 areas, and a more tortuous network of narrow local distributors.

415. Thus there is a clear system and hierarchy of distributors for vehicular traffic. In addition there is an entirely separate and extremely complex, continuously linked, system of pedestrian ways and alleys with a total length of about 90 miles. These are punctuated at intervals by piazzas around which each section of the city clusters. The piazzas are still the chief places of local assembly, worship, market and shopping. On this pathway network a splendid urban pedestrian environment is created. Continuity of the network is achieved, of course, only by an immense number of “pedestrian overpasses” or, to put it simply, bridges over the canals. There are, however, only three bridges over the Grand Canal, and this makes for considerable inconvenience of pedestrian movement. Although the canals are remarkably penetrative throughout the clusters of buildings, enabling goods to be brought very close to destinations, there is also considerable use of the footways for final distribution by hand and by trolleys.

416. The communication system in Venice provides almost complete safety for pedestrians. There is no major nuisance from noise, but exhaust fumes from boat engines can be unpleasant. There is no visual intrusion of vehicles in the pedestrian environment, and even on the distributors themselves the boats, unlike wheeled motor vehicles, seem to enhance rather than depreciate the scene. As to accessibility , most of the piazzas ( or shopping centres) are served by water bus routes within distances comparable to those usually planned in this country, but for most people the walking distance from their homes to bus routes is greater than would be tolerated in a conventional layout served by motor vehicles. There must also be considerable difficulties in servicing buildings, furniture removals, burials, fire services, refuse removal and postal deliveries. Nevertheless the place undoubtedly functions, and reasonably well at that, without the strains and tensions set up by motor vehicles operating in conventional streets. But the picture drawn above is undoubtedly also influenced by the fact that private ownership of vehicles is low: conditions where every household made daily use of a mechanically propelled vehicle, even though it were a boat, would obviously be less desirable.

417. The important lesson of Venice is not that a large city can manage without wheeled motor vehicles-we are not suggesting the conversion of streets to canals-but that an interdependent system of vehicular and pedestrian ways can be contrived with complete physical separation between the two-so complete that they do not even seem to belong to the same order-and that it works. It is interesting that it was basically a Venetian arrangement which emerged in our comprehensive redevelopment study of the Tottenham Court Road area.

Vai alla traduzione italiana

There are alternatives to the huge and costly dams. These alternatives not only can protect Venice, but also can restore the Lagoon's equilibrium. We provide an outline of key measures that need to be taken.

An action plan to protect Venice...At the Lagoon's three outlets to the sea:

Reduce the depth and cross-section of the Lagoon's outlets with flexible, reversible methods. Reduce also the depth of the shipping channels that cut through the Lagoon, in particular the oil tanker channel to Marghera. Recent studies have shown that these measures would significantly cut flooding in Venice - a fact that the Consortium behind the dams has finally admitted.

Remove oil tanker traffic from the Lagoon, and construct an outer port alongside the Lido island for the largest cruise ships - as already built in Monte Carlo. The huge tankers and cruise ships would not enter through the shallower channels. These measures are also important in and of themselves. Already in 1973, an Italian law calls for the removal of oil tankers from the fragile Lagoon! And the huge cruise ships that now pass St. Mark's Square dwarf the city and risk eroding its foundations.

Build new jetties outside the Lagoon to block the southern winds that create tide surges.

Develop compatible projects to close the Lagoon's outlets in the event of extreme surges. The Venice City Council recently reviewed a proposal called ARCA, which effectively reverses the Consortium's dams and their heavy environmental impacts: instead of gates in huge underwater foundations, ARCA proposes floating structures that can be filled with water and sunk in place when needed.

Study future methods of coastal protection in case of severe sea-level rise.

And throughout the Lagoon and surrounding areas:

Continue and expand local measures against flooding, such as ongoing work to raise streets in Venice. Most important is the protection of St. Mark's Square, one of Venice's lowest points.

Prohibit natural gas extraction in the upper Adriatic and its risk of further subsidence (falling land levels).

Re-open the "fishing valleys" to the tides (though preserving their fish farming), as well as other areas. This would allow exceptional tides to expand further in the Lagoon, reducing flooding in Venice.

Reduce risks of flooding on the mainland - in heavy rains, flood waters can flow into the Lagoon and towards Venice.

Protect and recover the Lagoon's eroded salt marshes with environmental engineering techniques, instead the coarse methods historically used by the Consortium. A 1999 LIFE Project, financed by the European Commission, tested techniques for salt marsh recovery.

Reduce motorboat traffic, whose waves and screw wash erode salt marshes (as well as Venice's foundations).

Cut water pollution in the Lagoon. The deep channels and strong currents have had one positive effect, flushing heavy pollution out of the Lagoon. Along with healing these deep cuts and restoring the Lagoon's equilibrium, pollution to the Lagoon (from industry, urban centres and intensive agriculture) has to be reduced.

Expand monitoring in the Lagoon and throughout the upper Adriatic to track sea-level rise.

Renew experiments to raise Venice and the islands of the Lagoon, following earlier tests on the island of Poveglia.

The equilibrium between sea and Lagoon, between land and water and between fresh and salt water "is the reason that the environmental and human mosaic that defines the Lagoon itself has survived", according to Italy's National Environmental Impact Commission. The Commission concluded that this equilibrium can only be guaranteed with an "articulated system of works and actions" that are testable, reversible and gradual, as Italy's laws for Venice require.

testo italiano

Look also at:

Italia Nostra VE: The natural balance og Lagoon

Italia Nostra VE: We Oppose the Dam System

Italia Nostra VE: Valid Alternatives Exist

The MoSE: a presentation in powerpoint

A dangerous Monster in the Lagoon

VIA: Why MoSE is not good (in Italian)

Italia Nostra opposes the huge dam system proposed for Venice and its Lagoon. First, for a central principle: if the Lagoon's environmental imbalance is a cause of flooding in Venice, and this has to be addressed before considering a Pharaonic project that could aggravate the problem.

In addition to this fundamental objection, Italia Nostra has dozens of reasons for opposing this costly project, commonly called the "Mo.S.E.", that failed its environmental impact assessment. Two dozen, in fact.

Environmental impacts

1. To anchor the huge dams on the sea bed, the construction companies would excavate about five million cubic metres of sediment, including parts of the hard layer of clay on which Venice itself rests.

2. Into the huge cavities to be dug in the Lagoon, the builders would then dump over 12,000 cement piles, over eight million tons of rock (enough to build the Great Pyramids at Giza!) for the foundations of their dams. They would also sink 50,000 tons of sheet metal for the underwater dams.

3. Just for construction, a further 10 hectares (25 acres) of Lagoon would be exacavated.

4. A huge flotilla of barges and ships will be necessary to remove the excavated material and bring in the rock, cement and metal.

5. The Lido outlet would be transformed with the creation of an artificial island, 9 hectares (22 acres) in size, for buildings and workshops, as well as a 20 metre (60 foot) high smokestack.

6. The coastline would be devastated at Ca'Roman, whose beaches are protected as a natural area under EU law.

7. Before the dams actually start operation, Venetians will have to undergo at least eight years of construction with high environmental impacts (for example, the sediment released to the Lagoon's waters could devastate shellfish harvested.)

8. When the dams are completed, anodes to protect their huge metals gates will release about 10 tons of zinc into the Lagoon each year. The toxic metal could accumulate in the food chain.

Costs

9. Construction will cost an estimated 3.7 billion Euros. In comparison, restoring the Lagoon's environmental balance would cost little.

10. Maintenance and operation of the dams will cost millions more each year. For example, up to 35 kilos (75 pounds) of molluscs and other animals and plants will encrust each square metre of metal gate. These will need regular cleaning. Moreover, every five years, each gate will need to be removed. The Lagoon will be become a permanent building site.

Will it be effective?

11. The colossal dams will render permanent the Lagoon's environmental imbalance: the deep channels dredged in the last century through its outlets will become concrete. The erosion that is now eating away the Lagoon's precious wetlands would become permanent, and this rich coastal lagoon, protected by European law, would be transformed into an area of open sea.

12. The dams may not even protect Venice! In the case of significant sea-level rise - 50 cm (20 inches) or more - according to scientists such as Paolo Antonio Pirazzoli, they will not be effective.

13. The dams may not protect Venice in the case of exceptional events, such as the devastating 1966 flood. Water would steadily pass between the individual gates. Moreover, torrential rains on the mainland would also pour into the Lagoon, as in 1966.

14. Another risk is that oscillation of the individual gates in the face of heavy seas would allow through more water and may in extreme cases result in a complete breakdown of the system.

15. For smaller flooding events, on the other hand, the dams would not be used. At present, the dams would be raised only for the highest tides (those +110 cm above median sea level). In 2002, low-lying areas of Venice, in particular St. Mark's Square, were repeatedly flooded by these lesser events.

16. Italy's environmental impact commission also warned that the maintenance of this huge, underwater structure could face unexpected difficulties.

Legal issues

17. Italy's special laws for Venice call for the restoration of the Lagoon's environmental balance, the elimination of petrol tankers and the opening of the fishing valleys - before building any dam structure. Italy's cabinet reaffirmed these priorities in March 2001. None of these has happened.

18. The special laws also call for public works that are testable, reversible and gradual. The huge dam project has none of these characteristics: it will be a rigid system, cemented permanently into the Lagoon bed.

19. The national Environmental Impact Assessment Commission gave the dam project a negative assessment in 1998 (legal maneuvres invalidated the subsequent formal Minister's decree - but not the assessment itself). The dam builders are starting construction on initial, "complementary" works, approved only by a regional commission. Italia Nostra argues - in court - that only the National Commission can approve these works.

The monopoly problem

20. The dams' builders, the New Venice Consortium, hold an - essentially a form of monopoly - on studying, designing and building public works in the Lagoon of Venice. Private companies have a natural and legitimate interest to compete and make profits in the marketplace. Major public policy decisions, however, need good government and transparency to ensure that the public good is protect. For large public works, both design and construction should be open to competitive bidding (under EU and even Italian law). For complex works, design and construction may be combined - but again with open competition. In Venice, the "exclusive concessionaire" has never faced competition. Moreover, the builders were also in charge of most preliminary scientific and technical studies, which could have been used to develop and evaluate alternative approaches.

21. The builders dominate public information about flooding in Venice. Their information centre, press office and high-quality videos and materials present beautiful images of the dam project with hardly any discussion of its impacts and risks.

Missing studies

22. The national Environmental Impact Assessment Commission identified a series of important issues that need to be studied. These include: predicting exceptional tide events; assessing environmental risks; studying the sediment layers to be excavated; and reviewing the changes in the Lagoon's dynamics the dams would create.

The wrong approach

23. The Lagoon, goes an ancient saying in Venice, has a thousand names. Italy's National Environmental Impact Assessment Commission warned that Venice can not be protected without "complex management of the Lagoon system". This "system" includes the city itself, surrounding islands, salt marshes and other key ecosystems, as well as the mainland area whose waters flow into the Lagoon. It needs "an articulated union of works and actions" that are testable, reversible and gradual, according to the Commission. Instead, the dams try to address the problem of high tides with one single, huge project.

24. For centuries, Venice and Venetians have intervened in the Lagoon with extreme prudence. All works were extensively tested and discussed. Today, this prudence and the underlying respect for the complexity of an exceptional ecosystem are as indispensible as ever.

testo in italiano

Look also at:

Italia Nostra VE: The Lagoon's Natural Balance

Italia Nostra VE: We Oppose the Dam System

Italia Nostra VE: Valid Alternatives Exist

The MoSE: a presentation in powerpoint

A dangerous Monster in the Lagoon

VIA: Why MoSE is not good (in Italian)

VENICE. The vibrations accurately recorded by the Marigraph of San Mark suddenly rise when large cruise ships pass by, confirming the concerns expressed by the Council of Castello (a Venice quarter) and its residents about the effects caused by the passage of large ships through the S. Mark’s basin. And August is one of the most dangerous months, according to the statistics of the Hydrographical Institute.

The 26th August of two years ago is an example for all. In fact, the situation, as regards the cruise ships, has not changed in these two years.

The marigraph records the tides waves, but also works like a seismograph, recording the water vibrations. After a night without vibrations, the marigraph curve starts rising at approximately 5 in the morning when the “Splendid of the Seas”, one of the cruisers that stops in Venice, enters the S. Mark’s Basin.

After some quietness, another violent vibration occurs at 8.30, when is the Costa Atlantica to arrive.

That day the marigraph records have many ups and downs but a sudden rise occurs at 5 p.m. when the “Rotterdam 6” leaves the basin. The marigraph records the top oscillation just after 6 p.m. when is the turn of “Costa Classica” to leave the Marittima docks and thus pass triumphantly through the S. Mark’s Basin, offering its passengers a monumental picture of Venice.

Afterwards, the marigraph oscillations calm down, as soon as the big cruisers stop passing by the S. mark’s area. But the day after is again the same, with the ships’ passage leaving their trace on the graph. When? At around 8.30 a.m., when again is “Costa Classica” that comes by.

It is an impressive correspondence, regardless the recent assessment of the experts that the Port of Venice has appointed to answer the public opinion’s concerns about these large cruise-ships passage.

The Port experts reasserted that «the 60 tons ships, according to hydraulic experts, only generate a very limited wave motion that cannot be distinguished from the so-called background noise, or the waves provoked by other ships that pass through the Giudecca channel very day».

