Venice Appeal for a renewed urban culture
Over the course of the twentieth century, a complex body of legislation has evolved in Europe reflecting the desire to protect historic cities. In Italy, this represented an effective response to the danger of losing the country’s cultural heritage at times of radical change: during the Industrial Revolution, with the transformation of the cities to improve hygiene and viability; in the first half of the century with the destruction caused by war; and after World War II with the adoption of a new model for urban planning disseminated throughout the country and based on individual mobility, which led to the depopulation and decline of many historic cities.
What is lacking today is an up-to-date body of legislation that recognises the peculiarities of cities that stand out for their cultural heritage and safeguards their specificity and diversity in the light of the radical social changes that are under way, which are leading to a rapidly growing mass mobility and the alarming destruction of environmental resources.
The initiative has been launched in Venice, which offers an exemplary case of how to question ourselves about the future of cities with a history stretching back even thousands of years: both because of the experiences of preservation accumulated here and because of the risk of losing almost all the city’s inhabitants in just two generations.
Like many historic cities, Venice offers a high quality of life and can serve as a model for future sustainable cities. The city can boast a centuries-long experience of environmental sustainability tangibly evidenced by the constant maintenance that is undertaken: Venice is a pedestrian city with a dense architectural heritage of the highest quality and is embedded in a delicate natural ecosystem – the Venetian Lagoon.
But if a city like Venice is preserved only in its physical substance and its material and immaterial heritage is reduced to responding only to the demands of the tourist economy, the loss of the complexity and potential of its meanings and values is inevitable.
At a worldwide level, the commonly held notion still prevails that tourism is an important economic sector that must be developed and supported even to the detriment of other sectors and without regard for the cultural complexity of tourism itself. Venice is an excellent example of the negative outcomes of this approach.
The current crisis caused by the Covid pandemic puts us at a crossroads: should we liberalise the already weakened rules protecting the tangible and intangible cultural heritage in order to relaunch and strengthen an overbearing tourism-based economy, or should we take the path of diversification and sustainability?
This Appeal aims to provide the tools to build a consensus around the numerous studies and recommendations produced by national and international organisations dedicated to safeguarding heritage that over the last twenty years have highlighted the critical issues a historical city has to face in the twenty-first century. And to offer some possible answers.
We believe that all the cities that are protected for their great historical and artistic value must remain and once more become towns that are lived in, offering a high quality of life, cultural diversity, individual and collective well-being, social justice and cohesion, along with a differentiated, sustainable and efficient economy.
After more than 50 years of work on restoration, training and promotion in the city, the Association of International Private Committees for the Safeguarding of Venice intends to confide its concrete commitment to the future of the city to this Appeal. To this end, an interdisciplinary working group of institutions and scholars has been set up, which has been orking for about a year, consulting both institutional and non-institutional international advisors.
The first draft of this document was presented at an international study day on 1 October 2020 at the small theatre of Palazzo Grassi in Venice under the patronage of the Swiss Confederation, the Consulate General of Switzerland in Milan, the German Centre for Venetian Studies and the Commissioner for Culture and Mass Media of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The commitment is:
• to go beyond the notion of simply preserving the material cultural heritage, as codified in the 1964 Venice Charter and still underlying current legislation today;
• to comply with the objectives of the 2005 Faro Convention, which recognises the right to cultural heritage and society’s responsibility towards it;
• to make a contribution in harmony with the 2018 Davos Declaration, in which European states commit to fostering a policy of support for the culture of building quality and affirm that now is time to take measures which will ensure that present and future social, economic, environmental and climatic developments and trends do not further diminish the quality of the built environment, but are instead used as opportunities for improvement (…);
• to clarify and integrate the UNESCO recommendations contained in the 2011 RECOMMENDATION ON THE HISTORIC URBAN LANDSCAPE;
• with reference also to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003);
proposing, as Italy’s contribution, an Appeal for a renewed urban culture, a tool for citizens, administrators and policy-makers to tackle the emergencies of lack of protection and to evaluate and address projects of transformation and legislative proposals concerning historic town centres in Italy and Europe that recognise their peculiarities and history, with the consequent need for a body of legislation to protect their specificity and diversity.
Seminars and conferences, held in the first place in Venice with the involvement of national and international public institutions, must foster their dissemination, and provide incentives for the translation of the principles contained in the Appeal into concrete actions.