19 December 2010 by Jane da Mosto

An Investigation into what emerges from multifaceted participation with a common theme.

SALUTIAMO VENEZIA: per una Venezia in Salute
What Lagoon for Which Future in the New Special Law

British Pavilion, Festa della Salute, 21/11/2010


SCOPE

Make the most of the free access for local people to the Biennale (on the last day) to discuss the significance of the Venice Lagoon in the fresh context of the British Pavilion

Further encourage greater public participation in strategic decision-making affecting Venice’s future

Send out a message that in the face of inevitable stark choices that must be made to create a future for Venice, people need to articulate more clearly “the Venice we want”.


SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Get as many Venetians as possible to take up the invitation to visit the exhibition and realise the beauty, significance and potential of the saltmarsh habitat, in the context of the Venice Lagoon System.

Extract a message that is constructive and positive from the meeting that can form the basis for more of this type of work.

Sell the journal of Villa Frankenstein, Volume #2 “La Laguna di Venezia”.


METHOD

Invite 6 experts to give 10 minute presentations – sufficient to provide concrete information while not excluding the public from joining in.

Brief each speaker thoroughly to ensure that he

– takes account of the fact that participants at the meeting will have a good basic knowledge of key issues;
– focuses on describing/explaining the problems/possibilities in his own field of expertise, without falling into the well-known trap of re-gurgitating or re-igniting a debate over past issues (both recent and historic);
– sticks to the time limit.

Create a comfortable, informal, relaxed setting to encourage anyone and everyone to contribute to the discussion

Allow plenty of time for open discussion and further contributions from the audience in the Stadium of Close-Looking

Promote ongoing collaboration and consultation via the villafrankenstein.com website.


FINDINGS

Armando Danella:

retired manager from the office that administered the Special Law funding for Venice Municipality

‘The Necessity for the new Special Law for Venice’

The lagoon is going to disappear unless radical action is taken. It is fast becoming a bay of the sea due to the continuing large amounts of sediments lost to the sea. This must be more clearly addressed in the new Special Law, i.e:

– The MOSE system for mobile barriers fixes the breadth and depth of the inlets and consequently does nothing to reverse the erosion problem and so seriously limits the range of possible solutions to restoring and protecting the lagoon.
– The real power in governance of the Venice Lagoon needs to be brought back to the local level.
– Measures are needed to repopulate Venice with permanent residents (rather than tourists).

Andrea Bonometto:

environmental engineer and expert in lagoon morphology and ecology

‘The “Saltmarsh in a tank” as a metaphor for a possible future for the Venice Lagoon’

Where does the limit lie between restoring a better hydro-morphological balance in the Venice Lagoon System and creating a vast aquarium?

From a description of the convoluted process of creating the tank system for the saltmarsh, and its high materials and energy inputs, many parallels with policy choices for interventions in the lagoon emerged.

The importance of “active” restoration was underlined as a restoration technique, i.e. creating the conditions that favour the self-preservation and regeneration capabilities of saltmarshes, rather than focusing on artificially producing the “finished product”.

At the planning level, it is important to recognise existing pressures (notaby areas of high energy like strong currents, boat traffic and wind waves) and outline the strategies for functional restoration and protection measures (especially revival of the system’s own resilience), using both historical maps and hydro-morphological mathematical models.

Georg Umghiesser:

oceanographer and hydrodynamic modelling expert

‘Mobile Barrier operation under a scenario of sea level rise due to climate change’

Starting from the fact that construction of the mobile barriers is well underway and recognising this as the main element of the strategy for safeguarding Venice and the lagoon (central to the Special Law for Venice), it was noted that this project is the third in a series of measures that, contrary to the longer history of Venice, address the city’s economic interests exclusively with out taking into consideration the lagoon, and the advantages to the city of a healthy lagoon environment.

Specifically:
– Jetties at the inlets were built to increase the intensity of currents and favour deeper canals for the benefit of shipping
– The Canale dei Petroli navigation channel was dredged to accommodate petrol tankers and facilitate development of the Marghera industrial zone
– The MOSE system was designed specifically to protect the city from periodic flooding.