So it would be that more than the “Mistral” or the “Princess” are the «motor boats, the Actv waterbuses and the police speedboats » that provoke the waves. And how do they explain the vibrations that the S. Mark’s marigraph records when the holiday cruisers pass by?

«It is absurd – says one of the spokesperson of Associazione Arco, an association that gathers the residents of East Castello concerned about the impact of large cruisers in the area – that so many serious problems are caused to local residents and so big risks are put on the City monumental patrimony, only to let the cruising tourists pass through the S. Mark’s Basin. Cruisers can easily pass through the Oil Channel. And in fact, one of the Costa cruisers has gone through the Oil Channel during the Redentore celebrations ».

The motor vibrations and noise emissions are a continuous reason for concern. Arpav – the regional agency for environmental protection – has recognised that the noise level is incompatible and the City Council Environmental Commission has asked an evaluation of environmental impact.

It is still an open issue, a problem that both the City Mayor Paolo Costa and the Commissioner for the water traffic have promised to address.

E. Salzano, The challange of Venice

Book review: Luigi Scano, Venice:Terra e acqua (Venice: land and water), Edizioni delle autonomie, Roma 1985

1.

At the end of his journey through “the land and waters” of the Venice city-planning, where he has guided us with the confidence of someone that has very often undergone those itineraries, Luigi Scano leaves us with an awkward question mark: the controversial issue of the “restrictions”.

Are these restrictions borne as ineffective or welcomed as useful? Behind this question mark, behind the role-playing of who is in charge of what and the cunning game of using old measures for new scopes, hidden behind all these tricks lays a more significant and greater problem.

A problem that, among the Venetian debates and polemic discussions, finds its shape in the querelle between “protection” and “development”: between those who – in different ways and modalities – believe that priority must be given to the need of protecting the formal quality of Venice architecture and environment in which the city world-wide distinctiveness and prestige rests, and– on the other hand – those who suppond operate in order to privilege the socio-economic development, as an unavoidable warranty for the city self-sufficiency.

It is not enough to say that the contraposition between these two terms, protection and development, is pointless (even when and if in good will).

In fact, if this contraposition has always accompanied the recent Venice history and political arena and has emerged every time a city crucial issue (i.e. the city urban plans, how to use St. Mark’s Square and the Arsenale, legality and opportunity of new house-building) was put under discussion, it cannot only be because the entire town has ended up wrapped in a cultural misunderstanding.

My opinion is that the reason for this enduring contraposition is that, although a cultural framework able to resolve this contrast has sufficiently clearly emerged, it has not yet been able to provide a system of measures to achieve – concretely – the objectives of protection and development at the same time. Consequently, this cultural position has not managed to wield its leadership. It is also because of this, that various interests have had the chance of ambiguously contrast each other – one at the time – behind the deceptive ideologies of either protection or development, or to find precarious solutions, compromises and mediations.

2.

First, let’s then attempt to express the cultural position that could acquire leadership, being able to provide adequate answers to both the above-mentioned needs and, therefore, to carry out the necessary synthesis between the two platforms.

In a situation like Venice, the qualities gathered in the long, methodical and intelligent work of mastering and transforming the natural elements have become cultural heritage and richness.

In addition, these qualities do not only consists in the materiality of the objects through which they are expressed (the lagoon landscape, the disposition of the historical settlements, its architecture), nor in the incredible formal perfection achieved by the intertwining among the various elements (water and land, built and un-built, the disposition of the walkable spaces and the home structure, the consistency of the building systems and the diachronic and synchronic variation of the architectural solutions).

They also include – most substantially – the still surviving balanced and dynamic relationship between the city environmental physical elements and the real and articulated social and economic tissue (population, productive activities, trade, the entire city-life) that represents a crucial component of the city richness.

Thus, the quality of Venice does not consist in the “monument” that some seem to consider it, nor in the “landscape framework” that some want to reduce it, but in its being a complex environment, made such by a multi-century work aimed at governing and transforming the surrounding nature and at helping it hosting the life, activities and trades of its inhabitants.

A work that can be seen everywhere in its historical accumulation: where it has produced the utmost “artificiality” (but always starting from an attentive evaluation and utilization of natural regulations and rhythms), and where it seems that nature constitutes the prevailing element (but always a man-work controlled and shaped nature).

Venice as continuous mankind intervention on nature, according to natural laws. Venice as steady transformation and maintenance (as continuous government). Venice as creation and conservation of a complex structure, where the stability of the governing laws can be seen in the seconding, exploiting and modifying action that the Serenissima’s government has daily exerted on the lagoon environment: the hydraulic interactions between sea and lagoon and rivers and lagoon, the balance between economic activities and the environment, the urbanization activity in which a strong “material culture” has for centuries dynamically operated according to a system of “unwritten laws” on the relations between building lots and water-ways, on the buildings structural layout and on the building formal elements, materials and technologies. Moreover, where the continuous and constant intertwining between physical and social elements, between the city and the nature use and shape, is expressed in a social complexity (of functions, classes, occupations), which is at the same time product and condition of the city structure complexity and richness.

Thus, protecting the quality of Venice necessarily means protecting both these two aspects (the physical and social structure): the synthesis between the two elements that the city and its environment express with masterly skill. A synthesis that can never be achieved once for all (as it has never been during the whole city history), but must be pursued dynamically, with the aim of developing (and not freezing) the existing qualities.

3.

For those who agree with this cultural position is it clear that the restrictions, if and until they only represent limitations (both substantially and procedurally) to some given activities or transformations, are not very useful at all. They only serve the scope of guaranteeing the material survival of a resource: but of a resource that is not only material and that needs to be transformed (exactly because is an alive resource) in line with the social development dynamics. Restrictions do not work (are not enough) to govern the correct mechanism of this resource. Therefore, they can only be used for defence purposes and for limited lengths of time, and are totally ineffective for the scopes that they officially pursue.

On the other hand, we need to understand what are the changes in the city physical and social structure, that not only are compatible, but also are consistent and sound with its “artificial nature”. We need to identify what are the alterations able to recover and develop the quality of this special and complex urban reality and the quality of the synthesis that it represents. It is also necessary to transfer the results of this understanding in a system of measures for the government of the urban transformation that can make the desiderata transformations true and concrete, by guiding, addressing, supporting and controlling the wide and numerous city players: public and private operators, homeowners and builders, who are the ones in charge of the actual acting.

Luigi Scano informs us, in his meticulous and involved account, of the attempts and experimentations made in the recent years, of the plans and their difficulties, of the achievable objectives and the started work. I will only comment on some points.

Some great options have been chosen. Among them: the method to follow to intervene on the city physical; what transformations in the city social structure should be promoted and supported, and which ones should be discouraged or hindered ; what measures to undertake for the government of these transformations.

4.

The method to follow to intervene on the physical structure (Scano has sufficiently outlined it) basically consists in identifying the “unwritten laws” through which the city has been built and modified over the time, from the early XI Century until the breaking of the “upholding culture” determined by the coming of the concrete technology. After having developed Saverio Muratori’s and his school’s method of analysis, and by generalising its application in the structural reading of historical building unit and experimenting its use under a normative viewpoint (in the coordination urban plans and the detailed plan of Burano) and operationally (in the planning and evaluation of building interventions), a crucial element in the new system of planning measures is now within close reach.

Already, for each building unit of the city historical centre we can define what is the structural category, the “type” that the builder has referred to erect and altered that given building unit. And because for each “type” the characterising structural elements can be sufficiently clearly identified ( and thus, what elements to conserve or restore or recover in order to safeguard the historical message that each building brings with it), it is then possible to create a regulatory frame to direct building operators and indicate the lines to follow for each codified structural “type” of building. What it is that should be preserved ore recovered to safeguard each building unit “message”, and what, on the other hand, can be modified or erected ex novo (within the identified structural web) in order make that building unit adequate to the needs of the modern life-style.

Not all building units can correctly host all the possible utilisations and functions. We can define (through the structural reading) what is for each “type” of building unit the range of the compatible usage destinations: what use will not inflict the building a devastating alteration of its structure. On the other hand, what is the most proper usage destination (or destinations) within this range, and thus what is the trend to follow in developing the city structure and its elements, can only be defined in relation with the transformation proposed for the city social structure.

5.

As we have already mentioned, Venice is a complex city. A city which essential nature is represented by the co-presence, interlacement and mutual interrelation of a great number of classes, professions and activities. Venice is one of the most vivid proof and evidence that urban quality means complexity, and that to recover appropriate urban quality in the devastated towns and suburbs built in our century means to overcome the logic of single-purpose zone division. Under this point of view, Venice is a model.

Nevertheless, Venice is increasingly more exposed to the risk that its social structure deteriorates and that the expansion of tourism and its related activities will reduce its complexity to a single-purpose.

The risk is that the social events, the interests and flows caused by the very same urban quality and the increase in the capacity of expenditure, mobility and leisure time of all industrialised countries will not only determine the expulsion of the inhabitants and the replacement of economic activities with other activities, but the radical transformation of the city social quality: its reduction to a mono-culture.

Such a devastating risk cannot be avoided with a policy made of only restrictions and bans. Tourism cannot be exorcised: it can be governed by conferring it the adequate spaces, the needed facilities and the appropriate organisation. Most of all we can contrast and avoid the tourism monoculture by promoting diversified economic and social activities, in order to let the town being “involved” in other interests. But the question is: what interests? The city debate that for many years had been concentrated on the defence of the residentiality, in the 80ies has opened up on a wider range of issues.

An option seems to stand out with wide consensus. The town is not a generic container that suits any kind of activity. Its space is limited and its appeal enormous. Thus, first we must select and then promote activities that have, or may find, a reason in the history and the special nature of the city. Not only we need to defend the residential capacity for those who live and work in town and to select the economic activities related with the city social classes, but we also have to be aware of the prestigious Venice localisation, in order to support and promote the development of activities that apply research, technological innovation and cultural creativity to the City raw material: the outstanding resource that the city special environment represents.

Thus, new projects and ideas emerge. Along with the plans to defend the city residential capacity and improve the “level” of city services, there are proposals to govern the tourist activity by rationalising the number of accesses (cone-shaping terminals), the identification of specific spaces for tourist accommodation (smaller islands), the organization of tourist itineraries aimed at discovering the city and its environment.

New projects include the development of research and experimentation on smaller shipbuilding industry (one option for the recovery of the ancient Serenissima productive area of Arsenale is to establish a new CNR institute), in order to promote a policy to support this traditional – and still alive – Venetian activity. Another new project is the establishment of a research centre for the development of the glass industry (to place in the Murano island in an old and abandoned industrial building). Projects also include the development of an environmental research institute, through a collaboration between VeniceUniversities and CNR and with the contribution of international experiences and skills, to concur with the public agencies to the monitoring of the unique Venice lagoon, and for the scientific evaluation of the State projects for the protection and recovery of the lagoon ecosystem.

Other projects regard the application, experimentation and dissemination of methodologies, technologies, tools and organisational structures able to make the city restoration and recovery works more successful, stable and cost effective and to contribute to the knowledge-base of the city historical, cultural and artistic heritage.

This would result in the renewal of the city and of its activities, skills and professional structure. It would mean that the Venice architectural and environmental heritage is no longer seen as a mere appealing showy stage to sell to the best buyer on the market, but as a resource for research, culture and material work to graft innovation on the tree of history and on the territory of environment.

This will somehow help the demythicization of the “ magnificent, progressive destinies” that every fin-de-siécle attaches to the technological development. Instead, it will more humbly recognise that applying cultural, research, innovative technical tools to the actual problems of this city and its society has been the consolidated usual procedure of the Venetian “Serenissima” Republic, and that it’s this routine that we must recover.

6.

The measures to govern such transformations of the physical and social structure of the Venice historical city centre are very different from the instrument of the traditional urban culture and theory. It is not a plan that anticipates a possible future disposition of the various city functions, abstractly “outlined” on the territory and integrated with mostly restrictive and quantitative norms and regulations, to be translated into actions through the technical mediation of progressively more detailed operational plans and the political negotiation of a programme made of a selection of priority interventions to carry out in the short term.

Instead, it must be a planning activity, the three phases of which are inseparably inter-connected: plan (that is the overall consistency of the choices on the territory), programme (that is the choice of the actually feasible priority operations) and implementation and management (that is the concrete actions of transformations).

A planning activity in which not analysis, objectives and choices are actually connected, but also are in continuous and methodical interaction. So that the choices are not only the almost automatic consequence of how the political and administrative objectives are applied to a correct analysis of the reality, but also where the planning process can allow - in every given moment – the measurement of the transformation of the reality, the consequent evaluation of the decisions made on the territory and their updating in relation with the change of conditions.

It must be a planning activity in which the three requisites of consistency, flexibility and transparency (that is the evidence and public awareness of why some given objectives in a given reality translate into given choices) are at the same time solidly achieved.

In view of such a planning activity, the numerous necessary technical and operational tools are being arranged. In advanced progress there is the cartographic system, which is not only a crucial knowledge and measurement tool, but also represents the knowledge base of all the territorial information, and thus a fundamental and primary component of the territorial-based urban information system (SIUTE). The latter is in progress and an experimental simulation has started on a limited area. In the meantime, the fundamental analysis has been drafted: a draft that includes the structural typologies, the settled activities, the ownership, and the demand for spaces from those organisations that deal with public services or utilities. Scano gives account of all this in the final pages of his book.

