Limiting numbers would also mean ticketing, and this could involve the tourists in contributing directly to the maintenance of the city, which is costly and will become much more so. Presented properly, this would not be a hard sell. If just the 6.4 million visitors we are certain about paid €30 ($40)—it costs $25 after all to enter New York’s Museum of Modern Art—into a ring-fenced fund, that would amount to €192 million a year. The current objections to this are that it would infringe the legal right to untrammeled circulation, and that it would turn Venice into Disneyland. But laws can be amended, and it is not ticketing that will turn Venice into an amusement park but the current nonmanagement of the tourists. As the British economist John Kay has said, Venice would be a great deal better run if it were being managed by the Walt Disney Company; unfortunately, the Italian media failed to get the irony.
In the meantime, the city is being eaten up by damp. Every inch of sea level rise counts now, because the water has overtopped the impermeable stone bases of most buildings and is being absorbed into the porous bricks, fragmenting them and washing away the mortar. The damp has reached the upper floors and is rusting through the iron tie rods that hold the houses together. In the narthex of the basilica of St. Mark’s it has reached to a height of about twenty feet, causing the tesserae of the one-thousand-year-old mosaics, which are masterpieces of Italo-Byzantine art, to deteriorate. This state of affairs is unprecedented in the history of the city and will worsen rapidly as the water rises.
The town council concludes its management plan by saying that it will now take part in coordinating all the bodies that have a role or interest in the governance of Venice and its lagoon (see below for the principal players). At least it recognizes that this is the essence of the Venice problem; there are far too many organizations, some state, some local, some left-wing, some right-wing, and all with conflicting priorities. An overarching body, with real power, is what is desperately needed. But this document’s feeble analysis of the city’s problems, its capacity to ignore reality, and its obvious servility in the face of interest groups show that Mayor Orsoni and his council will never be that body.
Sadly, the question of who will save “the fairy city of the heart,” as Byron called it, remains open, and time is running out.