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  • Angie Mak

A Tale of Two (COVID-19-affected) Cities: The Introvert and the Extrovert

Can the COVID-19 virus reveal a city’s personality type? And can the effects of the virus bring out a new, greener side to urban communities?


VENICE THE INTROVERT


Ah, Venice with its lovely waterways is, well, becoming lovely again. Venice is now under lockdown, along with the rest of Italy, and the city’s tens of millions of tourists have cleared out. Meanwhile, the residents of the city have found the solace to be relaxing. No longer do Venetians have to dodge tourists’ selfie sticks smacking them in the eyeballs as they struggle to plod off to work. The narrow, cobbled streets are as now empty in the daytime as they are in the middle of the night.


But there’s another new kid on the block in the Lion City: fish—and cleaner seawater. With a drastic drop in water traffic, the once-overwhelmed Venetian canals are now seeing the sediment finally begin to settle, and fish have returned. Ever since the COVID-19 virus began heavily affecting the cruise industry, massive passenger ships stopped berthing in Venice. Now, supposedly ALL cruises worldwide have been cancelled, so it looks like other port cities may start to see the same effects in their waterways and docks.


Since the COVID-19 virus affected the cruise industry, massive passenger ships stopped docking in Venice.

There’s another bright side to this strange story. With the disappearance of water traffic, Venice’s fragile architectural structures are no longer taking a beating from the pounding waves that accompany the hoards of visiting cruise ships. The ancient city’s buildings and streets have already been sinking steadily for decades, because of damage from raised tides that the big cruise ships bring to the Venice Lagoon. Last October and November, a combination of high tides and the annual flooding season brought the worst flood to the city in 54 years.


It’s true that the coronavirus is terrible for the tourism industry, which is the bread and butter of cities like Venice. BusinessInsider.com even vividly compares the trauma of COVID-19 to the 1985 hijacking of a ship and the ensuing drama on the high seas: “The coronavirus is the worst thing to happen to the cruise industry since a passenger was shot and thrown off of a ship in the 1980s,” the website enthuses.


But one wonders if the situation is now looking more hopeful for Venice, from a sustainability point of view. At least Venetians won’t have to fight with tourists over toilet paper.


CANADA: THE EXTROVERT


On the other side of the world, citizens in Toronto, Canada are using the COVID-19 situation to reach out to one another in true extrovert style.


Thanks to the shock assault of daily news blasts, or sad violin hymns from the Titanic in the empty toilet-paper aisle, the “caremongering” movement has taken root. Facebook groups recently popped up in just 72 hours as acts of kindness became the order of the day. Toronto first took the lead in helping vulnerable and isolated people in self-quarantine, and soon other cities followed.


There are soup deliveries to the elderly in the UK; exercises classes for quarantined citizens, on the balconies of Spain; and in the hometown of the movement’s founder, there are even local groups geared to helping specific neighborhoods. Hand sanitizer is also being delivered to those with weak immune systems, thanks to a Facebook request for help that went viral. UK charity Beauty Banks is helping deliver toiletries, which is a breath of fresh air compared to bickering in supermarkets over packets of pasta.


Valentina Harper explains, "Scaremongering is a big problem. We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other.”

"It's spread the opposite of panic in people, brought out community and camaraderie,” says Harper, “and allowed us to tackle the needs of those who are at-risk all the time - now more than ever."


What would you do if your city was either like Venice or Toronto? Would you make the most of a citywide-lockdown by standing on your balcony and enjoying the warm sunshine in tranquility? Or would you use your balcony as part of a massive workout class? It brings to mind that psychology analogy about opposing conflict-resolution styles, namely “the iceberg” and “the octopus”—though neither city can be faulted for their chosen response.


It’s clear what Venetian resident Marianna Purisiol prefers. “From a selfish point of view, I feel privileged, because I can now admire the beauty of my city undisturbed,” she admits. “What’s for the future? That’s my anxiety.”

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