In addition, three kinds of restrictions are compound, heavy and often paralysing and is necessary to remove them in order to establish a new planning system. First, the restriction represented by the personnel, in which the interlacement among salary level, qualification and commitment requires a huge effort (to be made first of all – but not only – by the City Council) in order to promote the growth of those professional skills indispensable to manage, with independence and professionalism, the new urban planning system. Second the budget restrictions: the increasingly greater financial straits make the work of providing the material basis for the new planning more and more precarious, vague and unsure. The supply of hardware material, the dissemination of results, the assistance of independent consultants, the staff training initiatives become increasingly more difficult and uncertain. The third restriction is connected with the competency conflicts and confusions. This tend to represent a factor of paralysis the more the government activity becomes an action that must involve - within a single consistent process – a large number of technical, administrative and political skills, that are now often separated in their own “castling” behind defence lines.

7.

From the issue of the restrictions applied to the territory to the issue of the practical restrictions. It is not only assonance of words.

In order to achieve the conditions that can allow the real establishment of an operational synthesis between conservation and transformation, protection and development, history and innovation, environment and life – I mean, in order to really overcome the territory constraints -, we must, first of all, innovate the culture, organisation, qualification and the very role of the institution in charge of administrating the territory.

Perhaps (to draw up a balance) – this is the most serious limit of the current left-wing coalition City Council. Overcoming this limit is surely not an easy and quick thing to do and requires determination, firmness and the cultural and political commitment needed to cope with issues that do not “reward” on the short run. However, these issues must be dealt in order to bring about a “government culture” that really wants to take care and solve the real problems of the territory.

Actually what we are trying to create in Venice is something more ambitious than what it may look at a first glance.

The attempt is to solve - not only theoretically but with concrete administrative measures and actions – the above-mentioned relationship between conservation and transformation, history and innovation. In fact, this would represent a deeply innovative event within the Italian – and not only Italian – scenario.

In addition, rebuilding the credibility and authority of the public government procedures in the territorial and urban transformations, through the creation and the application of a system of appropriate planning tools, would represent a substantial innovation not only in the current phase of deregulation, “conditional amnesty for building violations and infringements”, and casual operations on the territory, but also as regards the traditional planning altogether.

Most of all, turning the current decision-making system (which is a confused interlacement of too much often occasional and discretional choices and actions) into a systematic and verifiable procedure is something that can radically innovate the entire approach and accountability of the political leadership.

Is it possible, in Venice, to achieve such an ambitious objective? To bring in such deep innovations? The millenary history of this small and great part of the world – reviewed by Luigi Scano in his book – suggests that it is possible and it is necessary. The possibility meaning the motivation and the lesson given by the immanent presence of an environment deeply sodden with the qualities produced by ten centuries of tradition, incredibly rich in fundamental world-wide values and shaped by a material culture that – during the Serenissima’s centuries – has been able to make urban transformation the core of its political and administrative agenda. And where the necessity can be perceived in that interlacement of tensions and falls, attempts and failures, rationality and compromises, intuitions and impotence that has marked – as Scano points out - Venice history in the recent decades.

A recent history that is just about to arrive at the point where clear decisions can no longer be delayed, because the instability and precariousness of the cultural and political equilibrium can no longer be prolonged, the hard price being decadency for stagnation or death for congestion and denaturalization.

Venice, its history and its qualities defy us. To accept the challenge and win it can mean not only to lead the city to “new splendour”, but also to produce, here in this town, administrative and technical examples able to demonstrate that some crucial knots of the current society can be unravelled and that Venice has again something to teach to the world.

increasingly more pervasive, deafening and sneaky propaganda. Is there democracy without information?

During the session of the 14th of April, the City Council approved a request for funding to the Rome National Government in order to finance research aimed at designing a sublagunar subway and restoring the Arsenale-Tessera area. You can be pro or against the sublagunar subway: the dilemma is serious because on one hand you have the appealing possibility of quick connections for residents, on the other possible risks of the “caranto”, the upspringing of new touristic hotel areas and a potential further mass tourism invasion. Many Venice citizens are puzzled and unsure. What they need is information, which should be accurate, understandable and – most of all - unbiased. But what impartiality can be guaranteed by a research funded by the very same Council that, right or wrong, has been struggling for years for the approval of the project? Where can data and figures be found to support not only arguments in favor of the project, but against it too? The Council has been working on this for years. Its employees are paid to bring the project forward. Is there someone on the other side, to support alternative points of view?

The same problem, but hundreds times bigger, has risen and still stands for the MOSE project. The Consorzio Venezia Nuova, which has been appointed for the works, has already spent tens, maybe hundreds of billions liras to prepare the project, to fight against oppositions and to put forth biased information. Has anyone tried to counter it? There is an immense disproportion between the two sides. The opposers are nor fanatics nor environment fundamentalists; they are women and men who have some serious, sound doubts and who suggest interesting alternatives. They are doing this because they are driven by the love for their city and maybe by the inescapable rational approach which things, expenses and works should follow.

Let’s look at them: who are they, how do they fight? There is “Italia Nostra” ( a n.g.o. for environment and cultural heritage): have you ever seen their offices? Two tiny and grimy rooms let by the Alpini Association. The doors do not close, the toilet is down the basement. The president is a retired engineer who works there full time, and for free. The few councilors are Venetians, professionals, teachers and so on, who are dedicating all of their free time. They don’t even have the money for one part-time employee. They fight hard just to pay their phone or electricity bills. They work without being paid, and spend their own money. They are not driven by political ambitions, they do not look for power (they would jump on the other side if they would!). They are constantly seeking help from hydraulic specialists, from world weather experts, from engineers, and once in a while they are able to find some other idealist that work for free and hold some conference.

Besides Italia Nostra there are WWF, VAS, and some other small local group (Estuario Nostro, Airis, a few more). All volunteers, all without funds, all very tiny, fight against the more-than-billionaire Consorzio colossus. They do miracles. Not to mention Pax in Aqua, an association that has been funded in the past 5 years only by the scanty subscription fees of their supporters (3 millions lira per year) to fight against water-taxi drivers, lancioni, shippers, sailors. Their counterparts have offices that work full time and with generous funds; we have to study the documents, prepare our relations, and go to countless meetings arranging figures and speeches. I’d like to add one more note.

On the 15th of April the Gazzettino publishes the complaint of a lady which lives in Riva dei Sette Martiri. The cruising ships, even the small Greek ones, make her windows shudder at their passage. The same thing has been reported by the company Bucintoro, which has its offices at the end of Dogana. It’s easy to imagine, the lady says, the damage caused to the sea bed and to the shores by the giant propellers of those ships. But, here is the swift funding for a reassuring study: the Port Authority has commissioned a research that shows how the waves caused by the big ships are virtually irrelevant. Could the lady, could we Venice citizens, pay other professionals to prepare an alternative research, to make them study the (evident) underwater effects instead of how tall are the generated waves, like the Port experts did? Obviously not. Who could pay those professionals? The lady who lives ashore? This is the state of the art. Those who have an immediate economic interest move quickly, spend money and put forth biased – when not misleading – information. Those who refuse being misinformed can count only on their good will, on the courtesy of the press (the unbiased one) and on the voluntary work of generous lawyers and experts. It’s not enough. Maybe, in a really democratic country, the institutions should give funds to those groups who spend so much of their time and professionalism for common causes. But the institutions know very well that those troublemakers would rise problems and interfere with the projects of many economic and politic lobbies. They know better than to help those who are perceived as a potential thorn in the side.

It is uncommon for a man from the South, accustomed to horizons defined by rocks and cliffs, to come to love the boundless span of a lagoon landscape. Yet Edoardo Salzano from Naples, 73 years, urban scientist, former university professor and Faculty president, has been living in Venice for almost 30 years and has grown a true fondness for the Lagoon. He is a guardian of the lagoon because he has been studying it for a long time and for a long time has been refining tools to protect it and to spread public awareness. To Venice - where he has also been councillor - to its islands, to its fauna and vegetation, to its branching outline and to the menaces that threaten it, he has dedicated one of the most popular sections of a website opened some time ago and that has become a rich repository of news, opinions and forums about city planning, landscape and urban sciences (www.eddyburg.it).

To Mr Salzano’s eyes the lagoon is precious for its salt marshes and the play of tides which makes them rise and sink. For its major islands (Murano, Burano, Torcello, San Francesco del deserto, Pellestrina, Sant’Erasmo), the Lido and the minor islands, on which Venetians built monasteries and hospitals and where cargoes and sailors were quarantined. For its lights that show gradients from pink to the darkest red at the sunset. And also because it is a laboratory. “It is the result of the smart application of human action to nature”, he explains, “an application that uses tools like time, tidal flows, lunar phases. And constant maintenance, always building different arrangements”. A representative case, that is. Very much modern.

The lagoon is not a stable element. “It is a passing phase, a moment of passage in the conflict between river waters, that bring mud, and sea waters, that tend to bring that mud away from the basin. If the river forces win, the lagoon becomes a pond; if the sea forces win, it becomes sea”. Venetians wanted to preserve the lagoon for economical reasons. It was needed to build and repair ships in quiet waters. And, with its fishes, it was a source for food.

“The Venice Republic has maintained this balance for centuries. Giovanni Astengo, great urban scientist, often mentioned a channel called “of the scomenzera”. In its name was the method: every time that some work in the lagoon was started (“scomenzar”, for “cominciare”, “to begin”) everyone would monitor its effects. The work was continued only if the consequences were not harmful; otherwise it would be started over”­.

And then, the equilibrium has gone. The most obvious symptom of this disruption is the high water phenomenon, which, in certain weather conditions, floods parts of Venice’s historical center. The lagoon has shown his hostile face (the terrible flood of 1966). But high water is not an illness that the city has been carrying for centuries, it is not a natural pathology caused by the fragile coexistence of land and sea. High water is an historical illness, Salzano points out. Until 1962 – according to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, source of an impressive deal of historical studies and territory history – high water has never been an alarming event: during the decade of 1953 the lagoon level has exceeded 110 cm only 18 times. After 1962 the floods suddenly increased: 32 in the decade until ’72, 37 in the next. In the 1993-2002 decade they soared to 53.

If this is an historical problem and does not depend from the lagoon physiology, which are the causes for high water? One is to be found in the Luigi Scano (“Venezia terre e acqua”, 1985) and Piero Bevilacqua’s (“Venezia e le acque”, 1995, new edition 1998) books. The story begins during the sixteenth century, when Cristoforo Sabbadino, water technician for the Republic, called for a series of urgent works to give back the lagoon its maximum capability, avoiding any work that could reduce its capacity: the “sovracomun” (“over city”), as the high water was then called, was not caused by the sea level rising, according to Sabbadino, but to the narrowing of the basin due to the debris left from the ingoing rivers. For this reason, in the following decades many river mouths were deflected out of the lagoon and all obstacles to the water intake and expansion were removed. Strict measures and harsh penalties were adopted against those who interred parts of the water surface to obtain land or rise banks or dared to privatize marshes to start a fishing farm.

“Venice learned to live in a vulnerable environment. It gained knowledge and know-how, which became the basis of its strength”, Salzano says. Its heroes where water technicians, fishermen and wood cutters. Upon their knowledge a managing class established, which guaranteed to the city continuity of government and richness. “The amphibian condition drove Venice to pursue natural safeguard techniques, without forcing, even when “great works” were needed: the deflection of rivers, the building, in 1744, of the Murazzi, a stone barrier which runs along the lagoon’s external border”. When, at the end of the 18th century, the autonomy of the Republic crumbled, Venice took another path. During the 19th century channels and streets were dug in the historical center, reducing the basin capacity. In the 1917, then, the industrial adventure of Porto Marghera was started, which brought lots of poisons and caused the drying of more lagoon areas. According to Scano’s figures, the lagoon basin has lost 7 thousand hectares during the last decades, while 8 thousand more have been subtracted by the fishing basins barriers: about a third of its whole surface. At the same time, the port mouths were deepened and channels were dug in order to allow ships to reach the port. Around 1965, at the Malamocco port mouth, the depth reached 57 meters, to allow oil tankers to load and unload crude from Marghera depots.

These two conditions – narrower lagoon, shallower seabed – are upsetting the past equilibrium and are quickening the flow of sea into the lagoon, Salzano explains. It is as if a faucet was completely opened to let water enter a recipient were some joker had put several stones: the water flows out and this is how Venice is submerging.

In order to contain high waters, in the late 80ies, the MoSE (Electromechanical Experimental Module) project was started. The first stone was posed by Silvio Berlusconi last may. MoSE is a mobile dam system built at the port mouths of Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia. A great concrete structure will be set upon the sea bed, upon which mobile barriers will be mounted. The barriers rise whenever the sea level exceeds 110 cm and stay up as long as the condition lasts, then they sink back.

According to the technicians of Consorzio Venezia Nuova (the pool of companies that designed the project) the use of the mobile barriers will be sporadic. They will rise, they assure, 3 to 5 times a year: this is the number of times that, in average, the sea level has exceeded 110 cm (but, the same sources say, in December 2002 alone the limit has been exceeded 15 times). No problem, they swear, for the lagoon life, that needs a constant water exchange in order to not become a lake, which would mean death; and the lagoon’s death means Venice’s death.

