Analysing the depopulation of the Historic City

1850s -1950s: Industrialization in Venice and Marghera. Venice reaches peak population.

  • Rail bridge in 1840 starts Industrial revolution in Venice
  • Venice becomes an elite tourism destination in the late 1800’s,
    • Biennale of Art in 1895.
    • Venice film festival in 1932.
  • Fascist regime accelerated ‘modernization’ with the airport on the Lido in 1926 and the car bridge in 1933

1950s - 1990s: Population begins a steady decline. Jobs leave the city.

  • After the population peak of ~175,000 during WWII, residents who could afford it moved to new homes on the Lido and later in Mestre, escaping unsanitary and overcrowded housing in the HC
  • In the two decades from 1951 to 1971, the Venice HC lost over 66,000 inhabitants (-37%) at a rate of almost 3,000 departures per year. By 1991, the population in the HC  (77k) was less than half than in 1951
  • All remaining industries and large company headquarters either closed or relocated to the mainland, bringing thousands of jobs with them

1990s - 2020s: Tourism becomes the dominant industry. Low-cost airlines, cruiseships and Airbnb bring mass tourism and overcrowding

  • At the end of the 1990’s, Venice had ~200 hotels and a total of 12,000 hotel beds. In 2023, the hotel beds number around 20,000.
  • In 2023, the number of Short Term Rental (STR) beds is over 20,000 in the HC alone, without counting the nearby mainland
  • The City administration has formally halted the creation of new hotels and plans to limit the number of Airbnb’s and discourage day-trippers

Venice always recovered from past population declines. Will it rebound again?

Population loss continues unabated since the 1950’s, affecting both the HC and the lagoon islands

Airbnb has boomed

Tourist shops dominate

[Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2019]


Venice’s population has dwindled from 175.000 in 1951 to less than 50.000 today, therefore the wicked problem and the focus of our research has been the exclusion of residents from the Historic City and the Lagoon islands.

The main drivers analyzed were:

  1. Job Diversity
  2. Housing
  3. Urban Mobility


How is depopulation affected by the quality and diversity of jobs, the quality and affordability of housing and the speed and efficiency of urban transportation?

  • Socio-economic contextual assessment (from official data sources)
  • 131 anonymous surveys of commuters into the HC and out of the HC
  • 122 in-depth biographical interviews with current and former students, emigres (Venice residents who left Venice), expats (outsiders who moved into Venice).


  • The majority of recent emigres left in their working years between 30 and 50 years old.
  • Young children leave because their parents seek better, cheaper and larger homes for an expanding family.
  • Many Venetians leave their city upon retirement, probably fed up with the decreasing quality of life or attracted elsewhere by family and health considerations
  • Venetian youths who grow up in Venice start leaving in their college years, to go study outside the City (Erasmus, etc.)
  • almost 20% leave due to housing situations
  • after graduating, most Venetian students are unable to find jobs in their fields of study in their City of origin
  • one in five don’t return due to housing issues
  • almost a quarter choose to stay away from Venice for personal preferences…
  • … yet an overwhelming majority of Venetian emigres would like to return to Venice
  • … while almost 40% show no interest in returning


Venetian emigres would return to Venice if it had:

  • a wider variety of well-paid jobs
  • more affordable housing
  • fewer tourists
  • some Venetians are able to commute to the mainland for upscale, non-tourist jobs, but…
  • … their commuting range is limited to the immediate mainland towns of Mestre and Marghera.


Analysing the depopulation of the Historic City through the lenses of jobs, housing and urban mobility


The Venice CityLab:

  • debated housing market and affordability
  • discussed the post-COVID status of commerce and artisans
  • explored the pros and cons of an underground subway system in the Lagoon


Venice: SerenDPT’s H3 Factory

  • in-person at the ex-church of SS. Cosmas & Damian, Giudecca
  • online via zoom


The Barcelona CityLab as a community of practice to:

Selection criteria

  • Expertise and knowledge on themes
  • Representatives of communities of concern
  • Data producers and users

Sindacato Inquilini Venezia | Ytali | AVA | Venis | ASCOM | Univ. La Sapienza | Port Authority | ATVO | Fairbnb | ANGT – Associazione Nazionale Guide Turistiche | SAVE – Venice Airport | We Are Here Venice (NGO) | Venice Calls (NGO) | JEVE | Rotaract Venezia | LISC | P.E.R. Venezia Consapevole | GFE | | Assemblea Sociale per la Casa | Juvenice | Closer | Veritas | El Felze | ArrivaVeneto | ESN Venezia | Ocio | Campaign For A Living Venice | CNA Venezia | Ristorante “La Palanca” | Rehub |


Up-to-date assessments of the current situation regarding jobs, commerce, housing and urban mobility in Venice.

Discussion of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) in 8 socio-economic sectors.

Application of the 6 Tools of Government to co-develop policies and plans to repopulate the Venice HC

  • Data collection on Commerce and Housing
  • Modeling of Urban Transportation options
  • 28 Stakeholder interviews across 8 sectors
  • 3 Focus Groups (15)
    • Shops + Artisans
    • Housing + STRs
    • Urban Mobility



  • discussion about the impact of tourism and COVID on shops, restaurants and artisans (commerce)
  • SWOT analysis
  • consensus building
  • insights on the job market
  • inform policy outcomes

HOUSING and STRs (28/11/2022)

  • discussion on the conflict between STRs and resident and student housing
  • SWOT analysis
  • consensus building
  • insights on the housing market
  • inform policy outcomes


  • brainstorming about plausible scenarios for fast and efficient urban mobility within Venice
  • Scenario models
  • Route planning
  • Exploration of subway system
  • Isochrone analyses


Measuring the retail sector’s evolution

Defining housing supply and demand

Modeling urban transit options

SHOPS Application

HOUSING Study + Data Repository

COMMERCE Study + Data Repository

MOBILITY Scenarios + Models

WEBSITE for Venice Case study



Openly accessible data and analytics to continue to address the depopulation.

Research will continue beyond the end of the SmartDest project.

Benefits to end-users

  • Tools for monitoring future developments
  • Open data access for research & other purposes
  • Baseline data for future longitudinal analyses


“Repopulating Venice by jump-starting a new economy that is alternative to tourism will take decades.

In the meantime, Venice could attract expats and remote workers and bring mainland jobs ‘closer’ to the inhabitants of the Venice HC with faster transportation and proper parking facilities.

One way to expedite travel times within the city would be a long-debated and highly controversial subway system (sublagunare).

The Venice City Lab may continue into the future to provide a forum for further deliberations.”

Fabio Carrera,
Venice Case Study coordinator



Intellectually stimulating




Representative and balanced


Commitment of decision-makers


Efficient, practical, informed

Productive collaboration