A Reset for a City, a Country and the World

In mid-February in a virtual meeting with Iris Loredana, co-owner with her grandmother of La Venessiana, an online lifestyle journal, I asked a series of questions about the flooding in November and how the residents of Venice were coping with the repercussions. Shortly after, a novel virus began to spread, encircling the world and changing it in so many ways we could not have imagined.

From Iris: What I write comes from my 15-year experience as a banking and sustainable finance professional. La Venessiana was created out of my own and Nonna Lina's desperation, to reach out to negligent tourists and advocate “responsible tourism” in Venice.

Italy, not just Venice, is going through the worst health crisis since times immemorial. In fact, Venice has lived through a situation, comparable to this one, only in 1630-31 when the city was hit by the bubonic plague. Since mid-March, people have been living under lockdown, which in the Veneto means you cannot walk beyond 200 meters (about 236 steps) from your home and you always have to carry a form with you. The form justifies the reason you need to leave your house (buying food or medicine or bringing down the garbage).

Life in the city is completely different than it was “only” a few weeks ago, when none of us would have suspected having to go through a situation like this in our lifetime. The Venetian economy, depending almost entirely on tourism and port activities, has been hit even harder than other cities in Italy. Even if life in Italy, in a few months from now, might slowly struggle back to “a new normal,” hotels and restaurant owners cannot expect clients to return immediately, as the pandemic involves almost every other country on earth. Traveling to and from Italy may be restricted for an even longer time which is why state measures to help people buy food and medicine, pay rents and loans are so essential. This is where neighborhoods and the Italian State, as lender of last resort, must step in. Yes, this sounds like I'm talking about the aftermath of WWII, but we are fighting another terrible war these days.

Italy and Venice need a comprehensive recovery program, but we are not sure where the money will come from. The fact is that medical and financial help for Italy and Venice in the current health crisis comes from China, Russia, Albania, Cuba, and Venezuela. Russian military are helping the Italian military disinfect hospitals and homes in Bergamo. Russian doctors help in Bergamo and Chinese doctors and researchers have joined the Health Service in the Veneto at the University of Padua to find a cure for this deadly virus. 

Economically speaking, the high proportion of businesses depending on tourism – representing a cluster risk– will have to be reduced to levels present in other “normal” cities and the number of businesses serving Venetian needs such as groceries, food stores, bakeries, etc. will need to rise again.

I'm aware this cannot happen overnight as the economic structure of Venice, almost exclusively dependent on tourism, wasn't created overnight but during the past 30 years. We need to live in a Venice similar to the one in the 1990s, but this will need time and a complete change in our mindset. In the meantime, we need to eliminate hit-and-run tourism and instead focus on high-quality tourism. There are cities in Italy that have made it; Merano (South Tyrol) is such an example.

We need a step-by-step plan to “turn back time” and it will be all of us Venetians who will have to contribute our share to reach the goal of “giving back Venice to the Venetians.” A huge challenge ahead to be tackled, once we are out of this COVID-19 crisis.