Ghost town?

Venetians held a mock funeral today. They say their city is dying because tourism has stolen its heart and soul. The population has dwindled to below 60,000 – a drop of two thirds since the 50s. Residents say it’s becoming a ghost town filled only with tourists.

My strongest memory of my first visit to Venice – about 20 years ago – is of arriving during the rush hour, late on a rainy April afternoon. The water buses were crammed with commuters in raincoats – standing room only. It was the sense of being part of a real, working place in such an extraordinary setting that took my breath away.

On this morning’s Today programme, a Venetian resident complained that there were plenty of places to buy souvenirs and plastic macs, but it was getting harder and harder to buy bread and vegetables. She said the city is rapidly becoming a monument, rather than a place to live.

I’m sure it’s still possible to get off the tourist track and find the ‘real’ Venice – but today’s demonstration is a sad reminder of tourism’s potential to diminish the very places that people come to see and experience. Yet visitors can make a huge contribution to a place’s vibrancy and economy – improving local people’s quality of life. Sustainable place shaping – with its emphasis on local benefit and authenticity – has never been more important.