Salzano is a MoSE antagonist (and like him the most part of the environmentalist front: Italia Nostra of Venice has built a massive dossier). To his eyes, apart from technical matters, MoSE is a great artefact that conflicts with the history of natural maintenance that Venice can be proud of. It is an extremely expensive work, he adds: 2,300 millions euros for design and work (3,700 millions according to other sources); 9 millions euros a year for management and maintenance. Moreover, he insists, “it is not sure it will work and we cannot afford a “great work” at those prices that does not even guarantee positive results” (the MoSE examinations begin during the nineties: positive vote by an international expert committee – July ’98 – and by the Region – October ’98; negative vote – December 98 – by the Environmental Impact Evaluation Committee, canceled later by the Regional Court for a formal defect).

The dispute about MoSE has been going on for years. It divides technicians and political sides (the arguments in its favour are summarized below). The dams should start working in 2011. Until then Venice will have to live with high water anyway. “The work will heavily impact the lagoon”, adds Salzano. “Huge blocks of concrete will be laid on the sea bed, and they will sever the continuity between the lagoon and the open sea”.

A real alternative to MoSE does not exist. Nothing that is so technologically striking, anyway. The alternative calls for a different idea of Venice, it builds its reasons upon the causes for high water, with the purpose to remove or at least decrease its effects. Already during the first Massimo Cacciari administration two operations have been started, and they are continuing under Paolo Costa: the cleaning and digging of the rii (channels) now obstructed by debris and waste, in order to restore their former capacity and allow more room for water expansion; and the elevation of the city surface to a quota of 120 cm. These “cuci e scuci” interventions (stitch and unstitch), as Salzano calls them, are what Venice and its lagoon need. Salzano refers to the Great Masses Laboratory of CNR (Research National Committee) according to whom these and other “small works” (reopening of obstructed lagoon zones, seabed reshaping, rebuilding of the texture of natural channels, for instance) could reduce the high tides of an average 20-25 cm. “That would mean”, says Salzano, “that the frequency of high water would decrease to a few days for year, as it always has been since Venice is Venice”.

The defense.

The reasons for MoSE

There are several arguments in defense of MoSE. According to the technicians who are building it, during the 20th century the lagoon bed has sunk more than 23 cm relatively to the sea bed. This is due to the increase of the sea level (eustasy) and to the lowering of the land (subsidence). These are, according to the technicians, the main causes for high water. The digging of the oil tankers channel has been one of the causes for lagoon degradation, but it had no consequence on the phenomenon. It suffices to think, they add, that at the time of the 1966 flood the channel has not yet been dug.

The hypothesis that the opening of the fishing valleys and the filling of the oil tankers channel could decrease the tide levels inside the lagoon, according to the MoSE technicians, has been put under analysis. But results show that these interventions cannot have effect upon high water. Moreover, the lifting of whole land areas is not sufficient, because great doubts remain about methods and results. Such interventions, above all, would not insure a uniform lifting. They are hence unthinkable in such valuable and fragile historical centres as those of the lagoon cities.

A really effective article from Franco Giliberto, “A conference about MoSE attracts Venice sea-goers more than the beach” talks about the zinc released in the environment by the mobile barriers anodic protection system. Twelve tons per year of this metal is a very large quantity of polluting matter, if you consider, as the IRSA (Water Research Institute of CNR, Research National Committee) expert says, that this quantity would represent by itself the 50% of the maximum allowed load for the whole Venice Lagoon drainage basin, as stated by the new City Plan.

You can easily understand why much concern has been expressed about the environmental compatibility of the continuing release of such a quantity of zinc in the water environment. Especially when you consider that the expected life of MoSE, which would develop underwater for a total length of 1572 meters, is of 50 to 100 years (the promoters themselves are unsure).

Zinc released by the anodic protection panes is a polluting substance persistent in water and in sediments and capable of accumulation along the food chain, so much that EU has proposed to ban its use in slaughterhouse devices.

Especially considering the vast areas of mollusk cultivation inside the Venice Lagoon, the figure about the zinc release should lead to think about the possible damage made to one of the most relevant items in lagoon economy, the cultivation of mussels, and the increase in the long run of the already significant difficulties in controlling the mussels quality for table consumption.

The project requires a total of 79 mobile barriers: 21 by Preporti, 20 by S.Nicolò and Malamocco, 18 by Chioggia. The average surface of each barrier is about 1000 square meters. The total external surface can be estimated around 75,000 square meters of iron, upon which toxic substances should be applied in order to try and limit the growth of molluscsand the associate biocenosis.

In the SIA the fouling growth is estimated at about 30 kg/year for square meter of mobile barrier surface, with a total encrusting production whose quantity and weight is easily calculated. It should be noted that, even if the Environmental Impact Evaluation Decree was canceled, the Environmental Impact Evaluation Committee technical report was not. That report still exists and represents an articulate and documented view, which deals with every critical aspect of the work and of its building. Now that the Plan Office is about to be started, perhaps it would be helpful to begin taking into consideration that report, given that its clearly stated assessments were never opposed with precise, well-grounded and unequivocal counterarguments.

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A dreadful project, as it affects the hard layer of clay consolidated in thousands of years (“caranto”) which is the geologic base of the entire system of the Venice lagoon islands. In addition, it introduces elements that severely ruin the gentle lagoon landscape, opening the way for even further real estate speculations.

Most of all, the project is disgraceful because its ultimate objectives radically clash with Venice and its heritage traditional values: it promotes mass tourism (which is much more harmful than high waters) and a “modernism” that could have appeared seductive at the Marinetti’s times but is definitely undergoing a deep crisis nowadays. It also denies ones of the most significant and inherent Venice quality: the lengthy times needed to walk around the town: slowness as a necessary condition for taking up a contemplative attitude.

“Sublagunare”, underwater lagoon subway, tomorrow the verdict

Three tube stations and a terminal in the middle of the lagoon

ALBERTO VITUCCI

VENICE. The independent consultants have turned down the project. Now the City Council entrusts the decision to an inner committee. The future of the lagoon subway is in the hands of a pool of municipality chief executives who will meet up tomorrow to express their opinions. However, also among the “insiders” there are some doubts.

Doubts regards the geologic aspect of the project and its environmental impact (especially concerning the four stations in the lagoon), its costs, and how will it be possible to dispose the million of tons of material that should be excavated in order to create space for a tunnel long more than 5 kilometres. Doubts also concern the project cost effectiveness. The Mayor Paolo Costa is very keen on the subway project. It is one of its administration priorities regardless the opposition of many environmentalist and culture pressure groups.

The project consists of an underwater railway connection between Tessera (Venice airport) and the Arsenale, for the transport of both goods and people, with in-between stops at Murano and Fondamente Nuove, and an interchange terminal in the middle of the lagoon for trains and waterbuses.

ACTV (the City Council transport company) has presented a project-financing scheme that estimates the project cost in approximately 300 million euro. 40% of the costs should be on ACTV (120 million euro) and the rest financed by the Municipality. According to the proponents, the subway will give «new life to the north-east side of the city», such as the Arsenale area. The opponents say that not only the project presents many cultural and environmental problems, but is not even economically feasible and will only bring even more mass tourism.

Some months ago the committee of experts entrusted by the Mayor Paolo Costa («The best experts in the world », he promised) has given the thumbs down to the project. Members of the committee were: Ennio Cascetta, professor at the University of Naples, Virginio Bettini (University of Venice IUAV), Alberto Burghignoli (University of Rome La Sapienza), Dino Rizzi (University of Venice Ca’ Foscari), Pier Vettor Grimani, Silvio Pancheri and Antonio Stefanon.

The committee of experts has raised a number of objections, also on the transport level. «On this basis the inner committee will attempt to provide the City Council some proposal for project adjustment», says Roberto Scibilia, the project manager. «And on the basis of both papers we will decide whether we will accept the ACTV proposal», says Marco Corsini, City Councillor for Public Works.

By September, the Municipality will have to take a final decision, regardless the embarrassment of the environmentalist members of the City Council and that part of the DS Party (Left Democrats) who have always opposed the under-water railway and in addition to the doubts expressed by the committee of experts.

To build the under-water subway, that for the first time would make the futuristic dream true under the lagoon waters, millions cubic meters of lagoon will need to be excavated. Stations will partially be built under water, with a platform and large vent-holes remaining on the surface. The larger station will be Murano – where the project foresees a goods interchange nod. Another station will be Fondamente Nuove, where an endless and fruitless debate about the creation of a frequent waterbus or ferry connection with TesseraAirport has been going on for years.

“Sublagunare”, a hurdle-race A seven kilometres long railway tunnel under the lagoon ALBERTO VITUCCI

VENICE. The underwater subway project is becoming a hurdle-race. Yesterday, the inner committee entrusted by the City Council finished its works and delivered its report to the project manager, Mr Roberto Scibilia. The doubts over the project increase and sum up with those emerged from the independent committee that rejected the project two months ago. Now Mr Scibilia will have to sum up all the remarks and hand them over to the City Council that will need to take the final decision.

The final meeting chaired by the City General Director Ms Ilaria Bramezza had its moments of tension, for instance, when the Director invited all “not to release information to the press” and “only to give indications to the proponent (ACTV) in order for the project to go forward “. «It’s not up to us to pass or reject the project », said Ms Bramezza, «it will be a political decision ».

However, in the meantime, the number of technical negative evaluations increases. While experts of transportation ask for “more in-depth analysis” about passengers estimations, economists attempt to assess the project cost effectiveness and its impact on the city socio-economic structure.

Not to mention the environmentalists’ concerns.

This is a project of huge impact, also on the emotional level. It foresees a seven kilometres long tunnel under the lagoon with the train moving under the waters and the “caranto” hard clay layer. To build it, million of cubic meters of material will need to be excavated. Where and how shall this waste material be disposed, also to comply with the national laws on land reclamation? And this is not enough. The layout of the sub-water tunnel goes through a SIC (Site of European Community Interest) and thus is protected under EU regulations that only allow its City «preservation or environmental improvement ».

Finally, we need to consider the project environmental impact, especially as regards the four stations, one of which will be a terminal in the middle of the lagoon for «waterbuses and trains interchange ». Stations will be partially underwater, but with surface access and will include vent-holes every 600 meters.

«It is complicated », confesses Mr Marco Corsini City Councillor for Public Works, «but this is an impactful project at all levels and we want to do things properly. The next step will be to examine the final report written by Mr Scibilia, and then, after the summer holidays, we will take a decision ».

Councillor Corsini and the Mayor staff intend to provide ACTV – that have proposed the project financing – indications on how to adjust the project and go forward. The Mayor Costa is very keen on this project, having included it not only within its electoral manifesto, but also among the priorities of its City Council for the next two years. The Mayor’s position causes some embarrassment in the left-green component of the City government coalition, especially among the Communist Re-foundation and Green parties, together with a good share of the Left-Democrats members of the coalition. «We have to analyse the matter more in-depth and only then we will take a decision», often say Paolo Cacciari, Communist Councillor for the Environment and Gianfranco Bettin, Green Deputy Mayor. But in the meantime the project goes on.

By the first week of September the City Council will decide whether to accept the ACTV proposal to build the subway with 120 million euro, and 180 million euro of public funding. «We will entrust a committee of experts, the best experts in the world», said Mayor Costa. But the committee has given a negative evaluation of the project, expressing doubts on economic, environmental and geologic aspects. That’s why the City Council has asked an inner committee to formulate a new assessment. «We will take a decision on the basis of both reports », informs Councillor Corsini.

Nevertheless, the storm on the underwater railway does not calm down. To be continued after the summer holidays.

“Fabians” for another Venice?

On the 21st April 2003 the left wing political association April organised a crammed full meeting about “Another Venice”. The day after the meeting, I sent the chairman Paolo Peruzza these following notes.

Dear Paolo, I write you what I would have said if I had spoken during the meeting. Of course, as I write today and have not spoken yesterday, I will take into account some of what has been said.

Starting from an analysis

I think that the issue treated in the meeting shows the will to build a new political project for the town. Well, no political project survives if it does not lay on a serious analysis of the current and most recent situation. This is what we have to do at first.

An approach that looks only a little beyond the contingent situation immediately leads us to understand that what is at stake today is not an evaluation of Mayor Costa’s and his Council. Should this evaluation be our only activity: (1) we would not understand the reasons why of the current crisis, (2) we would not go far in the definition of a political project.

My opinion is that - beyond the superficial differences in the style and in the cultural background (but we cannot expect all mayors to be great minds!) and perhaps in their awareness of the general interest - there is a substantial continuity in the strategy and political outlook of the various Councils that followed on one another since the early 90ies. Paolo Costa only continues (obviously with his style) the work set by Massimo Cacciari. To say it better, he places his choices in line with the policies shown by the previous city governments.

Very briefly, I would like to recall some events related to issues that I believe are crucial for this town.

Tourism

A policy that makes tourism compatible with the city (and thus able to contribute to the citizens’ income without destroying the resources it is based on) requires a double-faced action.

On one hand, (as Prof. Paolo Costa wisely stated when he was not yet Mayor) a strict policy of “planned tourist rationing”. Costa outlined this policy during the discussion about the Expo, and Luigi Scano has developed it further in some of his neglected essays. Surely it is a difficult policy, because it is against the mainstream and because the City Council has very limited direct power on it (and the indirect influence is proportional to its perceived authority on the citizenship).

