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The magical city of Venice has been on my mind recently – a lot in fact. First of all it is a central focus of my new Sharon O’Mara Chronicle (see books left and right) where she confronts evil doers at the Guggenheim Museum (Where does she hide that gun?), to the America’s Cup races that will be held next week just off the quay at Piazza San Marco (GO HERE) (the Naples races were just fascinating), to a wonderful video that my friend Aaron Renn found and posted on his Urbanophile blog. It is posted last in this week’s column - just so you won't get distracted.
Venice has no other urban equal in the world. It is a city that has inspired plays, books, art, music, casinos, wars, copycat development, and tourists.
The name is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region by the 10th century B.C. The city historically was the capital of the Venetian Republic. Venice has been known as the "La Dominante", "Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals". Luigi Barzini described it in The New York Times as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". Venice has also been described by the Times Online as being one of Europe's most romantic cities.
Well, duh! You can always count on the NY Times.
Venice is unique. There is no other city compares to its location, drama, history, and charm. It’s also a business and glass manufacturing center, it has a commute, albeit by ferry making its rush hour a bit different. It is a rabbit warren of narrow alleys, canals, piazzas (piccolo e grande), and magnificent plazas like Piazza San Marco.
Antonio Vivaldi was born there, Igor Stravinsky is buried in its cemetery Isola di San Michele (along with poets Pound and Brodsky whose ghosts argue about Fascists and Communists).
Unlike other European towns, Venice has not radically altered it appearance to meet the demands of the modern world like London (Old City/Canary Wharf) and Paris (La Defense - see below). While a small town with only 270,000 souls on its 118 islands (60,000 permanent residents in its Centro storico) it swells daily during the tourist season by 50,000 or more. Residential prices have climbed to such heights that many are moving out – it's too expensive to live there. Historic preservation makes fixing peeling plaster a building permit issue. Studies on its inevitable sinking into the Adriatic are stacked twenty feet or more (they might make excellent pilings at some point). Everyone who comes to this village leaves refreshed and amazed – it will change your perception on urban issues and design.
Separated at birth!
Venice, California (1905) was one idea – run canals through a real estate project – sell lots – make millions – it did. In the 1920 the great urban designer John Nolan was hired to plan Venice, Florida, which also sold lots but with a decided lack of canals. Writers have written about Venice and made it a character in their own books (moi aussi), this website is an excellent list of just how many books (hundreds) have included it (CLICK HERE). I have been told there are interesting canal cities in China and elsewhere but please, can you name them? Just try and find Suzhow on your map.)
The creation of a new community is difficult at best, many need to marinate and have time smooth the rough edges, fix the flaws, fill in the holes. Two millennium will help. Try to build a new city is just crazy – ask China about their new and ultra-modern empty cities.
Venice is about details and images, it is a village with flaws (graffiti on roll-up shop doors invisible during the day, not so much at night) and pollution (a lot of diesel fumes in the air), but it’s also pots of flowers from balconies, a rare tree here and there, wonderful food, and a singular sublime texture not found elsewhere. Maybe it’s the lack of the ubiquitous Vespa roaming in gangs in every other Italian city, or the traffic, or the tour buses. Maybe it’s also the silence, a great urban environment that is quiet – amazing.
Here is the video from Joerg Niggli - let it load first before you start!
If it doesn't load CLICK HERE
Stay Tuned . . . . .