The remaining inhabitants of Venice’s historic centre said they fear becoming like “relics in an open museum” now that the population is expected to drop below 50,000 for the first time.
Once the heart of a powerful maritime republic, Venice’s main island has lost more than 120,000 residents since the early 1950s, driven away by myriad issues but mainly a focus on mass tourism that has caused the population to be dwarfed by the thousands of visitors who crowd its squares, bridges and narrow walkways each day.
Venessia.com, an activist group that for years has campaigned to preserve Venice’s heritage, has kept track of the population decline and said the figure, now at 50,011, would fall below 50,000 by Friday.
“We don’t have a precise number but, according to our calculations, and using data from the civil registry, it will go below 50,000,” said Matteo Secchi, who leads Venessia.com. “We have been warning about this for years … we don’t want to give up, but no administration has managed to reverse the trend.”
Secchi said that those who remain feel “suffocated” by an “economic machine” that has focused on tourism. He said it had left residents grappling with a high cost of living, a lack of affordable housing, and led to businesses that sell essential items being replaced by souvenir shops.
“Tourism is a double-edged sword because you take money but at the same time you expel all the activities and space for [the residents],” said Secchi, who described Venice as “a cash machine”. “There are those who are not from here but own a home, rent it out and then spend the money elsewhere.”
Venice authorities this year announced a plan to attract remote workers to the city, but it appears to have made little impact. “This kind of thing is OK, but we need an epochal change and for the council to bring in significant measures, such as offering financial incentives to property owners who, say, only rent to Venetians,” said Secchi. “The danger is that we are becoming extinct, soon we will be like relics in an open museum.”
Venice council dismissed the population concerns, arguing that the number is boosted by foreign students and daily commuters from nearby Mestre, and that the civil registry does not include those who may dwell in the city for a significant part of the year but who are not registered as a resident.
An electronic ticker displayed in the window of the Morelli chemist has recorded the population on Venice’s main island since 2008. “Today it’s at 50,011, down from 50,022 last week, and for sure it will go under the 50,000 threshold in the next few days,” said the chemist’s owner, Andrea Morelli. “The drop is very demoralising. I remember Venice as a child, when the local population presided. You would go for a stroll in St Mark’s Square and see people you knew. Not any more.”