In Venice, to Dredge or not to Dredge?

General / People / Places / August 25, 2015

Mystery and intrigue may be synonymous with the city of Venice, but the latest imbroglio between politicians and preservationists there seems a little more ham-handed.

“Why have you banned this photo exhibit,” tweeted Venetophile and publisher JoAnn Locktov to Luigi Brugnaro, mayor of Venice, on August 14. “Are you so scared of the truth?”

“Yes, it is true, we are afraid of how you know how to mystify reality,” shot back the mayor in Italian.

At issue is an exhibition, postponed by the mayor, of photographs depicting cruise ships that grotesquely dwarf the architecture of St. Mark’s Square and other Venetian landmarks. More than 500 ships dock there annually, flooding the city’s streets and canals with tourists. And there’s talk of dredging the city’s canals to accommodate even more.

The new mayor, elected in June on a platform to keep the port in Venice, canceled the photo exhibition at a gallery in the venerated Doge’s Palace. It was to feature works by Gianni Berengo Gardin, who’s been hailed by the U.K.’s Telegraph as Italy’s greatest photographer. Brugnaro evidently intends to display them later, together with an exhibit of his own plans for dredging the city’s lagoon and canals. It’s caused quite the outcry.

“If the photos do not represent your reality, let the people decide,” tweeted the San Francisco-based Locktov.

“You aren’t the people,” replied the mayor. “You see only yourself and your friends.”

“Friends” seems a near-Freudian choice of words. The city’s port comes under control of the Venice Port Authority (VPA), with former Mayor of Venice Costa Paolo its president. In 1997, the VPA set up the Venezia Terminal Passeggeri, a commercial enterprise dedicated to managing cruise ship traffic in the port. VPA, Marco Polo Airport and the local chamber of commerce all have shares in the initiative.

Preservationists and lovers of the city’s mystique would liks to see the ships dock elsewhere. But “the last thing they (VPA) want is for ships to dock somewhere else, because of money,” says Anna Somers Cocks, CEO of The Art Newspaper in London and former head of the Venice in Peril fund, which has raised 10 million pounds for the preservation of the city.

Fears of another Costa Concordia disaster in the lagoon surrounding Venice run high. But there’s more: dredging the canals to accommodate more and larger ships runs the risk of stirring up detritus from a 1960s petrochemical operation. “Ships would come into the petrochemical trench, then turn into a deeper trench into the port – they want to dig it 10 meters deep from six, and 100 meters wide from 50,” Cocks says.

Heavy metal waste from the petrochemical industry lies at the bottom of the lagoon – it’s highly toxic, but resting quietly for the moment. “There are particles of extremely poisonous chemicals” she says. “As soon as you start digging around, you release them into the lagoon.”

The photography exhibition might have served as a catalyst for change – but the mayor’s delay unveils a different scenario. “It all has to do with what’s going to happen to the port,” she says. “People are lobbying for the protection of the city, and then there are those who say ‘You’re living in cuckoo-land – let’s make as much money as we can.'”

Which may result in some unintended consequences for a city that’s increasingly dependent economically on tourists, rather than its dwindling tax base of shops and residents.

As Locktov tweeted the mayor, it’s “not a good idea to insult the people who fill your coffers with euro.”

Not to mention unleashing deadly toxins into your lagoon.

 

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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15 Comments

on August 25, 2015

Venice is the birthplace of the Biennale. It is a city that honors art as a reflection of our contemporary culture. The mayor has censored an exhibit of one of the greatest photojournalists of our time, because he didn’t like harsh reality of the photos. They do not advance his political agenda. Venice has now suppressed one of her own – for photographing the monsters, which invade her lagoon. I’m grateful to Mike Welton for writing about this surreal travesty.

on August 26, 2015

After viewing the photos, it is easy to see why the mayor would like to censor these powerful pictures. These enormous ships have no need to be near the Grand Canal.

on August 26, 2015

Joann Loctov, please stop imposing your American Western beliefs on indigenous cultures and sovereign countries. You likely believe it is unfair to impose western values on non western countries; the same goes for European countries you enjoy visiting – you don;t want your view ruined like Ted Kennedy didn’t want his view ruined by windmills that are allegedly green, as long as they are placed in fly over country. Venice does not need your Euros. Please stay in Mill Valley. Shilling for your book in this way is unpleasant and transparent. The mayor is right, you tweet from a very comfortable couch in Mill Valley, the land of unreal wealth and people who do not live in reality; the insulate themselves from it. May the government force Section 8 housing down your throats.

