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IPXXX A Sustainable Serenissima: Water, Fire and the Future of Venice

Dr Bryan Brazeau
Module Leader
Term 2
10 weeks

Moodle Platform »

Principal Aims

This module examines the ways in which contemporary Venice confronts sustainability challenges and develops resilience. We will consider past, present, and future threats to a sustainable Venice, along with complex and unique local solutions using the three main pillars of sustainability (social, environmental, and economic areas) as lenses to focus our interdisciplinary discussions. The themes of ‘water’ and ‘fire’ will serve as conceptual anchors to ground our consideration of issues such as rising sea levels, urbanization, resource management, energy production and distribution, along with historical Venetian industries such as publishing, shipbuilding, munitions, glassmaking, finance, and tourism. We will also consider Venice’s long tradition of hospitality as a sanctuary city, and the challenges Venice faces when welcoming migrants and refugees today.

Principal Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Identify the key sustainability challenges currently facing present-day Venice and the perspectives of concerned stakeholders.
  • Engage in detailed reflection on how the city has dealt with such complex problems and competing economic, political, social, cultural, and environmental interests in the past.
  • Critically analyse existing local sustainable solutions, and future implementation plans, along with their scalability and adaptability to other global challenges.
  • Apply advanced cognitive skills to develop evidence-based policy proposals and critically reflective research essays that bridge the two-culture gap between the arts and sciences.
  • Implement meta-cognitive skills to approach wicked problems through Problem-Based Learning and gain greater understanding of their own role in the learning process.


The module’s structure is based on the three pillars of sustainability. Social and historical aspects will be studied prior to our arrival in Venice. The intensive week in Venice will focus on contemporary environmental and economic issues. The final session, after we return, will focus on bringing together interdisciplinary knowledge and asking how Venice’s past can inform both its present challenges and implementations of future solutions.

I. ‘From Maritime Metropolis to Delicate Destination’ (Weeks 1-4)

  1. Introduction: Venice and its Sustainability Challenges
  2. Cultural Contexts: Migration and Sanctuary at the Crossroads of Global Trade
  3. Ecological Contexts: The Venetian Empire: Forestry and Fisheries Management
  4. Economic Contexts: Tourism from the ‘Grand Tour’ to the ‘Grandi Navi’

II. ‘Holding Back the Tides’ (Sessions 5-7 held in Venice)

  1. Climate Change Adaptation and ‘Acqua Alta’ (Related site visits may include: Murazzi/ MOSE project)
  2. Reclamation and Regreening: Pollution and the Lagoon (Related site visits may include: Parco San Giuliano)
  3. Transforming Urban Infrastructure (Related site visits may include Giudecca and Cannaregio)

III. ‘Transforming Trade’ (Sessions 8-9 held in Venice)

  1. Threatened and Changing Industries (Possible site visits may include: Lagoon Fisheries, Rialto Fish Market, Murano glass-blowing workshops, Burano lace museum)
  2. Investing in a Sustainable Future (Possible site visits may include green economy industries in VEGA park)

IV. Conclusions and Group presentations (Week 10, held in T3 wk1 at Warwick)

Illustrative Reading List

Anheier, Helmut and Yudhishthir Raj Isar, eds., Cities, Cultural Policy and Governance. Sage (2012)

Appuhn, Karl. A Forest on the Sea: Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice. Johns Hopkins UP (2009)

Beatley, Timothy, ed. Green Cities of Europe: Global Lessons on Green Urbanism. Island Press (2012)

Caroli, R. and S. Soriani, eds., Fragile and Resilient Cities on Water: Perspectives from Venice and Tokyo. Cambridge Scholars (2017).

Da Mosto, Jane, Thierry Morel, Renato Gibin, et al., eds. The Venice Report: Demography, Tourism,
Financing and Change of Use of Buildings. Cambridge UP (2009)

Davis, Robert C. Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City. University of California Press (2004)

Ferraro, Joanne M. Venice: History of the Floating City. Cambridge UP

Fletcher, C.A. and T. Spencer, eds. Flooding and Environmental Challenges for Venice and its Lagoon.
Cambridge UP (2005)

Hom, Stephanie Malia. The Beautiful Country: Tourism & The Impossible State of Destination Italy.
University of Toronto Press (2015)

Lanaro, Paola, ed. At the Centre of the Old World: Trade and Manufacturing in Venice and the Venetian
Mainland, 1400-1800. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (2006)

Lane, Frederic Chapin. Venetian Ships and Shipbuilders of the Renaissance. Johns Hopkins UP (1992)

McCray, W. Patrick. Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice: The Fragile Craft. Routledge (1999)

Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice. Vintage Classics (2001)

Musu, Ignazio, ed., Sustainable Venice: Suggestions for the Future. Kluwer Academic (2001)

Pertot, Gianfranco. Venice: Extraordinary Maintenance. Holberton (2004)

Plant, Margaret. Venice, Fragile City 1797-1997. Yale UP (2003)

Redford, Bruce. Venice and the Grand Tour. Yale UP (1996)

Rosi, Gianfranco. Fire at sea (Fuocoammare). [Film] (2016)

Standish, Dominic. Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality. University Press of America (2011)

Additional texts, specific book chapters and articles will be set for additional reading.