Wednesday, 23 March 2016

[Film] Saving Venice from the Sea (and other films)

There's something darkly romantic about a city being lost to the sea. Unless, of course, you happen to live there. Minds will inevitably wander to Atlantis, but Venice's problems are far more subtle than Plato's (supposedly) imagined onslaught of fire and earthquakes.

Venice © Ryan Chapman

Despite its persistent stubbornness, Venice is slowly succumbing to two simultaneous phenomena: subsidence and sea-level rise. The subsidence is due to a number of factors including tectonic activity and the sheer weight of the city causing the mudflats upon which the original Venetians built their settlement to slowly sink into the Adriatic. Historically, this was the biggest problem but today climate change induced sea-level rise, along with an increased frequency of storm surges, mean flooding occurs at high tide more often than ever.

Not only do these high tides make popping to the shop for some Prosecco more of an ordeal than it ever should be, it erodes brickwork; effects business; hinders emergency services; and is ultimately forcing residents out of the city. The hoards of tourists already outnumber the locals in summer months and it's easy to imagine a future in which Venice is maintained exclusively for the industry of people taking selfies in front of things.

One man trying to alter the path of destiny is Giovanni Cecconi, who I had the pleasure of meeting to hear about what's being done to prolong Venice's life (for a Destination: Utopia film coming sometime in the spring). Giovanni, a long-term Venetian himself, is the former manager of the giant multi-billion Euro flood-barrier project which is now nearing completion. He is brimming with knowledge of Venice's unique predicament and passionately bursting with ideas for the future of the city.

Giovanni, mid-inteview, distracted by a singing gondolier

I started Destination: Utopia's Twitter page over a year ago, aiming to share inspiring ideas and initiatives from around the world, and it has since amassed over 2,000 followers. As well as sharing hundreds of titbits that have caught my eye, this will be the third film of the year to be shared on the platform. Look out for it @DestUtopia on Twitter. Meanwhile, here are the other two...

Exhausted: Exploring Car-free Ghent

I was in the charming and often overlooked city of Ghent just before Christmas with the intention of drinking multiple vats of mulled wine in some vague attempt at being festive. At least, that was the plan, until the second or third helping of insipid, lukewarm cinnamon juice and I remembered all the reasons I don't much like mulled wine.

Another reason to be in Ghent was to make a short film on the success of the car-free initiative. Being fully aware that a film about the benefits of a pedestrian zone is unlikely to rank alongside Making a Murderer for watchability, I made it short and snappy for y'all:

In short: it's clear there a lot of advantages to designing cities without the car in mind. Personally, I can say this worry-free since I sold my last car seven years ago in order to fund student living and haven't had the inclination to drive since. However, objectively speaking, I don't see a place for cars in the city centres of the future. And neither does Ghent.

Ghent © Ryan Chapman

Travel tip: If you want to go to Brugge, consider Ghent instead and day-trip to Brugge for your fill of over-priced waffles and abundance of lace shops. Ghent is arguably the better of the two cities for a whole host of reasons but most pertinently: it's just more Belgian. There’s a richer cultural scene, a more diverse range of bars and restaurants, and there are far less annoying tourists to get in your way whilst you're busy being an annoying tourist.


One aim of Destination: Utopia - as well as to share good ideas - is to show inspiring people doing amazing things. One of those amazing things is Foodcycle, an initiative which puts would-be food waste on to plates and runs seamlessly, thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers.

It’s criminal how much food is thrown away by British supermarkets with so many people going hungry. It literally is criminal in France to do what they do here, their government having made it illegal for supermarkets not to give it to charity (which seems to be an ever-growing trend).

Saving a couple of sacks of produce a week from a single supermarket may not seem like a solution to what is a huge problem, but as you’ll see in the film it makes a huge difference to the community.