Archive for Canale Contorta

This is one view of what a lagoon looks like, especially when the tide is going out and the clams are just waking up.

This is one view of what a lagoon looks like, especially when the tide is going out and the clams are just waking up.

This is an unusual step for me, but I think it’s worth it.  Even though I don’t place much trust in the power of petitions, maybe this time it will be different.

In any case, I’d like to inform you of one which has gone from 700 to 20,000 signatures and counting in about ten days.  I think that means something.

“Gruppo 25 aprile” is a new group of Venetians and Venice-lovers which is concentrating its efforts on stopping the digging of the “Canale Contorta.”  Its reasons are shared by many scientific and environmental experts, not to mention a huge percentage of everyday Venetians.

Once the subject of the big cruise ships and their potential to damage Venice became one of the hottest debates and power struggles of the year, the need for finding an alternate route from the Adriatic to Venice obviously became paramount.  My own opinion is that any “cure” they find will be worse than the “disease” (i.e., the ships in the Bacino of San Marco) — or, as the Venetians put it, el tacon xe pezo del buso (the patch is worse than the hole).

Many solutions have been proposed, but only one had the political muscle behind it to get itself officially considered by the “Comitatone” (“Big Committee”) in Rome, which had the power to decide yes or no.  That “solution” is the dredging of the Canale Contorta.

Sorry it's in Italian.  The red line shows the current route by which cruise ships enter and leave Venice.  (www.corriere.it).

Sorry it’s in Italian. The red line shows the current route by which cruise ships enter and leave Venice.   The solid yellow line is the Petroleum Canal.  The dotted yellow line is the Canale Contorta, which already exists in a simple, primitive, shallow way.  Changing that will change a whole lot besides.  (www.corriere.it).

Thanks to a calculated maneuver by its promoters, the meeting at which the decision was to be made was held in August.  (“August” is Italian for “vacation.”)

As Marco Gasparinetti, the coordinator of Gruppo 25 aprile, explains (translated by me from the Gazzettino):

“The decision of the Comitatone on August 8 was a summer blitz with which they hoped to surprise a city on vacation.  But the city is fed up with being expropriated from the decisions which concern it, and this time is going to make its voice heard.”

The political vacuum in Venice since the government fell on June 4 has at least one positive aspect, and that is that finally there seems to be some possibility that the voices of Venetians might be heard somewhere beyond their living rooms and favorite bars.  Yes, there is chaos in almost every aspect of daily life here now, but the fact that essentially only one man is in charge — Vittorio Zappalorto, the Commissario who is temporary governor — means that the city is less strangled by the political and bureaucratic tentacles of the past 20 years.  It’s as if — to try another metaphor — a colossal dose of drain cleaner has ripped through the city’s emotional and civic pipes.

Back to the Canale Contorta.  It may not be too late to stop it.  Therefore Gruppo 25 aprile has created a petition addressed to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, as well as all the ministers concerned (Environment, Infrastructure and Transport, Culture, etc.) urging them to withdraw the hasty approval of what it (and I) regard as a catastrophic move, the last nail in the coffin of the lagoon after the drastic effects of the MOSE floodgates, not to mention the Canale dei Petroli (“Petroleum Canal”), dug in 1969.

A drawing from the 1980's shows the network of canals, or "ghebi," in the lagoon.  In 2002, a NASA satelite shows the same area, pretty much leveled and smoothed out by the terrific suction of the Petroleum Canal over the years.

A drawing from the 1980’s shows the network of canals, or “ghebi,” in the lagoon. In 2002, a NASA satelite shows the same area, pretty much leveled and smoothed out by the terrific suction of the Petroleum Canal over the years. (Umberto Sartory, 6/29/2006, venicexplorer.net).

The page connected to the link above shows a map (left) from the 1980’s which outlines the major and some minor natural channels (ghebi) which used to cross and re-cross the lagoon.  It represents a complex biological realm which the effects caused by the Canale dei Petroli, in 40 years, has done much to destroy, as shown by the NASA satellite image made in 2002 (right).  Do you see ghebi?  I see just a broad, anonymous stretch of bottom.  That’s what the fish see, too.

Lagoons are rich, meaty environments.  The sea is also nice, but not like this.  I believe the difference is easy to see.

Lagoons are rich, meaty environments. The sea is also nice, but not like this. I believe the difference is easy to see.

