ITALY

Venetians protest: 'Venice is not an amusement park!'

Residents of Venice marched last weekend to protest issues relating to mass tourism in the city. Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")
Residents of Venice marched last weekend to protest issues relating to mass tourism in the city. Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")

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Venetians are protesting over issues stemming from mass tourism in the city. They feel that Venice has come to cater more to visitors than to its own inhabitants, and they fear the city could become little more than an "amusement park," emptied of its populace.

This past weekend, several hundred people descended on the centre of Venice, a city listed as a Unesco world heritage site.

An informal group created in June, "Generazione 90", which organised the protest, is made up of about 30 young people who are "worried about the future of [their] city", according to their Facebook page, which also notes: "We are perhaps the last generation to know the real city of Venice, when living, finding a home and a job, walking the streets and buying groceries weren't the stuff of superheroes but normal things."

The protest was organised by the group "Generazione 90."Their slogan, "R-Esistiamo," is a play on words that means both "We resist" and "We exist." Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")

"The city is made more for tourists than for residents"

Francesco Zane is a member of "Generazione 90", and participated in the demonstration.

The slogan of our protest was "Watch your feet, I've got my grocery cart with me". We held up grocery carts, because they symbolise our daily life: lots of local residents use them when they do their shopping, on foot – because cars aren't allowed in Venice – but you never see tourists with them.

Grocery carts symbolise daily life in Venice, according to the protesters. Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")

We want to denounce precisely our everyday problems, the ones linked to the mass tourism that's developed over the course of the past 10 years. [Editor's note: Venice is currently visited by more than 25 million people each year.] These problems are particularly prominent during certain periods, like Carnival.

It's important to specify that it's not tourism in and of itself that's problematic – because the city depends on it [Editor's note: Tourism brings in 1.5 billion euros each year] – but rather its excesses, because now we have the sense that the city is made more for the tourists than for its inhabitants.

Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")

 

"More and more people are renting apartments to tourists instead of residents, which is making rents go up"

"The biggest consequence is to the cost of housing. More and more people are renting apartments to tourists instead of residents, which is making rents go up. [Editor's note: One in four residences in Venice is now rented exclusively to tourists.] What's more, buying a house and renovating it is very expensive, because the buildings are old. And building a new house isn't a possibility in a historic area.

As a result, lots of people are leaving to live elsewhere, especially young people. That's why Venice's population keeps going down: there were 357,000 inhabitants in 1970, and just 264,000 now. [Editor's note: The drop is even more striking in the historic centre, where there were 110,000 inhabitants in 1970, versus 56,000 today.] It's really too bad, because a lot of residents would prefer to stay here. We'd like for there to be some financial assistance for lodging, and we want them to stop opening hotels or bed and breakfasts.

"There are souvenir shops everywhere, but normal stores are just as important"

The other issue is that it's easier to buy a carnival mask than it is to buy shoes or food, for instance, because there are souvenir shops everywhere. But keeping normal stores and basic services is just as important. We're also worried that one of the hospitals might close.

Finding food can prove harder than finding souvenirs. Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")

Furthermore, the tourism we have is quite unbalanced: all the visitors are concentrated around the Piazza San Marco, but there are tons of other places to visit in the city. And a lot of people only come during the day; it's much calmer at night.

Photo credit: Furio Visintin ("Generazione 90")

"Some tourists swim in the canals. It's disrespectful"

Lastly, some tourists are really disrespectful. Some of them leave their trash behind in the street after they eat. Others swim in the canals, even though it's not allowed... Venice isn't an amusement park!

You can be fined for swimming in Venice.

As for us, we think a more sustainable form of tourism needs to be developed. This might mean limiting the number of visitors, for instance. [Editor's note: This view is shared by some NGOs, such as Italia Nostra, as well as by the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia.]

Another issue, one that is raised regularly, is the constant passage of tourist boats – and sometimes enormous cruise ships – which is a problem for the quays and the foundations of the city's buildings, as well as the ecosystem. In 2015, an exhibit by the photographer Gianni Berengo Gardin, in which he showed the contrast between Venice and the gigantic ships, was banned by the mayor's office.