The Atlantic

What Venice Can Teach American Cities

The city of canals has been flooding for centuries. Others can learn from its adaptations.
Source: Manuel Silvestri / Reuters

Venice, Italy, has been flooding for centuries. Once just a symptom of the city’s location on a series of islands, and its maze of canals, frequent inundation has turned Venice into a cautionary tale of environmental degradation and inevitable submersion. Climate change will assuredly bring similar risk to U.S. coastal communities. Venice offers an early warning: Some fear that the city will inevitably succumb to drowning.

Venice continued its slide toward that grim finale this year, on October 29, when the worst flooding since 1966 submerged most of the city under five feet of water. Though that cataclysm seemed to confirm fears that the city is doomed, Venice’s story is more nuanced—and hopeful. Over the past 20 years, Venice has quietly transformed itself and its surrounding lagoon into a laboratory. Technology and ecology projects still in the planning stages in the United States have been successfully realized here. American coastal cities have a lot to learn from them.

Much of climate change’s destruction is uncertain and hypothetical—more hurricanes New York City, for example, or a mega-drought the desert Southwest. But Venetians have known forever that their city lies in the path of monster storms powered by offshore

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