Here is a section of a brief but pointed piece by Tom Spencer, reader in coastal ecology and geomorphology at the University of Cambridge, and director of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit:

Coastal lagoons are transitional environments between fully terrestrial and fully marine conditions; in the absence of direct human intervention, their long-term tendency is to infill with sediments. Over the centuries, the Venetian Republic was instrumental in maintaining this vital yet delicate land/sea balance, starting with the huge undertaking to divert the main rivers in the 16th century and stop the region from silting up altogether.

Since that time, however, historical and near contemporary records of changing patterns of lagoonal topography and water depth; tidal currents; and sediment transport from the lagoon to the sea all show unequivocally that the current lagoon is moving in the opposite direction, becoming a downward-eroding, sediment-exporting system. It is thus on a trajectory that will turn it into a fully marine bay. That this process is well underway is evidenced by the appearance of plant and animal species in the lagoon that are characteristic of marine environments.

We may argue about the velocity of this trajectory but the evidence for such a trend, clearly related to a whole series of human interventions from the late 18th century to the present, is not in doubt. As wave height and tidal flows are strongly influenced by water depth, such a shift has critical importance for the sustainability of the historic core of Venice itself. If we drill down into the detail behind this general trend, it is clear that the excavation of two large canals (Canale Vittorio Emanuele, around 1925, and Canale Malamocco Marghera, around 1969) produced strong transversal currents across the original tidal network, with consequent siltation of channels and erosion of adjacent shallows.

There is one simple question that needs to be answered. Can we be assured that the large-scale excavation of the Canale Contorta will not have the same effect and not give the Venice lagoon a further shove in the direction of yet more environmental degradation and urban vulnerability?

The petition asks the national government to reconsider all the proposals.  That seems like an extremely modest request.

The petition can be signed online.  Here is the link explaining their position, with the possibility of signing.  (“Firma” means “signature.”)

Or, you can copy and paste:

http://www.change.org/p/stop-the-plan-to-dredge-the-maxi-canal-contorta-in-venice-before-it-s-too-late

If anyone might be tempted to suppose that Venice can be happy and healthy in the middle of a maimed and deformed lagoon, that person should consider this: That the water through the Canale Contorta will enter or leave the lagoon with a force and a quantity that will endanger the city to a degree that the biggest cruise ship could never dream of.

The lagoon is loaded with egrets, who might like to be considered in the great scheme of things.

The lagoon is loaded with egrets who might like to be considered in the great scheme of things.

 

Categories : Water
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The Piazza is big, but it's not THAT big.  I still don't grasp how 80,000 people got in there.  Or got out.

The Piazza is big, but it’s not THAT big. I still don’t grasp how 80,000 people got in there. Or got out.

Probably nobody is thinking about New Year’s Eve anymore, no matter where they spent it. But here in Venice it’s not over yet, as the papers continue to publish a cascade of ever-more-detailed articles, personal stories, and editorials on how things went.

In a word: Badly.

So I’m going to back up from my earlier post and try this report again.  Because in case you don’t know, the three most beautiful words in the English language are not “I love you” (though they’re not the worst, either).

Nope.  The three MOST beautiful words are “You were right.”  And in my case, its close cousin: “I was wrong.”

I admit that I felt uneasy writing that sunny little post about New Year’s Eve.  Even as I wrote it, I had the strange feeling that I was unaccountably speaking in some unknown language from the planet where life is beautiful all the time.

I must have inadvertently disconnected my internal smoke-detector, because the news is demonstrating, in ever more lurid detail, why I will never go near the Piazza San Marco on the night of Saint Sylvester.  And how inexplicably incapable the city is of organizing big events in some reasonable manner.  And when I refer to the organization of big events, I have some small experience elsewhere; for example, the Fiesta of San Fermin at Pamplona, which I have attended twice. And I’d go back again, no matter how much I hate crowds, and one of many reasons is because it is organized and maintained in the most dazzlingly intelligent and diligent manner for nine solid days and nights.  And a mere twelve hours drives Venice to its knees.

From 9:30 PM, rivers of young people arriving by train filled the streets heading toward the Piazza, smashing bottles and setting off firecrackers as they went.

