Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

A City with a Life Span

Recently I had a fantastic experience exploring Venice, but all the while was wondering how many more generations would get to do the same. The rate at which the city is sinking is still controversial, ranging from 7 centimeters a century to 24, but the concern over the potential effect of recently intensifying natural disasters worldwide is certainly in agreement. Global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, of course, are critical issues and ones that cannot be solved by Venetian lifestyle changes. How does a city plan for constant flooding, unstoppable tourism, and population instability, all of which aggravate the other, and which cannot be directly controlled?


The earlier General Town Plan (1959) and New Town Plan (1962) have proven ineffective at combatting the shortage of living space and difficulty of mobility that Venice suffers from. A new solution was created in 1997 with the founding of INSULA, an engineering consortium that provides maintenance services to the city. A great example of a successful public-private partnership, INSULA is divided in ownership between the city and four utility companies. Recently, INSULA merged with a company specializing in historic preservation and restoration.

The most dramatic plan to alleviate the problem of flooding is called the MOSE Project, which would erect 79 gates between the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. When the water level rises more than one meter, the gates would be activated, creating dykes to protect the city. Environmental critics claim that this would stop influxes of water from rushing into the canals and cleansing them of sediment, while others disapprove of the project simply because of its €2.5 billion price tag.


An aerial view of the MOSE Project, as built north of Lido in Venice. Source.

But it seems that these efforts are just keeping up with deterioration, instead of pushing the city forward and advancing the quality of life. INSULA repairs bridges damaged by flooding, dredges canals periodically and restores utilities like the sewage system. These all are expensive undertakings, in terms both of time and money, and ultimately just keep the city afloat. When the water rises, tourists find it difficult to see the city, boats can’t pass under the bridges, and most importantly, buildings are irreparably damaged. The so-called tides of optimism seem quickly to be washing away. Even if Project Moses were to be agreed upon, Italy’s current financial situation makes it unlikely that it would be feasible to implement. My advice? See it while you can!



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