Is Venice doomed to go under?

Stephen Beard Jun 12, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a hurricane coming, and that’s affecting oil prices. Not as bad as it could be, though. Forecasts that tropical storm Alberto will miss oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico sent crude down more than a dollar a barrel today. Probably small solace to residents of the Florida Gulf Coast, who are being warned they might have to evacuate. Coastal cities around the world are getting those hard hits more frequently. Venice, Italy, is marking the 40th anniversary of a flood that almost swallowed the city. To mark the occasion, a British charity is debating whether Europeans have spent enough money trying to save Venice. Marketplace’s European bureau chief Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: Venice has been plucking at our heart strings and emptying our wallets for years.

Bewitched by its decadent beauty, tourists have allowed themselves to be ripped off by gondoliers for at least a century. And they’ve dropped a bundle in donations to save the city from sinking into the sea.

And they have dropped a bundle in donations to save the city from sinking into the sea. Italian and other European taxpayers are coughing up $5.5 billion to build mobile flood barriers. Venice is awash with money. And yet it’s still sinking, says Prof. John Kay, who is taking part in tonight’s debate:

JOHN KAY: The real problems are not problems of science and economics. They are problems of politics, organization and management.

The solution, he says, is to manage the flow of tourists . . . to channel the visitors carefully so that the restoration work on the crumbling foundations can be finished. And then the city must be permanently protected from the sea:

KAY: By turning the Venice Lagoon into a freshwater lake and closing it off from the sea forever . . . At that point you can actually stabilize the foundations of the city.

But others will argue tonight that in an era of global warming, La Serenissima is probably doomed, and we should just let her slip gracefully into the sea.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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