Thursday, August 21, 2008

Living in Venice

In keeping with the overall emphasis on Venetians in this anniversary year, the second project this fall will focus on what it means to live in Venice. We will explore the benefits as well as the costs of living in this aquatic city. The team will address key issus in this arena by (a) reviewing what we've done thus far on the topics, (b) organizing and visualizing what we have, (c) integrating or completing what we started where possible, (d) identifying mechanisms for future updates, (e) proposing follow-ups where appropriate, and (f) contacting funding sources that will support future efforts in this area.

Venice from Cradle to Grave
It would be interesting to track a typical Venetian's life cycle from cradle to grave, from maternity ward to cemetery, via the schools, the health, educational, social and cultural institutions that support the citizenry, through the universities all the way to the Venetian job market, and to analyze how each has evolved in the past 20 years. This rhetorical scaffolding would probably help organize under a coherent framework many of the other crucial topics such as:

Housing
Cost of housing may be the most important factor that lead to the exodus of over 120,000 Venetians in the past half century. It is also one of the hardest areas to study, as we experienced in our foray on the topic in 2001. Despite a recent slow-down due to the global financial situation, the cost per square meter of an average dwelling in Venice proper (centro storico) has reached astronomic proportions, on par with downtown abodes in major global metropolises like New York, London or Tokio. A recent flurry of conversions of residences into hotels and B&B's has only aggravated the situation. Given that the goal of the Venice 3.0 foundation -- which is to make the VPC completely cost-free to both WPI students as well as to WPI, while providing scholarships for young Venetians to attend WPI -- revolves around the acquisition of six apartments in the city in which to house future VPC students for free, this aspect of the project will explore the feasibility of this "big dream" as well.

Cost-of-living - retail
Even if one is somehow able to secure some affordable housing, one would find it hard to afford the high cost of goods and services in Venice. Depopulation has played a major role in the gradual dwindling of retail stores that cater to primary needs, as we have discovered in a series of projects that started in 2004, and continued in 2005 and 2006. The socio-economics team in 2007 also dedicated a chapter of its project report to this issue. Fewer food stores means less competition which, coupled with the water transportation surcharge, conspire to make the cost-of-living in Venice one of the highest in Italy.

Venice's Quality of Life
There are pros and cons in living in Venice. In addition to quantifying the costs of living in Venice, we should also acknowledge the benefits of it all. There are no cars, which makes the sound of footsteps the loudest nighttime annoyance, but that also means carting groceries by hand over bridges and up many stairs (no elevators either). Venice is beautiful but perhaps not very practical. How does Venice stack up on a variety of Quality of Life scales?

This project may benefit from the cooperation of Thierry Morel who is working on a book on socio-economic issues on behalf of Venice in Peril.
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