Far from being a scene of frolic and light-hearted conviviality, as the night dragged on the Piazza San Marco (and Piazzale Roma, whence thousands tried eventually to depart the most beautiful city in the world) resembled a war zone, or a frat party of intercontinental dimensions.  Words such as “assault,” “devastation,” and “outrage” highlight the reports of the night, and the morning after.

Piles of shattered glass bottles and pools of biological fluids from either or both ends of homo stupidus prostratus were only some of the abundant remains.  There were also the bodies of comatose sleeping revelers scattered around the streets, lying where they fell when the fumes ran out.

People are fascinated by the damage water can do to the Piazza, but somehow the maxi-posters and the maxi-mobs have slowly come to seem normal.  The water is normal, too, and has been normal for longer than there's been a city here.

People are obsessed by the damage that water can do to the Piazza, but somehow the maxi-posters and the maxi-mobs have come to seem normal.  So millions have been spent to control the water, but virtually nothing to resolve what in fact should be much easier to deal with.  I don’t get it.

The story in figures:

80,000 partyers, 10,000 more than the past two years.  Most of the yobbos weren’t Venetian, but from everywhere else — what in New York are called “bridge and tunnel” people.  I’ve seen them there at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and it’s not lovely. It’s no lovelier here.

50 interventions by the 45 emergency medical personnel from the Green Cross, Civil Protection, and SUEM, the ambulance entity; most crises related to alcohol drunk, alcohol spilled (rendering the already wet pavement dangerously slippery), cuts by the broken glass of bottles blindly hurled into the air, blows to the head, and panic attacks caused by the mob and the explosions of firecrackers at close quarters.

100,000 euros ($135,868) the estimated cost to the city, excluding fireworks.  This approximate number comprises: 60,000 euros for the collection and removal of 135 cubic meters  (4,732 cubic feet)of garbage, of which 20 cubic meters (706 cubic feet) were of glass; 15,000 euros for the 60 Municipal Police agents on security duty.  And the cost, not yet quantified, of the extra transport personnel (50 bus drivers and an unspecified number of vaporetto pilots). And the fuel required by the 20 garbage barges.

60 extra buses coming into Venice from the mainland; 123 extra buses between midnight and 7:00 AM from Venice to the mainland.  Does this sound like a lot?  Au contraire; the ACTV, in its wisdom, put on extra vaporettos, which worked well, but reduced the basic number of bus runs on a holiday eve.  Because it’s, you  know, a holiday, and the drivers want to be at home. New Year’s Eve in Venice, with reduced bus service.  Explain this to the masses of tired, cold, exasperated people who were trying to get back home, who even overwhelmed the relatively few taxis in Piazzale Roma.  Explain it to anybody, if you can. And I still can’t figure out how 50 extra bus drivers were sent to work if there were fewer buses.  Or were they put to work scrolling the “Out of service” sign onto the buses’ forefronts?

 The story in voices:

“It was hard, if not impossible, to move.  Funky air, a mix of piss and drugs, the pavement “mined” with bottles, cans, and every sort of garbage…The Piazza was a disaster.  Electronic music at full volume incited the crowd that was already drunk and out of control.  A great number of young people had taken over, armed with every type of alcohol…the center of the Piazza was an inferno.  Not just fireworks, but young people, Italian and foreign, were competing in a new entertainment: the launching of bottles…I didn’t see any security agents that would have forbidden this behavior…The day after, the marks remained on our city, heritage of humanity, devastated by barbarism.”  (Margherita Gasco)

“According to a recent international survey, the night between the last and first of the year shows Venice to be among the principal capitals of the festivities on the planet.  This shouldn’t prevent us from … reflecting critically on how these events are carried out — if they’re worth the trouble, if they still have their original sense.” (Gianfranco Bettin, the assessore for the Environment).

“Such a high number of people wasn’t predicted, nor predictable,” said Angela Vettese, the assessore of Culture and Tourism Development.  (It wasn’t predictable? Does she not read tourism surveys?). “In the future, more prudence is necessary to protect the Piazza, and to invest in more surveillance, so that the police can check, count, and keep access to the Piazza within a determined limit. Furthermore, it’s necessary to organize only high-quality events, with spectacles that involve the public (more involved than they already were?), maintaining greater tranquillity.”  She’s still new on the job, or she wouldn’t be talking like that; all these things have been said before, and before, and even before that.

A tranquil morning in late October.

A tranquil morning in late October.