Operation regimes of the barriers were considered in the context of projections of sea level rise. Well before the end of this century and within the expected lifetime of these barriers, it is expected that closure of the lagoon could become necessary on a daily basis and this would be unsustainable for the lagoon system in its present form.

Davide Tagliapietra:

biologist with expertise in lagoon habitats and invertebrates

‘Revisiting the history of Venice and the Lagoon’

Since about 1500, the Venice Lagoon has been modified in different ways for specific purposes like port logistics and to make the city more liveable. Modification in the hinterland via land reclamation and deforestation was carried out to obtain essential primary products like wood and wheat (once sources overseas became scarcer).

In order to do this the Serenissima modified the lagoon’s relationships with the mainland and the sea, fundamentally changing the essence of the lagoon itself from an estuary where river inputs dominate into a body that is increasingly connected to the sea.

La Serenissima directed energy and materials towards the centre of the lagoon system to create a fantastic emergent structure: the city of Venice. Now Venice itself has become a resource that needs to be protected – for whom and in what way is a question for social debate.

It is difficult to talk about ecological equilibrium of the lagoon as changes are continually going on in the system as a result of direct human impacts and responses to those.

Giorgio Conti:

economist, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Ca’ Foscari University

‘Win-win opportunities via industrial symbiosis and other types of innovative approaches to economic activities’

In view of the environmental threats and the decline in productive activities in Venice and Marghera, a range of promising new approaches – referred to as “industrial symbiosis” – were described as win-win solutions to reviving the local economy.

Examples of viable projects were presented, from China and Denmark (Kalundborg), where factory waste production, use of raw materials and ecological footprints have been cut to a minimum.

Some seeds of change are emerging: air protection legislation that forced cruise ships to switch to electric power while docked in Venice led to a project in Marghera that produces energy from algae. It may be possible to cultivate mussels in contaminated areas of the lagoon to improve water quality and produce biomass for insulation materials.

These types of opportunity are not only exciting solutions to environmental problems but equally relevant to the re-vitalisation of Venice itself. A way to promote more responsible tourism was described, by involving visitors in environmental data gathering and monitoring programmes (e.g. scuba diving holiday makers in Sharm el Shek collected significant information regarding the state of the coral reefs)

With reference to the limitations of the current draft New Special Law As Einstein said: it’s not possible to fix a problem using the same way of thinking that originally created the problem.

Edoardo Salzano:

Urban planner dedicated to developing and applying the principles of sustainable development).

‘From Venice to the world and back again’

Il modo in cui la Repubblica Serenissima, fino alla fine del XVIII sec., ha governato il rapporto tra intervento dell’uomo e leggi della natura (senza violentarle , ma utiizzandole saggiamente) potrebbe costituire oggi un modello per l’intero pianeta. Il degrado di Venezia è in larga parte il risultato del trionfo dell’ideologia modernista.The degradation of Venice is largely the result of the “triumph” of the modernist ideology.

The Venice Lagoon should be considered as a model for the survival of all humanity. It provides a way of seeing all the interrelationships, pressures and opportunities at close range. Looked at from a different angle, the degradation of Venice has significant parallels with civil society.

The original Special Law of 1973 (and successive iterations) had appropriate objectives that were not implemented properly. And we should be asking ourselves why. The most evident deviations from the stated objectives are
– The NON experimentability, NON graduality and NON reversibility of the large scale infrastructural projects in the lagoon
– Interventions that serve the economic development goals of the city without taking into account the city-lagoon interrelationships

Today we find ourselves in a situation where the institutional framework and “power” prevents the well known and widespread criticisms of safeguarding interventions from having any effect on decisions.


INFERENCES

The future of Venice depends on critical choices and decisions being made in the context of long range thinking. The situation of the city and conditions of the lagoon are on the brink of collapse for a variety of reasons and continuing along the path of poorly inter-related and short-term decisions spells disaster.

There is an excellent knowledge base and understanding of processes significant to the future of the entire system among local experts and via their international networks.

The long history of Venice tells us a lot about the scope there is for the lagoon and city to develop together as long as these systems are considered as part of a single unit, with the mainland catchment area as well.


Venice BiennialBritish Councilmuffaviniarper