Saint-Mark’s square under the waters, hordes of tourists on the Rialto bridge, garbage on the floor, luxury boutiques lit all night long.
‘’No grandi navi’’ flags float in the wind, as the fear of losing their dear city grows in Venetians’ hearts. History has already proclaimed the death of Venice on so many occasions. But while she is assaulted by tourists and abandoned by her inhabitants, the hope of seeing an ultimate rebirth of the Serenissima seems thinner than ever.
Yet, citizens have not quite abandoned the fight yet. They gather on the shores of Zattere and on hundreds of boats, they demonstrate in the Canale della Giudecca against the passage of cruiseships. They still believe that, somewhere, there is still a possibility of countering Venice’s decline and of enabling it to become, once again, an inspiring place in the eyes of the world.
Venice first came out of the waters to be a safe haven for people fleeing the madness of the terraferma.
In the XXIth century, the world seems more frantic than ever. We face the threats of global warming, accompanied by a surge of inequalities. The environmental and economic crisis threaten social bonds, and as the current pandemic continues to rage, our social life and human rights are put on hold. We are in desperate need of a safe haven.
I strongly believe that this is a chance for Venice. I strongly believe that, in the midst of this chaos, the City of Lagoons could find a new breath by becoming a model-city, guiding us towards a future that would be more sustainable and respectful of human rights.
I imagine a Venice that would gather researchers and students, all living and working together towards the protection of the cultural heritage of the city. International institutions such as the Council of Europe or UNESCO, and universities like the Ca’ Foscari, IUAV or VIU, have already started to draw them to the city, and could continue on this path. The city and Veneto region could also organize more conferences and colloquia on the topic of sustainability and encourage research around the scientific and technical possibilities to save the city from rising waters, global warming and the passage of time.
I imagine a Venice that would attract thinkers and artists in the quest for answers, and able to broadcast a new, fresh vision of the city. The world-famous Biennale represents an unique occasion to launch this challenge and to find creative solutions for the future of Venice. But beyond that, artistic exhibitions, concerts, shows, and all sorts of cultural gatherings could be organized with the aim of reimagining the city and its role in the world.
I imagine a Venice that would reunite human rights activists and experts and be a model for the protection of the liberties and respect of all human beings. In the Serenissima, not only would the rights to life, liberty, security be ensured. Not only would the freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression be safeguarded. But the rights to have access to culture and enjoyment would also be recognized as being fundamental.
In her essay, The Capabilities, Martha Nussbaum declares that the access to culture and arts are basic human rights. She indeed argues that, among the ten capabilities that any democratic government should respect, there are:
- ‘’Senses, imagination and thoughts — which implies that all individuals should have access to an adequate education to be able to think and reason in a humane way’’
- ‘’Play — which implies that all individuals should be able to laugh, play and enjoy leisure’’
- And ‘’control over one’s environment, whether it be political or material’’
Based on the principles outlined by Nussbaum, I imagine a Venice in which social justice could be achieved by putting forward the access to art and culture as a basic human right and protecting it.
In Venice, all humans could have access to the artistic and historical heritage of the city, and they could be incited to produce and enjoy new cultural content. As the city was created and developed based on a mix of cultures and on the crossing of the Occident and the Orient, its artistic life would, by nature, be multicultural. Venice would thus progressively become a laboratory, the experiment of a democracy in which art would enable citizens to think in a critical and intercultural way.
This would enable the city’s citizens to make better decisions, whether this is from a individual, collective or political standpoint. It would also enable them to become more sensitive to the issue of sustainability, and better able to find long-term solutions for the preservation of the city. And above all, it would create a bond between individuals, a sense of community that Venetians long for and still fight to keep alive.
It would also make the city more attractive to newcomers, who would be seduced by the possibility of living in a city which places culture at core of its democratic life. These new inhabitants might come for a temporary period of time — they might be young people from all cultural and social backgrounds, looking for a place in which they can work to live instead of living for their work. They might also be older, have families, and think of Venice as the perfect place to raise young children and enable them to become sensible adults.
But no matter their ages and origins, no matter their motivations or the length of their stay, these people would all be united by their care for Venice and the potentialities it offers. They would all believe in the capacity of the City of the Doges to become the City of Human Rights and Sustainability.
I am aware that this all seems very utopist. I am a bit of a dreamer, that is for sure. But after a few months spent studying at VIU and getting to know the tight-knit international community that calls Venice home, I do not think this vision is as far-fetched as it could seem. Seeing and hearing you all today only confirms it and might even bring us one step closer to this Venice of the future.
By Maeve Cucciol