Save Venice? Save Venice from tourists to enable locals to have a bit of normal life in the City they call home. Save Venice from local teenagers who graffiti the facades of the city. Save Venice from the foreign business interests who are buying up all of the prime real estate and forcing out local shop owners. Save Venice from pollution. Save Venice from unauthorized tour guides who crowd the streets and spread misinformation about the city. Save the artisans of Venice from foreign made “Venetian” souvenirs. Save the workers of Venice from the tide of cheep immigrant labor. Save Venice from political corruption. Save the churches, buildings and priceless art of the Venice from crumbling into decay. Save Venice from modernization. Save Venice from the dredging of the Canale Contorta Sant'Angelo which is all but certain to increase acqua alta, accelerate the “sinking” on the city and cause serious ecological damage to the lagoon. Save Venice from becoming the lifeless and soulless shell of a decaying museum that so very many tourists already mistake it for each year. That's right Venice, you delicate little thousand-year-old flower made of stone, you are in grave peril...as usual.
Over the years, I have met more than one out-of-towner who came to Venice to save Venice. Or, at least to save the piece of Venice that s/he cares about. (It's usually not a piece that has anything to do with local businesses or the local lifestyle...) Many of them have never even been to Venice before. Yet they're on the mission to bring enlightenment and civilization to this cobble stone jungle? I admit that they baffle me. At this time, with the government of Venice in upheaval over corruption and bribery scandals, so many people, in Rome, but in other places too, seem to be feeling free to “save” Venice at their own pleasure and for their own purposes, without much thought for the opinions of Venetians themselves. And really, of all the threats facing this city, its hard to imagine one that could be more offensive to the intelligence of the Venetians in Venice.
Though recent months have seen a wellspring of bad news flowing from Venice – the attempted state auction of Poveglia to private interests, the Moses scandal, the arrest of the mayor, the increasingly disrespectful behavior of tourists, the declining population of the islands, the closing of so many Mom and Pop shops – There is also something wonderful happening: Venetians are raising a collective voice and taking collective actions on behalf of their City.
Five years ago, I wouldn't have believed this was possible. I wouldn't have believed it, because my Venetian friends told me again and again that it was impossible. (Even as they separately complained of the exact same woes...) But then, suddenly it started. The conversations moved from the bacari into the streets. First came the No Grandi Navi movement, which is now globally recognized, but which started with just a few people, and had its major breakthrough when a few Venetians in tiny boats blocked a cruise ship from entering the Canal.
Then arose the Poveglia Association in response to the proposed Italian government auction of the Venetian Island of Poveglia. Venetians, and supporters from around the world, came together in an attempt to raise enough money to purchase Poveglia for Venice and thus prevent that historic island from being sold to private interests.
Meanwhile, on a smaller scale but still quite importantly, the tourism associations of Venice have begun efforts to promote locally owned businesses and environmentally friendly tourism. And, now across global news outlets and across social media, there is an active and open dialogue about Venice that is largely moderated by Venetians.
This is all good news! It's the kind of news that makes me believe that, even though the population of the lagoon has declined by more than ten thousand people since I started this project, the people who are left are strong people. They're the ones who are going to save Venice. Again.
What I really want to make clear here is this: OG Venice has no illusions about being able to “save Venice”. Do I have ideas? Yes. Do I want to discuss them over a spritz? Of course! But my dearest hope is simply that by freeing users from the “tourist” Venice, OG Venice can help other travelers have an authentic and fun travel experience in Venice. (OG Venice: Saving tourists one spritz at a time!) And, after all, isn't the best thing that most of us tourists can do for Venice exactly the same as what we came to do in the first place? Spend our time, and perhaps a little money, in the real Venice?