on August 26, 2015

As an “indigenous” I do not see where is the problem in expressing your views. We may share them or not but freedom of speech is cherished and protected (by the Constitution) in Italy too, so Taniqua Goodman do NOT treat Venice as if we were an isolated tribe hidden in the Amazon forest: with the USA we share many common values, and (believe it or not) the Venice Republic was one of the first countries in the world to recognise the new born United States of America. Marco Gasparinetti, spokesperson of http://www.gruppo25aprile.org

on August 26, 2015

What Marco said. (Bravissimo, come usual.)

on August 26, 2015

Ms Goodman, Democracy and the concept of freedom of speech is, in fact, indigenous to Europe, so your Yankee imperialist argument has no footing.

As to Ms Loctov’s motivations, she has been a lover, promoter and champion of all things Venetian for the almost 20 years I have known her. Thousands of people have visited, loved, and left Euros behind in Venice because of Ms Locktov’s passion for the city. I know I have.

I want to thank Architects and Artisans for this excellent, well researched article. I will be sharing with friends

Finally, in a world where whole civilizations are being obliterated by zealots, shouldn’t we be even more committed to preserving all that is precious, rare and fragile?

on August 26, 2015

Well said, Taniqua, how dares she? I have met and worked with Ms. Locktov and I can assure she is nothing but a Western American imperialist prone to imposing her values on us poor indigenous and unwashed masses. Indeed, if I recall correctly, last time she came to Venice she secluded us in a reservoir and started handing out copies of her book. We were at her mercy. I wish you had come to our rescue sooner.

Wait a second. That didn’t happen. Because, you know, it’s a fantasy. Specifically, *your* fantasy.

Your stereotypes about Mill Valley are almost as depressing as your condescending attitude towards Venetians.

And for the record, I am an Italian citizen and know quite well which people sitting on a comfortable chair at the moment. Hint: not the Italian youth.

Please counter criticism with facts, and not with faux demagogy. That’s all I am asking from the Mayor, and all is has failed to do. Spectacularly so.

on August 26, 2015

May I quote Lorenzo Bianchi? Just to say that I agree with him and could testify the same. One more quote: “in a world where whole civilizations are being obliterated by zealots, shouldn’t we be even more committed to preserving all that is precious, rare and fragile?” Or should we keep silent also when ISIS destroys Palmyra, for fear of interfering with ISIS beliefs? Freedom of speech is what we have in common, and it would be wrong to take it for granted when pictures are banned in a City like Venice.

on August 26, 2015

Tanique what a sad and vicious attack!
I’m sure we would all agree that we care deeply about dear Venezia…and we want the best for her future.
An open discussion is all JoAnn is seeking….I’m sure she would be happy to hear the mayor’s side, his reasons for his descisions.

on August 26, 2015

So true,the Republic of Venice was one of the first countries to recognize the United States. Since then, we’ve seen numerous examples of mutual support and friendship as well as sharing common values. As another “indigenous” commenting here, I fully agree with Marco Gasparinetti. JoAnn has been providing a most valuable support through her Facebook Page and book series. By now, Dream of Venice has become THE reference point and source of information to tourists in the English speaking world and beyond. Paving the way towards what is called “informed, sustainable, quality tourism”.

on August 26, 2015

I have only had the honor of meeting JoAnn Locktov on one occasion, but thanks to the Internet I have “known” her for years, as I’ve written a number of blogs for her clients. She’s someone I consider a friend because of a shared passion for the arts. At first it was only tile, but we’ve since learned that we share a number of artistic passions, one of which is Venice. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting that city, although in recent months I have come to feel like—if not a denizen, then a number one fan—because of the wonderful book she edited last year. Like all of JoAnn’s projects, it was put together with passion, but there was also a luminous love that permeated it throughout.

Before I wrote my own review of her book I spent some time online doing a bit of basic research into Venice. Two things struck me: the haunting beauty of Venice and its fragility. Subsidence, high tides, global warming leading to even more high tides, and the unceasing damage that is a natural consequence of having built so much so near the sea—with all that assaults this city on a regular basis, it’s a wonder it still exists. And now we must add the very real possibility of its being loved to death.

