The Venetian Campo: Ideal Setting for Social Life and Community

Before mass tourism transforms Venice into a dead museum, we would do well to study the genius of the Venetian campo. Not only the Venetians, but the whole world needs the Venetian campo, and the social life it supports, to survive and flourish.

Around the world, "modern" city planning has destroyed communities. People are yearning for a sense of  community they remember from their childhood; social scientists are studying negative consequences of social fragmentation and isolation, and analysing how social networks and civic engagement develop; and planners are searching for an urban form that reinforces social life in public and the development of social networks.

The Venetian campo is the heart of a neighborhood. It is an open, irregularly shaped paved space surrounded by buildings. These buildings, which vary in height up to five stories, and also in importance and purpose, often contain small businesses and services on the ground floor and private dwellings above. Located at the crossing point of pedestrian routes, a campo brings together the ten to fifteen thousand people, of every age and social background, living and working in its district. It is the village square, where elders sit and gossip, where chance meetings lead to business relations, where teenagers flirt and children play, where farmers' markets and fish markets and outdoor theater and community festivals take place.

Social life on the campo may well be more complex and more satisfying for a wider range of inhabitants than on any other urban square in the world.

The small pocket book, The Venetian Campo, newly available online, describes how architecture, planning, urban design and nature collaborated to create the ideal setting for social life and community, and how it is now being eroded. Forty years ago, when Henry and Suzanne Lennard began their study, most campi were little affected by the tourist industry, which focused on Piazza San Marco and Rialto. Today, however, mass tourism inundates every Venetian neighborhood and Venetian residents are being forced out of their homes by the proliferation of hotels and "second homes" of international millionaires hungry for their own slice of this most livable city. The social life of the Venetian campo is fast declining.

While international organizations are committed to preserve Venice's architectural and art treasures, they have overlooked what may be Venice's greatest treasure - the symbiotic relationship between a complex, multi-functional, human scale, beautiful built environment and the quality of community, sociability, and social capital this environment fosters. This is what must be sustained. And this is what we must all learn from, before it is too late.