Migro-Polis Venice / Representation / Atlas of a global situation
Elia Barbiani / My Venice #3, Italy / 0|12|2009
In Venice, since the 1980’s, the conspicuous arrival of two archetypical figures of immigration in Italy has been registered: “vu cumprà” (men selling small paraphernalia on the streets in order to get by, usually coming from Sub-Saharan Africa) and “badanti” (Care attendants, people who take care of disabled, ill or dependent adults). Initially they were well accepted as the sign of a limited, temporary or/and bizarre phenomenon. But as its relevance increased, immigration laws were passed to regularize those who could prove their status as workers and new arrivals and immigration amnesties followed one after the other, the tolerance of people started to fade.
Since the beginning, Municipal Offices for Immigration and Citizens’ Rights organized a campaign to favour integration, working with up to 24.000 immigrants. These migrants were able to integrate, becoming “normal” citizens able to participate to the life of the city. Other immigrants, leaving in the metropolitan area of Venice, add up to the previously mentioned group, they also take part in the city’s life as they come to Historical Venice to work.
One element alone is able to clearly represent this new reality: in the case of immigrant couples leaving in Venice or Mestre, one out of two of their babies was born in Venice. Recently, in a survey carried out by Caritas/Coses, the number of immigrants living in Venice was reconsidered and went from the previous amount of 24.000 units to the new estimated data reaching 35.000 units; more than 60% of them has regular citizenship, 17% is legally inside the country but not a citizen of the city, while the 18% is illegally inside the country and therefore lives in Venice without recognized citizenship.
Until now, migrant flows have been continuous and unstoppable; 27,4% of migrants arrived in Italy before 2000, 31,5% entered between 2000 and 2002, 41% after 2002. As far as education is concerned, 19% of migrants in Venice holds a college degree, 35,6% holds an higher education degree, 39,3% received a compulsory school education, 5,3% received a non legally-recognized education. But the level of education doesn’t influence the kind of work practiced, all immigrants work in a field that has nothing to do with the schools they attended in their native country (Caritas-Migrantes, Statistical survey 2009, S. Bragato, Coses, 2009). Interesting information can be found when looking at the kind of accommodation immigrants occupy: in the municipality of Venice 11% of immigrants is an owner-occupier (therefore they have a stable job and have chosen to stay in the city for a long time, maybe forever), 58,9% is a tenant, 7,3% is made of people hosted by friends or acquaintances, for the 15,5% home and workplace are the same, while the 3,2% has no fixed abode. This is the basic knowledge required to understand the Migro-Polis phenomenon: in this way we refer to Venice as a city where is concentrated more than 38% of all the immigrants in the Province? Or the migrants’ presence allows for the reappearance of a younger population, which is averagely more educated than the one that has fled from many parts of the city? Migrants and Polis are not antithetical elements or the new arrivals contributed to the exodus’ acceleration? After plagues and wars Venice’s population has grown again only thanks to immigration, today, thanks to several tourist job opportunities (legal and illegal) new migrant flows have come to integrate Venice population in the old centre of Venice and in the centre of Mestre.
“Migropolis” is also the title of a show (and its catalogue) organized by Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, which intentionally took place in its San Marco premises, from October to December 2009. The show originated from a research conducted by Wolfgang Scheppe in 2006. The study was originally meant to be an educational activity for his students at the department of Visual Communication and Design, in IUAV University. His students come from all over the world, and his idea was to study these groups of foreign students, tracing their journeys to and inside the city, in order to display this phenomenon with visual means. Migropolis explored globalization through chance – Venice: a thousand “non-postcard” images and many unusual statistics made up a ?detailed survey of this urban territory. We can say with confidence that the research initiated by Scheppe has greatly contributed to the definition of the challenges Venice will face in the future: a city threatened by an apparently irreversible demographic decline and depopulation, by a savaging commodification of its artistic heritage left at the mercy of gigantic tourist flows. The show highlighted different ways to look at migration in the city. The first one considered the phenomenon as a field of socio-economic struggle where two different movements meet: one is based on prosperity while the other on poverty. They materialize as tourist flows on one side, and as legal and especially illegal immigrants on the other. The second considered the migration of goods and services as a result of the liberalization and deregulation of international trade, financial flows and capital markets integration. The third way looked at the “migration” of images, as they are distributed, dislocated and displaced inside the historical centre of Venice. The touristic myth of Venice converts into a moving mass of people, as well as flows of money, big or small, them too travelling according to a commercial vocation looking for new types of travel: travelling for consumption, travelling for pure love, or travelling for a more or less clear cultural motivation: to visit the Biennale, museums, monuments, take part in scholarly conferences, to wander between altar pieces and so on.
The city appears through its dramatic oppositions, wealth and misery, unbearable tourism and its inhabitants mass exodus. Starting from the work of Scheppe and his students, the metropolitan area of one of the most spectacularized cities in the world will have to be further analyzed. It an extremely complex and contradictory urban paradigm, very exposed to the modifications brought about by global connectivity and the tight intersection between economy and culture in our society, overbearingly ruled by media images.
The traces of this different kinds of migration were analyzed by means of four main tools: notation systems able to manage statistical data, maps and cartography to trace movements of goods and people, photography of object and locations in order to portray qualitative elements and case studies, at last the visual reprocessing to convey a psycho-geographic reading of the territory.
This is a first step towards the definition of other than visual representations of migratory phenomena in the XX century, the beginning of a project that should become multidisciplinary, in order to broaden the analysis and identify practical solutions: poor housing conditions (homes for immigrants are those left from all other social categories) and job opportunities (difficulties encountered by “vu cumprà” while illegally selling their goods, police’s hunts and exploitation by criminal organizations). Data used for the survey (see Migropolis catalogue) are often alarming and they represent “medical history” and diagnosis. The methodology used by Wolfgang Scheppe also represents a possible therapy, maybe the only possible one. As Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa president, Angela Vettese writes in the catalogue’s introduction: “Venice could use its huge symbolic, global and international capital as a mission, to become or better to become again a matrix for the practice of knowledge. Cultural activities are the only antidote from tourism oppression. There is no use in complaining for the decrease in the number of resident families, the modification of the place and of the irrevocable fall into oblivion of the hanged laundry between the houses of Castello. Other things can be gained. If we only try to believe that the transformation of a place, especially this place now, doesn’t mean at all its death but rather an occasion to be born again. (…) we have to demonstrate that Venice is not a “Zero-poly” (the term is borrowed by Bruce Bégout) as Las Vegas is, it is not a place where History is frozen in appearance, a sort of Shadow Play, as careless tourism has led as to believe”. With its history as refugees haven, through the “migropolis effect” Venice may gain new life to start anew, not in terms of numbers but structurally.