Others have written on the subject of tourist attractions that have drawn so many tourists that they run the risk of collapsing under the weight of them. I’m sure that everyone in this string is aware of those articles, so I’ll not add to that argument here, except to say that it is very clear to me that this argument especially applies to Venice. To have so many people tramping through it, dripping ice cream and making other thoughtless tourist messes, cannot possibly be beneficial to the city, unless we choose to focus our attentions only upon the money they will bring. But counter this, if you will, with all the damage that surely flows from such an onslaught of humanity. Is it really worth it?

Ms. Goodman, I noted that you accused JoAnn of “imposing American Western beliefs on indigenous cultures and sovereign countries,” which oddly reminds me of a visit I made some years back to Monument Valley in our state of Utah. It’s a land that is considered sacred to the Navajo Nation, the indigenous people in that area. We had to obtain their permission to tour it in our automobile. I popped in a cassette tape of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and stopped whenever I could to take pictures. I was so struck with the sheer beauty of the place and that music that my hands often shook when I readied for another photo. At the end I made it a point to go back to the Navajo who had sold us the ticket, but by then I was so overcome with emotion that I could do little more than croak out a hoarse—but heartfelt—thank you. In the end that land is theirs, to do with it as they will, but if they should decide to erect high-rise hotels and gambling casinos in the midst of that haunting beauty, I think I might want to try to persuade them to a different course of action. That beauty, once gone, is gone forever.

I don’t think there is any place on earth quite as special as Venice, Italy. That’s why so many who are neither Venetians nor Italians have formed groups to help with the many problems that clearly face Venice these days. It would seem a shame to save Venice from the sea only to see it trampled to death by boors.

on August 26, 2015

Taniqua, I only wish that we could have a respectful and meaningful discussion about the issues and dangers that face our beloved Venezia—even if we choose to disagree. Yet you resort to boorish and ill-mannered behavior. Your accusations are ignorant and cruel. Rather than state your case in an intelligent and thoughtful way, you resort to name calling and condescension.

And so you side with the new mayor of Venice and adopt his tactics of bullying and obfuscation. This is sad not only for problems of Venice, but for the state of our world. There are far too many blowhards among us. We don’t need you to add to the ugly noise that drowns out the gentle voices that try to speak the truth.

on August 27, 2015

An open discussion of the issues – and there are many – relating to the cruise ships is not advanced by personal attacks against people who spend considerable amounts of time, over many years, in Venice. Just because many of us – like JoAnn – are not fortunate enough to be able to live year-round in Venice does not diminish our concerns and distress at witnessing the withering of community that is taking place year after year.

The cruise-ship supporters cry of “cruise ships bring money and therefore we must cater to their every desire” and “you don’t live here so can’t have an opinion” ignores (amongst other things) several serious and thorough studies that conclusively show that cruise ship passengers are the least valuable type of tourist – they spend the least per head, but cost the most in infrastructure requirements. And this is even before you take into consideration the issues particular to Venice where they currently sail through a fragile ecosystem, through busy waterways perilously close to buildings into a city that cannot cope with such a mass influx.

Surely, given the costs and multiple risks associated with these massive cruise ships – and balancing all of that with the little amount of money their passengers spend per head, Venice would be better served by encouraging those visitors who spend more time in Venice, and often return year after year (as I do). We spend considerable amounts with local businesses, we support local artisans, and by encouraging others to stay longer in Venice we promote better and more sustainable and financially beneficial tourism.

Trying to shut down a healthy discussion by censoring exhibits and attacking people because they don’t agree with one point of view is not in any way in Venice’s best interests.

on August 28, 2015

Clearly Ms. Goodman has no clue what “shilling” means. One does not shill for one’s self, one acts as a shill for another.

I, however, am a proud shill for Venice. So are many others.

So anything us shills can do to bring as much attention to the plight of Venice and her citizens is just fine. And necessary.

A shill’s duty, actually.

on September 23, 2015

I am very pleased to be able to announce that the Gianni Berengo Gardin photography exhibit will open October 22, 2015 at FAI-Negozio Olivetti on Piazza San Marco. Truth, justice, art, and intelligence have prevailed!



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