Venice is dying.
Venice population is diminishing. Every year fewer people choose to live their everyday life in the lagoon city. Every year the red figures hit us with the image of a depressed and aging city.
This summer organizations for the residents protested against the tourism out of control. Their anger was directed not so much against the tourists but more so against the politicians and the authorities who refuse to guarantee even the most elementary service for someone who has decided to continue living in the old town; schools, groceries, and healthcare. The slogan was Mi no vado via, I’m not going away and thousands of Venetians joined the march.
But the truth of the matter is that many are going away. The historical city of Venice, that is the big fish in the middle of the lagoon, now has 52.472 residents, leaving many houses uninhabited. That’s not much, still, every day two or three more leave.
So let’s look at the figures:
|Residents Year||Venice historical center||Islands around Venice||Mestre/Marghera||Total|
Venice population – the evasion.
What you can see is that the peak of the population in the whole Venice city area happens at the beginning of the 1970s. After that, it keeps going down. Venice historical center… the big fish peaks already in the fifties. Another thing you can see is that the total Venice population of all the different areas hasn’t diminished very much, in fact, it’s in line with other Italian cities. The figures for Mestre and Marghera are only down a little more than 10% percent from the years of the most residents around 1980. The old city, on the other hand, is down a whopping 70%. More than two-thirds of the people in the city have left. Let’s take a look at the statistics again. This time on the 15 biggest cities in Italy:
|Population Italian Cities||Roma||Milano||Napoli||Torino||Palermo||Genova||Bologna||Firenze||Bari||Catania||Venezia||Verona||Messina||Padova||Trieste|
Let’s exclude Rome because Rome is the capital and has grown exceptionally fast during the 20th century. It has a history all of its own and is difficult to compare to other Italian cities.
The other 14 biggest cities in Italy all peaked in 1971 or 1981. After that, they have lost between 10 and 25 % of their population, with two exceptions: Padova and Verona. Padova is down 5% and Verona is more or less the same as in the 70s. This is interesting. The two cities closest to Venice are the only ones in the whole of Italy who haven’t dropped more a few percents since the golden years in the 70s.
The conclusion could be that the Venice population in the whole City area, including Mestre and Marghera, is comparable to other big cities in Italy. The historical center though is drained, and the Venetians have moved to the surrounding parts like Mestre and to the surrounding cities like Padova, Verona and maybe Treviso. But we already know that.
It’s too expensive to live in Venice.
The tourists are to blame, of course. Schools, childcare, healthcare, and other services are not prioritized by the authorities. Living in Venice is becoming more difficult and more expensive by the day. And the tourists push the prices of housing up to levels where it becomes impossible to sustain a normal living. This fact, the expensive housing in Venice, is often mentioned as the principal reason for the escape of the Venetians.
We’ve heard the arguments many times, but let’s look at the statistics again. House prices per square meter in the 15 biggest cities in Italy.
|Housing prices per square meter||Roma||Milano||Napoli||Torino||Palermo||Genova||Bologna||Firenze||Bari...||Catania||Venezia||Verona||Messina||Padova||Trieste|
|The whole urban area||3000||3922||2600||1715||1306||1540||2981||4035||1778||1296||2926||1997||1186||1780||1580|
|The central historical part / The most expensive area.||>5800||>7100||>5200||>3100||1900||>2900||2900||>5100||2300||1900||5800||>3200||>1400||2900||2400|
|Ratio of the most expensive area to the least expensive area||4,7 : 1||4,2 : 1||4 : 1||3,3 : 1||2 : 1||3 : 1||1,8 : 1||1,8 : 1||1,5 : 1||2,3 : 1||3,3 : 1||2,4 : 1||1,6 : 1||2,5 : 1||2,2 : 1|
It’s easy to see that it’s expensive to live in Venice. But Italian house prices are still not very high compared to many other internationally important cities in Europe. London has an exaggerated price tag and tops the list with 13.000 euros per square meter in the City center. But many other cities like Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, etc. have much higher prices in the center than Venice. Now, they’re capitals, but Venice is a unique city that attracts not only residents from all over the world, but also film-stars, famous writers, pop-stars, athletes, and all kinds of millionaires who are not so famous. This also tilts the statistics as some houses in Venice are only for those people. Every now and then a palace on the Grand canal is sold for many millions of euros and those enter the statistics too, driving up the statistic square meter price.
Well, the fact is that it’s not all that expensive…
So prices are lower than Milan, much lower than Munich, Zurich, or Amsterdam but in line with Rome, Firenze, and Napoli. Very high prices in the city center compared to the outskirts is an international problem. People having to evade the center for the suburbs is nothing unique for Venice. Milan, Rome, Firenze, and Napoli all suffer the same issues. As does every other big city in Europe. It’s just the magnitude that is different.
Firenze has lost 25% of its residents in the city center since 1991. About the same as Venice. It’s just that Venice started losing residents already in the 50s, so the loss is greater. In the 50s there wasn’t any tourism to talk about though. In the fifties, people escaped for other reasons. Mainly because the industrialism put Venice, still talking about the fish, on a sidetrack. The jobs, the wealth, and the future were all elsewhere.
But the service for those remaining is terrible. Schools close and healthcare is at a minimum. Let’s look at that too:
|Servizi nel Comune di Venezia||Mestre/Marghera||Venezia historical center||Islands/Lido/Pellestrina|
|Other health units||5||1||1|
Not even this seems to be true. Venice actually has more schools than Mestre, considering the number of people living there. It has a hospital, and many people from the mainland go there instead of the hospital in Mestre, for the simple reason that it’s less crowded… It’s easier to get to a doctor.
The Venice population is still dropping though.
So what is the truth about the residents’ evasion crisis? Why has the Venice population diminished by 70% since 1951?
I would say that to some extent it depends on house prices. It’s expensive but then again, not more than any other comparable city. Still, a young couple setting up a house for the first time has to choose between a small apartment on the ground floor in Venice with high water coming in through the front door… Or a nice single house with a garden in Mestre. The money is the same, so it’s easy to imagine what they would opt for.
The schools, healthcare, etc. are actually better in Venice than on the mainland.
Instead, there are two major factors that determine the residential habits of the Venetians. Two reasons why so many have left, and still leave the old city:
- The evasion started long before the other cities. Already after the war, people started abandoning Venice, and in those days it was for other reasons than the increasing tourism.
- The artificialization of the city. It’s the tourism in itself that causes many problems. The impersonalization, the superficiality, the lack of quality and genuineness in all things. Every day we see shops, craftsmen, barbers, pharmacies and others closing just to leave room to bars, restaurants, hotels, and tourist traps of all sorts.
But hey, it’s not an all that big deal anyway…
So what can we do about it? I really don’t know, because as we sum it all up, it’s not about expensiveness and it’s not about lack of service. And it’s not even worse than in other places, considering the special character of the floating city. Maybe we just have to live with it. A small town with almost 30 million tourists a year, of course, there have to be consequences.
And I think about the real crisis that hit Venice in the past… The plague that time after time killed half of the city and left the surviving half with mountains of dead bodies to cope with, and the many wars against Genova, against the Turks, the Holy Roman Empire, the French, the English, and many many others,… And maby this is just another possibility for the Venetians to demonstrate their ability to stand strong when the wind blows. At least the few still standing…