What prospects for Venice at a time of financial crisis?
Anna Somers Cocks on the flooding in Venice
If the mobile barriers currently being built between the Adriatic and the lagoon were already in action, Venice would not have been flooded on 1 December. This was the worst flood since 1985, reaching 156cm above the mean water level mark. Unfortunately, a shortage in State funding has already caused the estimated date of the barriers' completion to slip from 2012 to 2014.
At this time of financial hardship, what are the prospects that Venice, which requires and will require constant expenditure to survive, will be adequately protected?
The mayor of the city, Massimo Cacciari, who has always opposed the barriers, makes political capital out of the fact that the city's ordinary budget has been drastically cut to finance their construction (their estimated cost is Euro 4.272million), and he encourages a popular belief in Venice and beyond that they are not necessary. He even made the illogical remark after this latest flood that they were a waste of money since it was 23 years since the waters had risen so high.
Mobile barriers are, however, indispensable: this was the conclusion of the conference held by Cambridge University in 2002, attended by over one hundred scientists and financed by the Venice in Peril Fund as part of a wide-reaching three-year research programme into the state of knowledge about the lagoon and proposed solutions to the flooding. When the barriers are in place, even the small acque alte will be prevented as they will be closed when the tide is predicted to rise to 110cm above mean water level, the level when the campi and calli begin to be awash, which has happened 55 times between 1996 and 2005. The Cambridge conference also warned, however, that mobile barriers would only give Venice the time to develop whatever protection needs to come next, as no solution for Venice is for ever. The water level is already so high as to be eroding the fabric of the city. The ecological predicament of the lagoon is constantly changing and the effects of global warming, while as yet incalculable, are highly unlikely to be positive. After the environment, the greatest threat to the future of Venice is the absence of any long term planning by the authorities for the protection of the city, and without long term planning there can be no long term research or long term projections as to how the costs will be covered. The most powerful reason why such planning does not take place is that the Venice question has become deeply and damagingly politicized. No issue is considered on its merits alone, but on how it plays within party politics. At a time of financial crisis, political factors are likely to weigh even more heavily, which is bad news for Venice. The Venice in Peril Fund appeals to the Italian authorities, at national, regional and city level, to recognize that the future of Venice will always need exceptional funding, long term planning and collaboration between politicians of all parties to survive. Venice is a treasure for all mankind and the world is watching.
Anna Somers Cocks