Social network comments were divided between those who think New Year’s Eve in the Piazza is the greatest thing ever, and those who think the care and protection of the already fragile city is more important; those who insist it was just a normal night of festivity, and those who characterize is as another example of sheer lunacy.

“I urge the church to make itself heard, seeing that the civil authorities don’t feel any special need to safeguard the Piazza San Marco…Can we imagine an event like last Tuesday in the Piazza San Pietro in Rome?”  (Franco Miracco, art historian).

“San Marco can’t be the only stage for events” (Mons. Antonio Meneguolo, diocese of Venice).  “It’s not the number of people which creates bad behavior,” he said.  “We can increase the security but it would be better to organize other activities elsewhere, and remove the emphasis of the publicity for “New Year’s in the Piazza,” seeing how the event ends up.”

“Venice continues to be seen as a city to exploit touristically down to the bone,” said Lidia Fersuoch, president of Italia Nostra. “More than limit access to the Piazza, it’s necessary to limited access to the city itself, because it’s impossible to contain more than a certain number of visitors.”

“Certainly, if we take as the limit the Pink Floyd concert of 1989, anything even just barely below that is considered tolerable…But hurling bottles, explosion of firecrackers, people who urinate and vomit in the streets, are these part of the normal course of public socializing?  For some people, yes, but for us, no.  Especially if it happens in the Piazza San Marco, which isn’t just any piazza, but a monumental area, as it was defined when concerts were stopped (because they have an excessive impact on the Piazza itself)… But why no to concerts, and yes to New Year’s Eve? We speak of “outrage” precisely because it’s a monumental area; you can’t remain indifferent seeing people climbing up the 16th-century columns of the Loggetta of Sansovino at the feet of the campanile.  The piazza has always been the place for socializing, for events.  But what events?” (Davide Scalzotto)

I think the Piazza looks wonderful like this.  It's not that I'm anti-social, but on days like this it looks peaceful, and clean, and safe.  I don't mean I feel safe, I mean it looks safe from us.

I think the Piazza looks wonderful like this. It’s not that I’m anti-social, but on days like this it looks peaceful, and clean, and safe. I don’t mean I feel safe, I mean it looks safe from us.

Here is what I ask myself and anyone who might be listening:  There is a Superintendency of architecture, of art, of treasures. There is the Polizia di Stato, the carabinieri, the municipal police, the Guardia di Finanza.  There are ordinances forbidding almost every dangerous and tumultuous form of behavior and the hazardous objects associated with them.  Why is there no evident point at which any of these elements meet?  The behavior and objects are at Point A, and any uniformed persons authorized to intervene are at Points Q, X, and Z.  All told, there may have been more garbage collectors than anybody else at work in the Piazza, which seems backwards, to me.

In theory, if there were more agents of public order on duty, there would be less need for the First Aid stations, not to mention the ambulances and garbagemen.

But let me move on to a much more distressing thought.

Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which, unlike many of the 981 sites on their list, is a real place where real people live and move and have their being.  This presents special problems which nobody seems able to anticipate, or resolve. I am at a loss to say why, except that with ten fingers per city councilor, there’s plenty for pointing at other people.

There are 49 UNESCO sites in Italy, more than any other country on earth.  So far, none is marked as being “in danger.”  I think Venice should be.  I cannot conceive of shenanigans such as New Year’s Eve in the Piazza San Marco being tolerated in Angkor, or Machu Picchu, or the Alhambra, or the Red Fort Complex, or the Etruscan Necropolises, or the Potala Palace, or the Galapagos Islands.  And this is not the first time.  And yet, it goes on.

And I’ll say one more thing, as long as I’m on the subject: Of all the “properties” on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, only two, so far, have been de-listed.  The reasons are given on this page of their website.

Between the catastrophes visited upon Venice under the ever-fresh rubber stamp of the Superintendency of Architectural Treasures (the tormented issue of the maxi-posters in the San Marco area has only been moderately resolved, among other things), and the continued abuse of the lagoon, which is also part of the World Heritage designation (from the Canale dei Petroli to MoSE and now to the imminent approval of the digging of the Contorta canal), I don’t think it’s inconceivable that eventually Venice could see itself de-listed from the UNESCO panoply.

This is not the most improbable scenario I’ve ever come up with.  Except that I’d love to be able to say “I was wrong.”

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Categories : Venetian Problems
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