Once the beating heart of commerce, art, and culture across the globe, Venice will never lose the charm of its physical spaces. The basic density and walkability underlying the design of the city evoke images of bustling Renaissance street life. But with roughly three million tourists passing through each year – more than ten times the number of permanent residents – the experience of the city can feel a little artificial, laments Stephens (who estimates a tourism figure almost six times higher).
"What's strange about Venice is that it is still, technically, a city, with residents, an economy and a government," he writes. "And yet, perhaps nowhere else in the world does the relationship past and present fall so surreally, credulously out of balance."
While some have likened Venice to a museum, Stephens prefers the image of an amusement park. Perhaps more relevantly, he argues that recognizing the beauty and the strengths of our own existing spaces is the key to having them serve us as well as Venice once served its own people.
"You can still visit a million live cities and still believe that their best days are ahead of them. And you can believe that you can be a part of them. That goes as much for historical giants like Paris and London as it does for upstarts like Dubai and Bangalore. For all of the challenges in the U.S., it applies to nearly every American city."