On the other hand, we need a scrupulous policy of monitoring the building usage destinations and their changes. This is an easier approach, already successfully implemented by previous City Councils (do you remember how Antonio Casellati and Maurizio Cecconi managed to stop the opening of any single fastfood restaurant in Venice?), because the Municipality holds quite effective measures to direct the council urban and building policy.

I only mention that the policy expressed in the above-stated two directions was extremely consistent with the message conveyed by Cacciari in his proposal for the city government, on which is candidature was launched. I am sorry to say, on the other hand, that since his early acts, the Cacciari’s Council behaviour was totally opposite. While they did not do a thing for planning of tourist accesses, they made an effort to dismantle all the measures for controlling the building usage destinations: they have withdrawn the Council resolution according to the national “Mammì” Law on the restrictions on the types of commercial activities allowed in the historical city centre and they radically changed the Urban Regulatory Plan exactly in relation with the building usage destinations. In its last phase, the Cacciari’s Council even endorsed the current Mayor’s project to build a sub-lagunar railway connecting Tessera with Murano and the Arsenale, only useful to increase the “stop-and-go” tourist flow.

Housing

Since the 70ies and up to the early 90ies, the steady policy of the centre-left political parties in Venice has been to favour public and council new house-building. Communists, socialists and Christian-democrats (not to mention smaller parties all more or less on the same line) have strictly followed their commitment of ”not a single new building for Venetian housing that is not publicly owned and made for Venetian people”. The ex Saffa, ex Trevisan, Sacca Fisola, Mazzorbo areas are all positive results of this policy. And the Mulino Stucky recovery did not start only because no agreement was found with the owners about the restrictions (I still use this dreadful word!) to apply to the residential buildings.

It would be interesting to make an analysis of the effects brought about by successive policy line: who has moved in the houses built by private operators with public funding, what are the prices for the tenants, what are the advantages for the owners? What is sure is that the real U-turn (from a 20 years old policy) happened with the “Giudecca Project” and other projects of the first Cacciari’s Council, and has never been assessed in an open discussion among political parties and in the town.

We should add that it was a policy change fully consistent with the “less State, more market” slogan, which sounded fashionable in the left wing national political arena during those years. No attention was given to the special Venetian situation that made – over the years - most market-supporters political parties, such as Republicans, Christian-democrats and Liberals promote and support the above-stated public house-building policy.

Environment protection

This is the field where I think the post-communist councils have behaved better, by expressing reasonable opposition to the continuous attempts to accelerate the implementation of the MoSE project at all costs.

The City Council weakness is that citizens and the national and international public have perceived the opposition to the MoSE more as a “concession” to the Green Party’s “demands” and “blackmailing”, rather than as a convinced belief that the movable gates are not proved to be effective and environmentally compatible.

Venice-Mestre

The first Cacciari’s Council has born on the basis of a document that undertook as a priority commitment the objective of building the MetropolitanCity, putting in this framework the articulation of the current Venice council territory into more municipalities. The candidate Cacciari used to stress dramatically this priority.

Everything was quickly forgotten. The prestigious Venice City Council did nothing on the national and regional level, played no role in attempting a systematic coordinated action with the neighbouring councils and the province, in order to make the metropolitan city true at least in the public awareness and in the administrative decision-making. Nevertheless, it is obvious that it should have not been difficult to make the metropolitan city alive (we might say the “Greater Venice”) at least in the people’s perception before than in the institutions. It would have meant to pursue the same route that less charismatic and less successful “communicators” than the “Philosopher-Mayor” have followed in other European towns: Lyon, Marseille and London.

Opening a bracket, I wonder what does it mean today to oppose again the new referendum for dividing Mestre and Venezia? However, Costa is not the one to blame.

Drawing conclusions

On Friday, Francesco Indovina said in his speech that the proposal launched by Massimo Cacciari in 1988 were theoretical and unfeasible. I only partially agree with this position: those proposals recovered the previous - let’s call it “left-wing” – policies and revitalised them by adding new shine. However, Indovina is right when he says that those proposals were top-down and had no real relationship with the town. Surely, it was not the task of a group of intellectuals to build this relationship, and we all have to keep in mind the conditions of political parties in those years. Their task was however to keep a minimum level of coherence when passing from words to deeds. This did not happen.

Starting from those years, Venice has had an approach that I would call demagogical-mercantile to the city problems. An approach aimed at winning the generic public consensus more than to implement a real concrete project in the town, as was put forward in the proposals of the Istituto Gramsci.

In the meantime, the “more market, less State” slogan started to mow down its victims. The “relationship with the private sector” (in the first place the companies with building interests) became the driver of the urban policy. Restrictions became the enemies to demolish. All the measures that would have allowed the proper regulation of the city transformations were destroyed. In order “not to say no”, Fiat and Volkswagen were allowed to display their cars in the Venetian campi and in that very square, which sacral nature was celebrated in 1988.

Sure, all this happened with some style. Today we have even lost that style. The story of the Venice “new logo” is exemplificative and astonishing at the same time. Today, on the Gazzettino, the Mayor informs us that the scope of the new and (appalling) logo is to promote Venice in the world and to conquer other markets!!! As if Venice was not – and indeed it has been from many centuries - one of the biggest myths in the world. As if, Venice needed promotion, like an ordinary northeastern small firm. And as if Venice problem was not how to be governed to be up to that myth, in order not to be swallowed by it.

What to do?

This question is difficult to answer. I will attempt, on the basis of what I have heard in the meeting on Friday.

First, I believe that we need to build a project for the city. Without emphasis, by critically collecting what has been produced in the past and what it might have been elaborated more recently.

I can foresee that two lines will emerge by working in this direction.

A line, which pervaded Armando Danella’s speech, finds the resource to valorise Venice future in the special characteristics of the city and its territory. It’s a line that I have tried to put forward many times and that I still believe is the only one able to save the city inherent values by casting them in a future for all. It is a difficult and strongly innovative direction, not in terms of formulation but in its possibility of implementation. It would need a strong determination and agreement, which are extraordinary goods these days.

The other line, outlined in Indovina’s words, tends to seize the opportunities that the current type of development provides in order to re-launch the economic and social city-life. It is a reasonable direction. However, I consider it very risky because it does not take into account the fact that the current development tends to homologate Venice with the rest of the world, and thus to destroy its inherent qualities that make it a real myth, an universal value and – at the same time – a durable resource for its people.

Perhaps it would be useful if the intellectual collective group, that “April for the left” can represent in Venice, would discuss in-depth these two directions and chose one. And on it would continue to work. How? With what “political” objectives? For the time being, continuing to think and study and discuss: like the Fabian society ages ago, before the birth of a workers party in Great Britain.

The overall plan for defence against “high water”(Chapter XIV, 3)

The law n.171, 16 April 1973, appoints to the State “the regulation of sea levels inside the lagoon, in order to save urban centres from high water” through “works that respect the hydro geological, ecological and environmental values and by no means hinder or compromise the maintenance of the lagoon’s physical unity and continuity”. According to the same special law, on the 27th of March 1975 the Council of Ministers approved the guidelines for the Venice area local plan and defines the criteria for the lagoon water level regulation works, under the State responsibility.

The guidelines state that “the preservation of the lagoon’s hydrogeological balance and the decrease of high water inside historical centres to levels that do not hinder the functionality of the ports and the development of everyday activities must be obtained through a fixed lagoon inlet regulation system, which could later be integrated with manoeuvrable parts, if necessary, depending from tide levels, up to the complete shutting up of the lagoon inlets.”

The same guidelines state that “in technical projects the influence of the hydrodynamic regime upon the expansion of tides inside the fish farms must be considered… also the already dried up areas of the so-called third industrial zone” not yet reserved for the expansion of the commercial port structures. Also that “more works can be planned to increase the reducing effect”:

- reduction of resistance to high tides in the northeast zone of the lagoon;

- reduction of sea beds to normal levels; sea beds are now deeply eroded by the currents, in the S.Nicolò channel… also in the lagoon intakes of the Malamocco and Chioggia port-channels;

- increase, through appropriate means, of the dissipation of energy from the tidal flow along the path of the port-channels”.

According to the guidelines, the Ministry of Public Works must be authorized, as per law n.404 of the 5th of August 1975, to call for an international tender for “the execution of necessary works to preserve the Venice lagoon hydrogeological equilibrium and to decrease high water levels inside the city centre”.

The tender is called for by a Ministerial Decree on the 11th of September 1975; the deadline, already fixed for the 31st of July 1976, is delayed to the 31st of December of the same year. Six projects are presented; one of them is deemed unacceptable by the Evaluating Commission, appointed by MD the 7th of April 1977, so only 5 remain. After 13 joint meetings and several workgroup meetings, the Evaluating Commission, on the 31st March 1978, states that no project can be accepted, although all of them are deemed worth of consideration; the contract can not therefore be appointed, however appropriate initiatives are called for in order to acquire the projects and to employ their specific contributions in a general plan for Venice and its lagoon.

The 5th of February 1979 the Venice City Council unanimously approves a document for the Ministry of Public Works, where, welcoming both the conclusions and the suggestions of the Evaluating Commission, the constitution of “a Committee from the Ministry… together with the Region, the local area, the cities of Venice and Chioggia“ is called for, in order to establish an “operative project”.

The same document states that “the expected solution shall have technical and operative characteristics according to the criteria of gradualism, flexibility and reversibility”, that “the regulation of the sea-lagoon relationship shall be obtained progressively, through appropriately articulated interventions that allow the protection of historical centres from high water to become more effective while the works continue; for the works, technical results from the implementation phase in S.Nicolò di Lido and Chioggia will be used, especially with respect to hydraulic aspects” and that “however, even if the work will be delayed, the interventions’ technical programs shall foresee the possibility of reaching, in time, the protection from exceptional high water with efficient systems”.

On the 22nd of December 1979 a new high water event replays the damage and the drama of the ’66 flood. A few days later, on the 14th of January 1980, the City Council unanimously votes a resolution where, according to a governmental Law Decree of three days earlier which allowed the Ministry of Public Works to acquire the projects that entered the tender and to appoint professional tasks “for the technical solution to appropriately reduce high water in historical centres and to plan the interventions”, asks “the Parliament to converts the decree in law […], that the design phase be completed promptly and that exceptional procedures be designed even for the contracting phase”.

The document restates the contents of the 5th of February 1979 resolution and underlines the need for “a global reshaping of the lagoon”, for which it deems necessary:

“- the protection of shores through all interventions apt to refurbish them;

- the protection of estuary rivers and islands in the lagoon area;

- the constant monitoring and ensuing intervention upon the lagoon bed, in order to adjust it and to defend the city and its estuary;

- the continuous adjustment of the sea beds to the depth strictly necessary for navigation needs;”

also to set up “plans for getting back the largest part of areas and zones for the free expansion of tide”.

The 22nd and 23rd of December 1980 the Venice City Council approves (with the positive vote of PCI, PSI, PRI, PSDI, PLI, the negative vote of DC and the abstention of MSI) a resolution where the need “to proceed to a regulation of the sea-lagoon relationship” and “the absolute need to pursue a plan that reverts the degradation process in the lagoon ecosystem” are underlined. In particular, the resolution insists upon “interventions […] to protect and refurbish the shores”, upon “restoring and maintaining the sea beds”, upon measures to “stop the intake erosion, insure the vivification of all lagoon areas, protect the salt marshes”, upon “works needed to get back areas and zones for the free tidal expansion, including Valle Brenta, the dried areas of the third zone (except the reclaimed area A) and the fish farms”, upon the acceleration of “the planned conversion of the oil supply system, which shall instead be conveyed by means of oil ducts”.

On the matter of the interventions for “the regulation of the three lagoon inlets”, the document states that “they shall be experimental, gradual, reversible and flexible”, that they “shall preserve and never touch the physical and ecological unity of the lagoon”, that they shall “start from the Lido’s inlet” and “avoid works that could worsen, even temporarily, the hydrodynamic situation inside the lagoon”.

Meanwhile, on the 10th of March 1980 the Parliament converted to law the aforementioned Decree. The Ministry of Public Works acquires all projects in the tender and, on the 11th of June 1980, signs a convention with a group of important technicians: prof. Augusto Ghetti, prof. Enrico Marchi, prof. Pietro Matildi, prof. Roberto Passino and prof. Giannatonio Pezzoli, who are joined, after a further convention on the 1st of August of the same year, by prof. Jan Agema and dr. Roberto Frassetto.

These professionals officially submit their work, named “Feasibility study and principle plan” for “the protection of the Venice Lagoon from high water”, to the Ministry of Public Works on the 26th of June 1981. The project, in extreme summary, requires a series of two or more transversal fixed barriers (dams) in each of the three lagoon inlets (Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia), of which the inner ones shall have mobile and sinkable barriers capable to completely shut off the communication between sea and lagoon whenever the tide exceeds 1 / 1.10 meters above the average sea level [1].

The Ministry of Public Works, once received the “Feasibility study and principle plan”, forwards it to the Committee for the Safeguard of Venice, to the High Council for Public Works and to the City of Venice, with the intent of hearing the opinion of the local authorities.

