The Current

Venice needs new governance system to prevent future floods, says advocate and scientist

As Venice suffers another round of heavy flooding, one expert argues the problem lies not necessarily in climate change or a beleaguered flood barrier, but with how the city is governed.

'There's no local administration that just thinks about the specificities of Venice,' says Jane da Mosto

A woman carefully walks across a flooded arcade on Thursday in Venice. Much of Venice was left under water after the highest tide in more than 50 years ripped through the historic Italian city, beaching gondolas, trashing hotels and sending tourists fleeing through rapidly rising waters. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

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In the wake of this week's devastating floods in Venice, many are pointing the finger of blame at climate change and the lagoon city's beleaguered flood barrier.

But the way Venice is governed is just as serious of a threat to the city's future, says the head of We Are Here Venice, an advocacy organization that aims to protect the city from flooding and make it a better place to live.

"There's no local administration that just thinks about the specificities of Venice and how best to look after it," said Jane da Mosto, who is also an environmental scientist.

"And that's where we think the solution lies."

For decades, Venice has been governed as part of a larger conglomeration of urban areas, da Mosto told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

"In an ideal world," she said, it would instead have a team of people dedicated only to making decisions that are best for the historic city.

She also recommended the creation of a task force of experts to assess what is and isn't working with Venice's flood defence system.

Expanding the Venetian lagoon wetlands, for example, could help "slow down the flow of the water from the sea into the historic centre," she said.

History, culture 'in danger'

On Thursday, Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro declared a state of emergency after the city was engulfed by tides that peaked at 1.8 metres just before midnight. Floodwaters haven't been that high since 1966, when the tides reached a record 1.94 metres.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government would act quickly to provide funding and resources to help deal with the flood, which inundated more than 80 per cent of the city when the tide was at its highest.

Meanwhile, people cobbled together makeshift bridges to get around the city. 

Several buildings suffered damage, including St. Mark's Basilica — an emblem of the city's rich history and culture that one architect and historian fears is being washed away.

"Venice is so magical because it's something that started with just a strong community that decided to move [into] a very inhospitable place," said Francesco da Mosto, whose family has lived in Venice for more than 1,000 years, and who is married to Jane da Mosto.

Exceptionally high water levels flooded the crypt of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice on Wednesday. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

"From there, in tune with the lagoon, they managed to create something like a golden goose," he said.

He explained that, historically, Venice served as a meeting place for people to exchange goods and ideas, and symbolized what it meant to work together.

"But now it's in danger," he said.

"If Venice is going to disappear because humans are not treating well the treasure they have, it is good that they learn what it was."

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Ines Colabrese and Allie Jaynes.