Can a city whose history and culture drew tens of millions of visitors a year reinvent itself? The coronavirus may give it a chance to try.
For a change, it was the Venetians who crowded the square.
Days before Italy lifted coronavirus travel restrictions Wednesday that had prevented the usual crush of international visitors from entering the city, hundreds of locals gathered on chalk asterisks drawn several feet apart. They had come to protest a new dock that would bring boatloads of tourists through one of Venice’s last liveable neighbourhoods but also to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show that another, less tourist-addled future was viable.
“This can be a working city, not just a place for people to visit,” said the protest’s organiser, Andrea Zorzi, a 45-year-old law professor who frantically handed out hundreds of signs reading, “Nothing Changes If You Don’t Change Anything.”
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He argued that the virus, as tragic as it was, had demonstrated that Venice could be a better place.
“It can be normal,” he said.
The coronavirus has laid bare the underlying weaknesses of the societies it has ravaged, whether economic or racial inequality, an overdependence on global production chains or rickety health care systems. In Italy, all those problems have emerged, but the virus has also revealed that a country blessed with a stunning artistic patrimony has developed an addiction to tourism that has priced many residents out of historic centres and crowded out creativity, entrepreneurialism and authentic Italian life.
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