I’ve been doing some reading about how the unique canals and rivers of Venice have affected the way public space works in the city. It’s probably the biggest reason I chose to travel 3.5 hours each way to spend 24 hours in Venice on a 5 day holiday in Rome. Venice is one of the only true water cities in the world, and has lead to a interesting transport situation.
Tourists flock to the city to see the boats – water buses, garbage boats, water taxis, delivery boats, private boats, and gondolas move around the city. Interestingly, the city is also touted as one of the great pedestrian cities as all wheeled transport (cars and even bikes and segue ways) have been banned from the city. Tourists and locals alike navigate narrow alleys and piazzas, traverse numerous bridges, before taking to the water on a boat. The only wheels I saw the entire time I was there were wheelbarrows, strollers, and trolleys for delivering things – nothing with an engine.
One of the big modern urban movements for the creation of sustainable cities is placemaking, including creating complete streets. This idea of complete streets is that engineers and planners have tended towards prioritizing cars and car transport, ignoring pedestrians and cyclists. Neighbourhoods have started attempting to reclaim streets, making them destinations not just thoroughfares.
In Venice, this is particularly obvious, with restaurants spilling out onto the walkways. At night, they even expand to line both sides in a way that would be impossible if cars were expected to get down there.
So my question is how does the fact that Venice doesn’t have streets affect the way communities use and perceive their thoroughfares?
Does the fact that Venice is a pedestrian city mean that neighbourhoods are more integrated, with greater community feeling? Or does the lack of streets, and the division of the city by water mean that people are even more segregated from others?
There seems to have been remarkably little discussion of this – maybe I’m just strange, with oddly specific interests!
The city really is a pedestrians dream. You can walk everywhere in the city in about an hour, it’s fairly easy to navigate, with big signs pointing the winding route towards st Marco’s square or the train station, and the public transport (vaporetto boats) are fast and frequent.
The lack of cars seems to help communities. It’s easier to speak to local shopkeepers when you aren’t roaring past, and people tracel together more. Perhaps more importantly, the city is quiet. Without traffic roaring by constantly all night, you can hear life going on all around you more than anywhere else I have ever been. What would it mean if you could hear everything your neighbors, and even everybody on the block were saying?
Physically, there were no road signs, no big billboard to advertise to people traveling at 100km/hr, and no traffic lights. People could walk anywhere at anytime, and I was surprised how few ‘safety’ barriers there were to protect people from falling into the water.
Of course, since Venice is mostly a tourist trap now, it’s hard to say what has stagnated in order to preserve things for tourists, and what is legitimately developed in this wayside to the unique circumstances of the city. How do you balance the needs I the locals versus the desire of the hordes of tourists?
Regardless I loved Venice. I love how intimate the city felt, as if I could explore it all, yet always be surprised.