July 14, 2000

Until ten years ago safeguarding Venice was considered an architectural problem. Then micro-algae turned the canals into breeding grounds for mosquitoes, threatening tourism and emphasising the need for a more complex approach.

This has now been nationally acknowledged with the creation of a consortium to coordinate research into ways of protecting Venice from the combined ravages of salt water, flooding, tourism and industrial pollution.

The question foremost in academic minds is whether scientific facts on their own will be sufficiently heavyweight to counterbalance warring political factions. Thirty years of intensive studies have made the lagoon one of the most scrutinised environments in the Mediterranean, but findings have largely failed to carry sufficient clout to sway local ministries or political parties.

Locally, the issues have become a battleground between those in favour of plans for mobile flood barriers, proposed by the ministry of public works, and those politically opposed, including the ministry of the environment.

Consorzio Ricerche Laguna, a consortium of the University of Venice, the University of Padua, the Institute of Architecture of Venice and the National Science Council of Italy, was created to open new lines of inquiry and integrate existing research, ranging from biology to architecture, into a coherent plan to safeguard the city.

Pierpaolo Campostrini, director of the consortium, says the lagoon system represents a perfect laboratory to develop an approach in which scientific, technological and economic factors influence each other.

Mr Campostrini said politicians have had too free a hand as "lack of coordination has prevented the scientific community from properly presenting its results to the general public.

"The consortium will recommend how to use the income from tourism to preserve the city and the lagoon environment. We are underlining the need to base decisions on present knowledge of the environment, and to help research to give more precise answers to the difficult questions put forward by the decision-makers.

"I am looking forward to a time when Venice will be a model for the 'city of tomorrow', not only a city with a splendid past."

Sylvia Smith

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