The Committee for the Safeguard of Venice examines the paper during the sessions of the 23rd of September 1981 and the 13th of January 1982, and in the second occasion puts forth a positive principle evaluation.

The City of Venice, with the Province of Venice and the LagoonCities and Venice Hinterland, promotes the public exhibition of the Study’s essential items. At first, on the 24th of October 1981, in the Napoleon Wing of S. Mark’s Square, then in the former church of S.Leonardo in Cannaregio, finally in the Pellestrina island. It also publishes a great number of copies of a book containing its text and graphic works and promotes public debates.

More than 30 thousand people visit the exhibit. Remarkable is also the large participation to the public discussions promoted by the City and by other cultural and political organizations.

The City of Venice receives no less than thirteen articulated and motivated opinions, and several more observations and evaluations.

The debate at the Venice City Council began the 8th of February 1982 with a speech by the Mayor Mario Rigo and a long briefing by the vice-mayor Gianni Pellicani and ends the 22/23th of February 1982 with the unanimous vote for a paper where the “overall plan” is judged consistent with the City guidelines and of the “special law” but “only in respect to interventions to protect the lagoon urban centres from high water”.

This is because the “overall plan”:

“- proves the technical and managerial feasibility of works that can save urban centres from floods, wholly obeying the requirement to respect the lagoon physical and ecological unity;

- assures to contain the influence upon water pollution of the decrease of flows between sea and lagoon, if the planned antipollution programs are carried on;

- outlines solutions that can negligibly influence the full efficiency of the fundamental and inalienable functionality of the lagoon as a port, even in the perspective of a relevant increase in traffic, as planned and expected by the local authorities and the local plan”.

Stating again that “the reduction of high water is just a part of a more general intervention in order to hydrogeologically rebalance the lagoon, to restore the balance between the different parts in the ecosystem, to stop and reverse the degradation of the lagoon basin”, the Venice City Council invites the Government, consequently, “to define, together with the local authorities, a comprehensive plan/program… in order to achieve the aforementioned purposes and the decrease of tide levels”.

In that perspective, moreover, it states that:

“ – the completion of the whole lagoon antipollution plan is absolutely necessary and it must be carried on before completion of the works that will regulate the sea-lagoon relationship;

- all works necessary to the preservation, the restoration and the refurbishing of the shores, the protection of the estuary and island shores inside the lagoon, the reduction of erosion phenomena especially in the Malamocco basin, the monitoring of the sea beds and their constant keeping to levels necessary to navigation needs and at the same time compatible with the lagoon, islands and estuary protection, are to be carried on immediately, possibly through a rearrangement of the rural piers;

- the design and subsequent implementation of all works necessary to restore the free tide expansion areas can not be delayed;

- the already planned conversion of the oil supply system can not be delayed”.

Meanwhile, on the 14th of December 1981, the City Council of Chioggia approved (with positive vote by DC, PSI, PSDI and the abstention of PCI) a document where it is stated that it is “impossible to express… a positive opinion… without precise indications” in regard to “the sand debris transportation and removal system”, the “implementation of antipollution politics in the lagoon basin”, the “protection of the accessibility of the lagoon inlets”, the “possibility of interventions to protect the centres of Chioggia and Sottomarina from ordinary high water”.

During the session of the 27th may of 1982, The High Council for Public Works deems the overall plan “worth of approval” but expresses a remarkable deal of criticisms, underlining the need to carry on further research before starting the implementation phase.

Meanwhile, even the City Council of Venice (session of the 22/23th february 1982) wishes that the works should be contracted through a direct licence (“ concessione”), in order to start quickly. A consortium of companies is started off; its name is “Venezia Nuova”. The 18th of December 1982 a licensing contract is stipulated between the Venice Magistrate of Waters (on account of the Ministry of Public Works) and the Consortium. The Consortium would carry on part of the studies, research and experiments required by the Ministry of Public Works and it would build the central segment of the fixed barrier by the Lido lagoon inlet.

On the 15th of July 1983 the Corte dei Conti (State Bill Revisers’ Court) denies authorization to proceed, stating that, according to current laws, “building licence can be appointed by private contracts … only when explicitly allowed by a special law”, while “contracting shall happen after some kind of tender” and “the licence shall not involve the works management” but “only its building”.

Only after the Court intervention the story becomes known and new arguments are started. Bruno Visentini, president of PRI, writes: “ten years after the special law for Venice, its historical centre safeguard problems … are still unsolved. A consortium of companies is about to be appointed … with the task of carrying on the necessary works: beginning, how it seems, with an appointment for more studies and projects… and continuing with the appointment to carry on the works… But if we were to proceed in this way, relevant errors of method would be done and decisional competences would inadmissibly be eluded.

The appointment can not be about choices regarding the lagoon’s future… Such choices pertain to the politic apparatus… It seems, finally, that further studies, researches and experiments… and technical and scientific monitoring… cannot be appointed to the same contractor that carries on the works; they should be appointed to a different body, with great authority and capable to stand in open dialectic with the licensee.”

Animated discussions occur inside the IX Commission of the Deputies Chamber, which is examining several projects about Venice from DC, PCI and PRI. The 27th of October 1983, finally, the Commission unanimously votes a resolution that, although eluding the problem of the appointment of studies, experiments and implementation, requires that the Government “presents within 3 months a global report about the state of interventions for the protection of Venice” and “define a unitary and global plan for interventions, after hearing the local authorities”.

The Minister of Public Works, Franco Nicolazzi, does not heed the resolution and much less the criticisms towards the attempted use of the “ concessione” (private licencing contract). On the 24th of February 1984, in fact, a second general contract is signed between the Venice Magistrate of Waters and Consorzio Venezia Nuova. The contract is adjusted in order to bypass the formal objections of Corte dei Conti, but it is not different from the first in its contents and less so in its “philosophy”; this time the decree is registered, on the 10th of March 1984.

But, as we will see, arguments about the contract and its implications are not going to stop and they will stir the debate about the new special law for the Venice area, which is being discussed in the Parliament.

The new special law(Chapter XV, 5)

Few years after they were promulgated, the “special law” 171/1973 and the related DPR 791/1973 (about the conservative restoration of lagoon historical centres) already show their limits, their weaknesses, the cultural obsolescence of their inspiration. Their influence upon the upgrade of the urban historical texture has been scarce, almost void relatively to the purpose – albeit considered the most culturally and politically qualifying – of “managing” a relevant recovery of the urban heritage, insuring the success of both its “formal” and “social” outcome.

[…]

On the 27th of December 1983, approving the 1984 financial law, the Parliament allocates 200 billion liras for “new interventions for the protection of Venice”, with the commitment of two more allocations, for the same amount, to be allotted in the financial laws for 1985 and 1986.

On the last days of January 1984 the Venice city councillors submit to the Ministry of Public Works a “pre-law” draft, signed by all, containing proposals for the works to be done and the procedures for the interventions more closely involving the city responsibility.

On the 6th of February 1984 the Republican group of the Chamber presents its own law project, not substantially different from the City Council draft but more keen to specify the purposes and to set the procedures for the interventions under the State responsibility, i.e. the ones regarding the hydrogeological setup of the lagoon basin.

The 14th of June 1984 the Ministry of Public Works submits to the government its own draft for a law project, which is not approved as it is deemed unacceptable by the ministries of the Republican Party, who are also backed by those of the Liberal Party.

The 5th of July 1984 the PCI submits its own proposal which, in regard to the lagoon interventions, follows the republican one, while it is similar to the ministry draft under other aspects.

Meanwhile the Venice City Council votes several other documents, sometimes unitarily, sometimes not, condemning the delays of State and Parliament and criticizing the ministry draft, but never directly facing the real reason for the deadlock. This is on account of its attitude (formally correct, but surely functional to avoid the explosion of internal contradictions inside the PCI-PSI-PRI coalition which governs the city) to not express, as City Council, opinions about the ways the new law will regulate the decisional and managerial processes of works such as those inside the lagoon, under the State responsibility. While, on the contrary, the greatest arguments are really about the last contents of the new law (or, equivalently, about whether the new law should have those contents or not).

The multiplication of law proposals, in fact, and also the inability of the government to design its own proposal, are not results of “byzantinisms” or quarrels between factions. It is, at the contrary, the lining up of the political forces – certainly in an uncommon way respect to usual schemes – exclusively about some crucial “contents” both in terms of merit and method.

The law proposals, in fact, do not differ substantially on the matter of the conservative restoration of lagoon historical centres, or the water pollution elimination, or the intended funding for the Venetian productive activities; the contrasts are there, but they could probably be solved. Regarding the purposes of the lagoon interventions and the regulation of their implementation, however, the line-ups are visibly coherent with one or the other of the two “logics” that have been facing themselves for some time.

The first “logic” considers the lagoon a common water basin, essentially driven by “mechanical” laws, and it tries to eliminate the phenomenon of periodic floods of lagoon inhabited centres – the famous “high water” – through “engineering” interventions upon the communication inlets between sea and water: basically through the installation of tidal flow mobile regulation devices by those inlets.

The second “logic” considers the lagoon a complex and fragile ecosystem, driven by laws that, with a little stretch, are more akin to “cybernetics”; the preservation and global restoration of its basic characteristics of transition zone between sea and land should happen through a coordinated set of diffused works that could, among other things, reduce the tide levels and then preserve the urban centres from the more common medium-low “high water”, reducing so the purpose of the mobile barriers to stopping the tides of exceptional height and frequency.

PRI, PCI and PLI want to follow this second “logic”, and it is probably appropriate to remember that this is the logic of the former “special law for Venice” of 1973, which defines the guidelines for the governmental Venetian local plan of 1975, wholly developed and expressed by the local plan voted in 1980, by the observations and integrations submitted by the City of Venice in 1982 and by several documents voted, sometimes unanimously, by the same City during the last years.

PRI and PCI law proposals wholly and articulately state the purposes of the set of works to be carried out in the lagoon; moreover, they ask for the definition of a “global and unitary plan” (to be adopted by the Government and to be voted by the Parliament) for these interventions and for related necessary studies, research and experiments. In particular, they ask that the correlations between the planned interventions are underlined and their logical and chronological order is defined; and that that order shall be bonding in respect to every public funding for such interventions, with the exception of some categories of works: the merely “conservative” or “upholding” works , and/or urgent interventions.

The Ministry of Public Works, and DC, PSI and PSDI, seem to refer to the first “logic”. This is understood from the generic and non-specific way in which the Ministry’s draft states the purposes of the works in the lagoon, and from the absence of any programmatic frame for the interventions.

Both PRI and PCI proposals state, moreover, that the works can be contracted “in concessione” (with a private licensing contract), but at the same time ask:

- that the “concessione” shall be based upon a law which defines its main characteristics;

- that the “concessione” shall refer and conform to the unitary and global intervention plan;

- that the public authorities shall verify, monitor and eventually change the work project;

- that, finally, studies, research and experiments (except those strictly related to the executive details of the single works) and technical-scientific monitoring shall be appointed to body different from the “licensee” and that they shall get resources, tools and authority in order to fully and efficiently carry their work, even in contrast with the “licensee”.

The Ministry of Public Works’ draft completely ignores this set of problems. It is well known that the Ministry wants to appoint to the very same group of private companies, Consorzio Venezia Nuova Consortium, for both the works implementation (in the limited frame that we mentioned) and the relative studies, research, experiments and technical-scientific monitoring. Basically, the Ministry wants to appoint the same body for both the execution of the works and their evaluation and monitoring, before and after.

On the 3rd of October 1984 the IX Committee of the Deputy’s Chamber, after animated quarrels and frenetic mediations, unanimously approves a document which, approved by the relevant Committee in the Senate, becomes Law n.798, 29th November 1984.

The new law states that the works in the lagoon shall be targeted “to rebalance the lagoon, to stop and reverse the lagoon basin degradation process, to eliminate its causes, to reduce tidal levels inside the lagoon, to protect the islands historical centres through local interventions, and to shelter the lagoon urban centres from exceptional high tides also by means of works by the lagoon inlets, with mobile barriers to control tides”.

The logic under the law proposals from PRI and PCI, backed by PLI too, is therefore completely accepted and punctually described. In order to state how the works should be carried on, a Committee is to be created, composed by the Prime Minister, relevant ministers and local authorities’ representatives. The Committee shall “define guidelines, coordinate and monitor” but it is not explicitly stated that it shall define “the unitary and global plan for interventions” that was described in the law proposals and repeatedly asked for.

It is also stated that the works can be appointed by “concessione”, but its details are not defined. It is only stated that the Committee shall evaluate the contracts, leaving to a decree from the Ministry of Public Works (on the basis of conventions decided by the Committee) the task to define “the modalities and the forms of control upon the licensed works”. Finally, above all, not only it is not stated that studies, research and experiments shall be appointed to body other than the “licensee”, but it is explicitly mentioned that the concessione is “comprehensive”, both for works and for studies and projects.

Let’s actualize it to 2003A note by E. Salzano

Today’s clash between MoSE proponents and opposers has its roots - as Luigi Scano outlines in these pages written in 1985 – very far in the past. They dwell inside the two “logics” that Scano refers to: the one that sees the lagoon as “a common water basin basically driven by mechanical laws”, the other that sees the lagoon “as a compound and fragile ecosystem, driven by laws that, with a little stretch, are more akin to cybernetics, and is interested in preserving and restoring its basic characteristic of transition zone between sea and land through a set of coordinated and diffused works”.

