About a thousand years ago, here’s what happened when a real estate developer stood up and addressed the local Planning & Zoning Committee:
“OK, this is my plan,” he began. “I want to develop those swampy islands out in the lagoon, a couple miles off the mainland. First, we go to Croatia and chop down a few billion trees. Then we bring the trees here by boat, and we pile-drive them down into the mud. Then we build a platform on top, right at sea level. No no, wait. I can see you’re a little skeptical. Hear me out. So then, we build a Gothic and Renaissance city of stone on top of the platform, with churches and basilicas, museums, opera houses, huge public squares, apartment buildings, stores, restaurants, and hundreds of foot bridges so people can cross all the canals. It’s gonna be great! Millions of tourists will visit every year and spend tons of money! I’m gonna call the place ‘Venice,’ also known as ‘The Floating City.’ So whataya think?”
One committee member says, “Excuse me, but why don’t you build your stone city on — oh, I don’t know — SOLID GROUND?! Say, in a place like Padua or Verona or Milano?”
“No no,” the developer replies, “other people are already building Gothic and Renaissance stuff in those towns, just like they are all over Europe. We need something special to set us apart. We need a ‘hook’ to bring in the tourists. We need an entire city rising up out of the water. We need to do this Venice project. And I might add, if you approve my plan, each of you will have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the lucrative gondola business. Eighty euros for a 20 minute ride in a fancy canoe. Do the math, my friends.”
OK, so maybe that’s not exactly how the P&Z meeting went back then. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even have Planning and Zoning Committees, because if they did, the Venice project never would have been approved.
My wife and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit Venice recently, when we were in Italy for our daughter’s wedding. We were in Venice two days, and I spent the entire time wandering around with my jaw hanging opening, gazing at the fabulous sights and repeatedly asking no one in particular, “How do you say ‘un-freakin-believable’ in Italian?”
Venice is breath-taking, remarkable, and miraculous. It’s also quite insane. Do a Google search for the phrase “Is Venice sinking?” and you’ll find countless articles, written by a host of respectable scientists, who are certain that Venice will be underwater one day, and sooner than later. All those wooden posts, with that massive stone city on top, are slowly and steadily sinking down into the mud. And combined with the fact sea levels are on the rise, Venice is toast — quite soggy toast.
The demise of Venice likely won’t happen in our lifetime, but it will happen. And that is so sad, because the city is simply fascinating, albeit a fascinatingly terrible idea. I’m not a structural engineer, but I’m pretty sure the first thing they teach in structural engineering class is: never build a massive stone basilica on a swamp.
Well, the average Venitian is not blind. (Get it? Venitian? Blind? Oh, never mind.) When the city finally sinks below the sea, an enterprising developer surely will go before the P&Z Committee and say, “OK, hear me out. We bring tourists out into the lagoon in boats. Then we rent SCUBA gear. Two-hundred euros for a 20 minute dive down to see the sights. It’s gonna be great! We’ll call it ‘Atlantis’.”