Protesters in Venice have dismantled turnstiles designed to separate locals from tourists, a day after they were erected.
Chanting “Free Venice”, around 30 activists attacked the checkpoints at Piazzale Roma – the bus terminal and main point of entry to the city.
“We refuse the idea of having checkpoints to get into the city. We own our city,” said protestor Marco Baravalle in a video they later posted on social media. “It’s not the mayor who owns the city. It’s not the police or the tourists either.”
“Venice is dying,” he added. “The mayor putting in the turnstiles is demonstrating that he is giving up. He wants Venice to become a city with no inhabitants.”
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro introduced the checkpoints as a safety measure this weekend after fears that the bank holiday footfall would render the city unsafe as well as unliveable.
Gates would be erected at Piazzale Roma and outside the train station, he said, to free up the most choked thoroughfares. Locals and regular visitors in possession of a Venezia Unica card would be allowed through, but anyone without the correct documents would be directed along other streets.
As The Independent reported from Venice yesterday, the checkpoints were in place by Saturday morning, with police manning them, although the gates were open and no checks were being made.
One officer told The Independent that they were monitoring numbers, and were ready to close the gates when footfall reached a certain level.
But the activists dismantling the barriers today – led by Tommaso Cacciari, a leading activist in the anti-cruise ship protests – made impassioned speeches in both Italian and English, saying that the measures were not the answer.
“We don’t need checkpoints, we need effective housing policies,” they posted on social media. “Venice is not a theme park.”
One banner read: “Venice is not a reservation, we are not on the way to extinction.”
The authorities sought to play down the protest. “We will put it back together as soon as possible,” the chief of municipal police Marco Agostini told Il Gazzettino. The barriers were later reinstated.
But Cacciari told The Independent that the protesters will be back.
"We will do it again. We cannot resign ourselves to being cooped up in a theme park," he said. "We did it this morning because the gates appeared the day before yesterday, and this was the minimum amount of time we needed to organise ourselves."
Tensions between locals and tourists in Venice reached boiling point last summer as up to 60,000 visitors descended on the city every day, swamping the resident 55,000 population. Up to 30 million tourists arrive each year.
Paola Mar, in charge of tourism for the city, told The Independent last year that during summer it can be “like war” in the city.
Following a bumper Easter weekend which locals described as untenable, the authorities had set up the gates as a way of controlling footfall and dispersing people along lesser used thoroughfares.
Addressing tourists through a loudspeaker, Baravalle told visitors that the measures are not tackling the problem.
“We have the right to a free city with free entrance,” he said. “The problem is not to limit entrance to tourists; the problem is to give more houses, more apartments to the Venetians and the people who want to live here.
“The mayor wants the city to become a city with no inhabitants.”
Cacciari, well known locally for his political activism, later told The Independent: "For me, the most important thing for Venice would be to treat it like a real city and defend it from the selling off of public heritage, and from her daily rape by cruise ships and mass tourism. We need to prioritise housing policies and incentivise economic growth."
Locals and longtime visitors expressed concern over the plans. Resident Enrico Greifenberg, 46, said:
“It’s clear that this is a bid to limit freedom of movement. It will not keep people safe, and we are not in a state of war.”
JoAnn Locktov, an American who’s been visiting Venice for the past 20 years and publishes books about the city, called the turnstiles a “terribly misguided” move. She said:
“The mayor did this ostensibly to ‘support’ residents, but it was nothing more than a distraction from the critical issues that are killing Venice.
“The protestors today used the occasion to make sure tourists entering the city understand the reality.
“Today magnified the perfect storm that is taking place in Venice: uncontrolled tourism, uncontrolled hospitality development, zero infrastructure strategy for residents, tourists or the environment. There’s a lack of housing and a complete absence of respect for Venetian residents.”
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