While the opinions are the same, there are however two significant differences:

1) The “mechanicistic” logic was then backed, among local forces, almost exclusively by the PSI Craxi’s followers, represented by Gianni De Michelis, and by a minority group of DC members, while at the national level it was also backed by the powerful group of PSDI social-democrats. And, of course, by lobbies of the building industry and by the powerful engineering lobby. Now the same logic is backed by theNational government right-wing coalition and by a significant part of the Venice center-left council, starting with its most important representative: the City Mayor.

2) At that time, the “systemic” logic received great backing by the national public opinion, mostly in environmentalist and cultural sectors, also thanks also to the presence of relevant personalities like Bruno Visentini and Gianni Pellicani. The deep change in the political and cultural framework (Berlusconi does not represent just himself nor just the right-wing ideology) and the huge power of information control used by Consorzio Venezia Nuova (an information monopolist which gets public funding) played a significant role in weakening those who oppose the MoSE logic.

To gain consensus in a problem so complex such as the Lagoon’s balance, the monopoly of information is a winning weapon.

[1]For a wider discussion of essential items of the “Feasibility study and principle plan” and related happenings please refer to: Comune di Venezia, La salvaguardia fisica della laguna, (City of Venice, The Physical Safeguard of the Lagoon, by Luigi Scano, Francesco Gostoli and Caterina Barovier, Marsilio Editori, Venice, 1983.

1) I have started it off, and I have helped on it until its conclusion, but the Urban Regulatory Plan – “PRG” of Venice City Centre was finalised and presented at the City Council by Councillor Stefano Boato, and finally adopted being Councillor to Urban Planning Vittorio Salvagno.

2) The first act that opened the way to the "liberalization" was the Mayor Cacciari City Council revocation of the municipal regulation that, in compliance with a national law (n. 15/1987) allowed the Council to avoid the invasion of fast food and junk shops, even more effectively than the Urban Regulatory Plan.

3) In line with the above-mentioned act, the PRG has been significantly modified in order to allow easier changes in the usage destination (Mayor Cacciari, Councillor D’Agostino).

4) Erbani only mentions another very severe risk that threatens the town: the MoSE project, the underwater gates to be built at the “Bocche di Porto”. But this is another issue which is widely treated in this same directory.

5) Mayor Costa, interviewed by Erbani, connects the problems of Venice with the lack of employment. Yet he knows very well that for each person that leaves Venice to work, ten persons come. From decades, the number of employment vacancies is higher than the available work force, as recalled last 15th of April by Mario Infelise in a letter written to Repubblica (published at the bottom)

A blow with a pick, a small door, an inner staircase, a small opening that becomes a window to better enjoy the Grand Canal view, a bathroom, kitchen facilities, Ikea furniture. If nobody stops them, Venice will take another step, perhaps its final step to turn – from the frail wonderful city that has always been - into a tourist park. A sort of Yellowstone with Palazzo Ducale, the Guggenheim gallery, the Frari and San Zaccaria churches, and very few houses where some stubborn Venetians will resist in confinement. The majority will be hotels and bed and breakfast.

We all knew that every year Venice is besieged by 12 million tourists, who in summer – driven by a sticky south-eastern wind – can even become 100.000 a day, and 120.000 a day for the Carnival. Now is the lagoon city town that changes its essence to end up looking like a Club Méditerranée. They are turning into hotels the 700’s Ruzzini Palace in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, the Barocci Palace, the ancient Palace da Mosto on the Grand Canal (with a I° century porch), Sagredo Palace, Giovannelli Palace and Genovese Palace at the Salute. Sant’Angelo Palace on the Grand Canal has already become a hotel. The luxury Hotel Monaco has incorporated the Ridotto theatre and the San Marco cinema, and, like the Monaco, many other hotels acquire neighbouring buildings and expand. A hotel will be built in the Arsenale, another inside the Molino Stucky and others in the islands of San Clemente, Poveglia and Sacca Sessola.

Nevertheless, not only the highly prestigious buildings are run over by the hotel typhoon (and actually some of them would fall short should they not be financially supported by the tour operators holdings): in addition, hundreds of ordinary flats are restored and fractioned to become holiday apartments to rent out for a week or for a weekend. The phenomenon is concentrated in the last two, three years. Roughly starting with year 2000 Jubilee and the enforcement of a specific plan for the historical city centre that allow easy change of usage destination for a building (also for shops and stores). According to the Provincial Tourist Board, holiday apartments and bed & breakfast are now 455. Three years ago, they were 59. An impressive number, behind which there is an enormous amount of hidden structures that easily double the number of the accommodation available.

Lots of rumours can be heard along the calli. Every Venetian knows one. The story of the butcher of Cannaregio, for instance, who has closed down his shop and has bought three small buildings, has made out 10 small apartments, promoted them on an Internet site and now earns between 1000 and 1200 euro per week for each studio-flat.

Anyway, what’s the problem? One of the problems is pointed out by Mario Piana, professor of restoration at the University of Venice Iuav. Venetian building is not like that in the other towns in the world, says Piana. «In Venice they used to build with wood until the end of the XII century. Starting from that moment masonry appeared, but a firm principle remained: house-building was done seeking the utmost lightness in order to load as little as possible the lagoon soil ». In particular, explains Piana, the walls have always been made very thin, between 25 and 40 centimetres, maximum 60 for house building. The storeys, designed to absorb every kind of deformation, ensured the building stability. The floors, thus called “Venetian floors” were laid on the storeys as a single block, without junctions.

Piana claims: «Altering these structures is extremely dangerous ». What do you mean? «Every hotel room and each studio flat need a bathroom. Do you realise what does it mean to lay new further piping inside such thin walls and inside such structured floors? In the long run, the static balance of the buildings will be seriously affected ». It looks like a real nightmare scenario. Piana concludes: «At least the hotels that extend to the neighbouring buildings work in the daylight, under the vigilance of the “Sopraintendenza” (the Cultural Heritage Superintendence body). Nevertheless, only high quality restorations respect the typical traditional Venetian housing structure, with the central hall that goes from the back to the rear of the flat and opens on all the rooms. But what I wonder is: who controls those home owners that make three studio flats out a single one? »

The transformation of Venice is subtle and does not provoke the polemic discussions that follow the MoSE (works to build the movable, underwater gates at the opening mouths of the Venetian lagoon will start next may) and the underwater subway projects. Everybody in Venice looks at the cranes overwhelming the new bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava and the new La Fenice theatre, by Aldo Rossi, while works are just about to start for a new Terminal designed by Frank O. Gehry and new spaces for the GuggenheimMuseum designed by Vittorio Gregotti at the Punta della Dogana. However, in the meantime, the fate of Venice seems to sign in a constellation where the only shining star is tourism.

Residents in the historical centre are now down to 64.000, (the whole Municipality counts 300.000 inhabitants, including mainland) and in ten years time could fall to a mere 55.000. The population drop does not seem to stop in a town that becomes increasingly older (one Venetian on four is more than 65 years old): 700 people less only in 2001, 600 in 2002, 140 between December 2002 and January 2003.

City centre inhabitants used to be 164.000 in 1951. Perhaps they were very many, but now they are too few, and many fear that the drop is so significant that hospitals and schools will be cut too. In order to stay alive (as architects and city planners all over the world prescribe) a city historical centre must have many different functions (residential houses, offices, services, employment, culture and leisure time activities): Venice is losing all of them. Not only the residents leave the town, but also banks, insurance companies and public offices leave the city centre. To find out a food shop, a chemist or a tailor, a Venetian must step aside hundreds of pizzerias, souvenir shops of fake Murano glass, small fans and masks and Taiwan-made lace - all with robbery-like prices. Tourism now represents the mainstream Venice lifestyle: 40% of Venetians already work in bars, restaurants, hotels, tour operators. And now it looks like the town does not longer have the strength to defy, leaving even its own houses to the occasional guests.

Giuliano Zanon is the Director of Coses, the most reliable centre of studies on the Venetian society. His figures, elaborated on a Nomisma research, are impressive. Downtown a house, and not one overlooking the Grand Canal, can cost up to 5.500 euro for square meter. In four years, prices have grown up 40%, the fastest growth rate in Italy. A shop can cost between 10 and 14.000 euro per square meter. «Nowadays tourism-related activities have surmounted residential areas and any other activities in the city centre », says Zanon.

The bed & breakfast wave, Zanon confirms, has come about as soon as the Urban Regulatory Plan has been changed, in 1996. Up to that date, there were very strict limitations. In order to change the destination from residential to other use, a house needed to be at least 200 square mt. for floor. That was the rule of the plan made by Edgarda Feletti and Luigi Scano (Councillor to Urban Planning was Edoardo Salzano). Thus, only few buildings were converted into other activities. In '96 that limit was decreased to 120 sq.mt.: the new Councillor Roberto D’Agostino(Mayor Cacciari), and his consultant Leonardo Benevolo said that the rule was too severe. And this was not enough. They also changed the interpretation criteria: the 120 sq. mt. did not have to refer to each floor but could also be calculated on multiple storeys. The outcome was that all Venice flats could be allowed to become rooms for rent.

Now they are trying to contain this trend. The City Council led by Mayor Paolo Costa has prepared a resolution that is now passing over one desk to another without achieving a final say. The Mayor is convinced that what is happening is worrying but he also says: «Against the inhabitants exodus we cannot do much. And this is not the main problem affecting the historical centre ». And what is it then? «There are not enough employment opportunities that can reduce the people migration».

Some says that Venice could even live of its mere upholding and maintenance... «It’s an activity that we do carry out. You only need to go for a stroll in town. We are digging channels to lower the shoals and to allow the channelling of waters against flooding. At the same time we are rising the flooring level still to fight the high tides. We are restoring the embankments and the sewerage system. But it’s not enough to make Venice survive ». What’s missing then? «We have to convince Italian and foreign companies to come and invest in Venice, immaterial goods producers, such as research and media enterprises. This would be the ideal destination for many of our historical buildings, starting from the Arsenale».

In the meantime, Venice gets ready for the Easter big crowd (average price 1000-1500 euro for five days stay in a 40-59 sq. mt studio-flat). In San Stae everything was ready to open a new kindergarten. There is only one now in the area and is overcrowded. «We had the money, we had found a suitable place and the staff. We had detailed a project and started the works. The Education Councillor was backing us up but the Office for Private Buildings did not allow us to change the usage destination of a 180 sq. mt. flat », claims the promoter, Ms Roberta Lazzari, of Macramè cooperative. «If we had asked a permit to open a bed & breakfast we would have had it without problems ».

Venice crumbles away, left alone with its tourists Mario Infelise

The fire of the Mulino Stucky turned into a huge hotel, dramatically brings back the problem of Venice, which Francesco Erbani has well described in its article last Sunday. The town is abandoned to a pirate-like tourism expansion. The conversion of ordinary residential flats into bed & breakfast and rooms for rent – often moonlighting jobs – has a devastating impact on the urban quality. It is false to say that this is determined by the lack of employment opportunities. Over 20.000 people come to Venice daily to work or study and many of them would be more than happy to move in.

The overhanging danger in Venice is not only the high tides, but also this kind of tourism that expels out of town the inhabitants and all other social activities.

And let’s not have the illusion that this is only a Venetian problem. Is Florence doing better? Only few years of this sort of development have already been enough for a significant damage our urban civilization.

Venice, 28th November 1998

Dear Piero, I was very disappointed with the round table in which you presented your book, yesterday evening. I followed it carefully, also because I could dedicate it all my time and attention, having been immobilised by neuritis at my ankle. I have found the presentation full of hurried and misleading statements rather than interesting observations. Your excellent book would have deserved better.

Please, let me express my opinion about a core point of the cultural proposal that emerges from your writings (the “modernity” that we should pursue nowadays), and about two issues that move from this point and are crucial for the future of Venice: the movable barriers at the port mouths and the Venetian transport system (alias, the MoSE and the Sublagunar railway).

Venice and “modernity”

This is an issue to investigate from a distance. I will take up again some of the questions I have illustrated last year in a debate about “a lagoon park”.

I will start from an observation. During the capitalistic-bourgeoisie ages, the development of the productive forces has resulted in huge benefits for the human race, but has also provoked enormous damages. Among these, the break of the balanced relationship between production and environment that had marked millenniums of our history. In the last centuries, the environment has been denied in its very personality and reduced to a merely manipulable and marketable object. Technology has cancelled and replaced nature. No longer has technology guided nature, according to its laws and rhythms, nor has it shaped the environment by building human-friendly landscape. And the economy has no longer considered the environment as a set of resources to use parsimoniously. Economy has started to treat the natural environment as a mine to exploit, with no saving and with no care for the future.

Nowadays, the damages of this approach stand out in all their clarity. To carry on with this senseless attitude will mean the disappearance of the humankind and the premature death of our planet. Many agree that we need to invert the current trend. Many are convinced that we need to identify, experiment and carry out a new system of production that does not harm the environment and uses its remaining resources to increase its qualities. I am strongly convinced that this is our mission and the mission of the next generations – if we do not want the sun to go down upon an immense desert.

