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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.