How can we pursue this tremendous venture? Where should we start? We would be real wasters (and we would have not understood a thing from what you told us in your book “Natura e Storia”) if we would not think to make the most of the resources we have. Under this point of view, it is clear to me that Venice and its lagoon represent a precious resource. An example that can teach us how can human labour and culture wisely relate with the forces of nature.

Here in Venice, the humankind (and your book “Venezia e le acque” says it extremely well) has been able to direct the environment evolution, day after day and season after season, to improve the site resources. In order that both the natural resources and the site could serve, as better and as lastingly as possible, the people’s survival and the society development.

Venetians have developed a great number of different subjects in order to live together with the surrounding nature, by transforming the environment without destroying it and by respecting nature without embalming it. Among them the building technologies and sciences: materials, city planning, architecture; fishery, aquaculture and the conservation of deriving food, ship design and building; world exploration and mapping; government administration and intermediation among people .

Two possible destinies for an oasis of wisdom

I see Venice as an oasis where there is the wisdom that the contemporary world has forgotten. An oasis that can be considered in two ways.

It can be seen as an anachronistic residual of a past that does no longer hold lessons to teach, and thus should be eliminated either, like Marinetti would have done, by replacing it with a new reality made of concrete and steel, or by crystallising it as a sterile museum-city like an “Indian reservation”. These are two complementary ways to homologate Venice to the current models of consumption and production, which rule everywhere, although they are undergoing a deep crisis.

Otherwise, Venice can be considered and governed as a school of modernity: like a place that allows the experimentation of an innovative system of production, compared to what we would like to leave behind our shoulders, for the benefit of the whole world,. A truly “sustainable” system of production that does not destroy the natural resources and that draws from what the Serenissima Republic left us two centuries ago, a production model that is able to utilise the scientific innovations not only in an “industrial” prospective.

Was not this the inspiration behind the cultural – before than political – project that made Massimo Cacciari become Mayor of Venice for the first time, in 1992?

The MoSE: three reasons to concern

Let’s now talk about the two specific issues I mentioned before: Mose and Sublagunar. If I am worried about the Mose is not because it is a “big work”. It does not worry me for the opposite reasons why Mr De Michelis likes it. I am not ideologically opposite in principle to big works. Even the Laterza Publishing House has printed one of my books in the “Big Works” series and I was not at all displeased. Venice has seen other important “big works” worth its survival: the massive river diversion, on which Sabbadino and Cornaro quarrelled furiously, the Istria stone Murazzi designed by Zendrini the mathematician and made in the 700s.

However, this “big work”, the MoSE project, has three worrying specificities:

(a) it implies the permanent artificialization of the only three connections left between the sea and the lagoon (in fact, it is not only made, as Francesco Indovina claims, by a series of underwater large cases, but also and irreversibly, by three huge concrete offshore bars that connect the two shores of each mouth, permanently interrupting the natural continuity between the lagoon and the sea bed);

(b) unlike the operations made centuries ago, this is designed with technologies and materials that have nothing to do with those old “natural” ones previously used. I don’t want to say that this is a crucial reason, but it should lead to more caution;

(c) I believe that its benefits are not proportionate to its – really extraordinary – costs. If the MoSE’s incredibly high costs represent an atout for Indovina (who sees in this some great job opportunities) and for De Michelis (who gets excited envisaging fervid enterprise activities), I think, having understood here in the Lagoon the importance of a parsimonious exploitation of the resources, that this is an issue that deserves a second thought.

To make myself clearer, if the Mose is really necessary to save the lagoon and Venice, Chioggia, Murano, Burano and the other historical pearls, then pas de problèmes! Even if the expenditure is high. But the point is that I don’t think it has been demonstrated at all that this operation is really needed. This is, in my opinion, the critical reason why not to join the crowded group of the project supporters in the name of the safeguard of Venice, and, most of all, in the name of the ideological excitement for the “magnificent and progressive destinies” of modernity and late-industrial technology.

Is the Mose necessary?

As you know, the studies that support the Mose project (the environmental impact study edited by Consorzio Venezia Nuova) outline three scenarios, correspondent to three correspondent hypothesises of the water level raising. In relation with each scenario, the study calculates how many times the movable barriers will close in one year, in order to avoid that the high waters invade Venice (and other centres).

The third scenario, which corresponds to the most probable assumption, is the one that Enzo Tiezzi has suggested when, to cut it short with the doubtful questions, he arrogantly asserted: “It’s no longer time to get the water with the buckets and the sponges; it’s time to make a move and close the taps”. In this scenario, for the joint effect of the current phenomena and the increase of the ocean level due to the raise of the terrestrial temperature, the barriers will need to shut almost 400 times per year (according to the forecast of the Tides Council Office that has been studying the phenomenon for many years)!

In short, the lagoon would always be shut down. The water exchange will be hindered, as well as all port activities. If we have to believe this scenario is reliable, and is not only a dialectic truncheon to threaten during the polemic debates and in the lobby activity, there will be only two operational possibilities left. We either close the lagoon for good, by shutting the three mouths down with solid concrete dams, thus reducing the lagoon to a pond that could only be purified artificially, and which natural environment will be radically modified; or we place the “Tiezzi taps” on the Otranto channel (or at the Gibraltar Strait). In fact, if the level of the Adriatic Sea (and perhaps of the whole Mediterranean) will raise so much to exceed more than one meter the average sea level for 400 times a year, then we should ask ourselves what measures should be taken in Split, Ancona, Brindisi, and in all the many others small and large towns on the Adriatic Sea (and perhaps on the Mediterranean).

However, one thing is for sure: if the scenario envisaged in relation with the “greenhouse effect” will really come true to the forecasted extend, the MoSE applied at the lagoon doors will not work at all.

The other two scenarios are less dramatic. They will mean the need to close the barriers 10 to 70 times per year. But here it’s worthwhile to stop and think about the well-known question of the “wide-spread measures” (re-opening of the occluded parts of the lagoon, restructuring of the lagoon beds and restoration of the natural channel, cautious raising of the street pavements where the level is lower than 120 cm on the average sea level, cleaning of the city channels, etc.). The Environmental Impact Study made by Consorzio Venezia Nuova provides figures and simulations that show that these measures could only have a very marginal effect. The Committee made of the five “worldwide famous” experts takes the Consorzio’s figures for good, and thus accepts the Consorzio’s conclusions. But the CNR (National Research Council) Laboratory for Large Masses shows that the reduction in the “peaks” would cause significant reductions to the high waters, to the extend of 20-25 cm. This would

mean that, should those measures be implemented, the frequency of high waters would reduce to few days per year: as it has always been, since Venice is Venice.

The daily cohabitation with the waters and the systematic need for upholding and small adjustments are part of the city culture, more than the extraordinary “big works”, aren’t they? You will surely agree with this, dear Piero, won’t you?

It is not by chance, in fact, that those who support the absolute necessity of the MoSE are the same whose words clearly express one remote thought: Venice should become like any other city in the world.

My hypothesis is the opposite: all the other cities of the world should become like Venice, and learn how people here have lived for centuries with the natural events, by governing them without eliminating them and, on the contrary, using them to enrich their life experience.

Finally, let’s look at things under the point of view of the working class employment. Sure, the amazing investments for the MoSE (according to the current Consorzio’s estimations they will amount in 4.440 billion liras) will generate a strong flow of enterprises, materials and products, and workers, mostly from outside the Venetian area. This is certainly not bad. But I don’t believe that we have given enough thought to the great and long-lasting contribution that a wide-spread action of “ordinary and extraordinary upholding” measures in the city and its lagoon could give to the local firms and the local work force.

The same upholding that you, Piero, mentioned, in your conclusive speech at the round table, as the great lesson provided by the SerenissimaRepublic that we should recuperate today. The same upholding that today, due to the fact that no daily maintenance of the city has been regularly carried out during the last two centuries, would require (if considered as the crucial point for a new development) the start of a huge recovery of the lagoon environment, through the reshaping of its beds and restoration of its shores, the reconstruction of its defences and ecosystem, restoration and upholding of the urban pavement and decorations and the extraordinary maintenance of the channels.

As far as regards the chitchat about the amazing “Great, Modern and Progressive DOING”, about the Mose and about the Sublagunar railway, does not this chitchat distract the attention of the intellectual energies and resources, as well as of the public opinion, and the trade unions, from the huge amount of measures spread on the entire lagoon area that are already planned and partially designed?

…and the Sublagunar railway

I was astonished by the fact that the former national Minister for the Public Works, Mr Paolo Costa, recuperated the project for “a sublagunar metropolitan line”, and that this has been positively welcomed by the new Venice Trade Union Secretary. That project to me has always looked as an enormous nonsense.

First, I am one of the many that are convinced that Venice is slaughtered by “cash&carry” tourism. As a metropolitan railway is justified only with mass people flows, the Sublagunar will only have the effect of conveying further streams of visitors in S. Mark’s Square and the other sites, places already made impossible to live by the current amount of tourists. When we used to think in-depth about things, and we did not allow ourselves to be seduced by the progress ideology, we were persuaded that tourism had to be “governed”, and to this scope it was useful and necessary to stop the people flows at terminals in the mainland (Fusina and Tronchetto), and to make them arrive in Venice with waterbuses.

If we want to facilitate the access to the Venice Office Centers, then the solution has been pointed out from many years, right from the Venice Trade Unions. It would be enough to reorganise the current railway network in the mainland and utilise the massive railway line of Ponte della Libertà to take commuters to Santa Lucia and Marittima: places from, as we all know, everybody can easily and pleasantly reach any part of the city, either walking or using very civil waterbuses.

A final remark on this. The time and the routes of the city pathways are an inherent part of the Venice quality and of its terribly contemporary lesson. Venice is beautiful also because it allows you to live the time of its pathways, walking or on a waterbus, as spaces in which you can relax and feel enriched by enjoying looking at city, its houses, its places, its people. The time of Venice pathways is not, like in other contemporary metropolis, a pain which duration must be reduced, but a pleasure during the day, experienced as a natural and joyful break. Do we want to eliminate this too?

Yours

Edoardo Salzano

Dear Eddy,

Thanks for your long and beautiful letter: it’s almost an essay! Yesterday night, back home quite tired, I took from my bag the usual pile of paper, ( letters, faxes, files to read, etc.) and I was just about to put them aside to look at them in better times... But then I recalled that there must have been your letter there, I looked for it and I found it. I started reading it and, as if by magic, concentration and lucidity came back. After a couple of pages I found myself smiling, for a curious and weird sensation that I had never felt before: my agreement with what I was reading was so complete that I had the impression that I had written that letter myself.

Thus, I totally agree with you, on all the issues you have treated and there is no point for me to recap what you have already said so well. I too would have liked that some issues of my book would have been treated more in-depth. But, you know, I am now prepared to accept that a presentation is to make publicity: and nowadays is already enough to have a public debate, even broadcasted on the radio.

On the modernity of Venice, on the very right things you say, I only want to add a further observation. Also many of our intellectual friends, people often generously dedicated in keeping alive the feeble flame of the social commitment, are often trapped in the spell of “progressism”. They have not yet realised what is the deep trend of our times, which drags everything towards the abyss of the functional exemplification. Yet, they would only need to open their eyes and see the world as it is, to understand the unequivocal signs that it sends us. But it is this very understanding that should warmly recommend us to see in Venice a treasure of differences to preserve for its everlasting “otherness”. We don’t yet understand that the inestimable richness of our times is just everything that runs away to the logical mechanisms of our times... all the exceptions, everything that cannot be industrially produced and does not obey to rigid rational criteria: I was on the point to say all that “does not work”. The silence in the campi and calli, going walking (or in waterbus as you say) with the slow rhythm of an ancient and now lost relation between citizens and the city space. This should not represent a trouble of living in Venice, but one of the matchless privileges the city provides in this contemporary world. Sure, there is the problem of letting Venice live. We need a great and original political project to make the town alive in a different way from the other cities. But first there is a huge cultural problem: the revaluation of the Venice modernity, inherent in its being stranger to the mass capitalistic society, which is now dying anyway.

And I go on shortly on the MOSE. I feel somehow uncomfortable to talk about this issue, because I don’t have on it the knowledge that allows me to comment on previous events. I am very sensitive to all your reasonable objections. However, my main concern is very briefly the following. I fear that the increasingly more frequent high waters – beside the impending threat of extreme events like the 1966 flood- could make living in Venice progressively more difficult, so much to determine its final decline. Not to mention the fact that a city frequently flooded, eventually hostile to its people daily life, would constitute an unquestionable argument against our theory of a modernity of Venice based on its rebuffing the capitalistic “comforts”. We would end up shouting in a desert.

You add, among your other considerations, that a general increase of the sea level due to the global phenomena would make the MOSE useless. It’s what I have already written in my book. However, I believe that we need to be more flexible and accept many possibilities when we aim our sight towards the future. Are we really sure that when the signs of the ocean raising will become alarming, the planet population will continue to accept the current senseless system of production? Don’t you think that we underestimate the possibility of a change due to the pressures made by intellectual groups, environmentalists, citizens, etc.

Sure, it’s not granted it will happen. Let’s leave this progressive sort of optimism to the silly ones and to those who want to continue looking at their business. But we have to believe that it may happen. On what, otherwise, do we base the reasons of our fight?

Warm regards

from your Piero.

P.S. Regarding “big works”: have you heard my telephone message about how beautiful did I found your “big work” about urbanism published by Laterza?

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