Friday, June 25, 1999

A true fountain of inspiration

I recently learned of the demolition of the famous Hotel Fuenti, located on the beautiful coast of Amalfi in Italy. This structure had become a symbol of what seems to be known as environmental "abusivismo” in Italy. At least this is what comes out of the automatic translator I use when navigating Italian web sites. I am sure that this case is fascinating to those who are interested in administrative law or in the study of Italian society. To begin with, this case has been around for the last thirty years.

The demolition of 34,000 square meters of reinforced concrete structure is no small matter anywhere. Exactly how these measures are approved and taken in order to effectively defend the environmental rights of a society or an individual without resulting in legal "abusivismo” is a challenge to one’s imagination.

I am sure that most of us, without going into much more detail, are absolutely sure that whatever the legal regulations the promoters of the Fuenti violated, there are thousands of worse violations that will never suffer this drastic fate.

On the other hand, most of us will probably not shed too many tears over what may be a total injustice that the Fuenti’s owners are being subjected to. One explanation of the above may be what one could call the Fuenti’s high Visual Contamination Index (VCI).

In order to understand the VCI, let us imagine that we can assign points to the ugliness of any structure, ten points for the ugliest to 1 point for the least ugly. Likewise, we could assign points for the relevance or beauty of its location, from one point for the most insignificant to ten points for the most beautiful and relevant. By multiplying both rankings, we can obtain the VCI. In the Fuenti case, if we assign an eight for ugliness and multiply this by an eight for the beauty and relevance of its location, we obtain a total score of 64. This apparently is enough to send the structure to the gallows.

Does this seem easy and fair? Not necessarily. Imagine trying to get two Italians to come to an agreement about the assignation of points for beauty and relevance!

I sincerely hope that the case of the Hotel Fuenti will serve as an inspiration so that we can begin to confront the serious problems of visual contamination that occur in Venezuela, specially on the Island of Margarita.

Playa El Angel, Playa Guacuco, Playa Anywhere. In all of these we can observe how half-finished structures, like a herd of dinosaur skeletons, provide eyesores to all those who care to pass by. Is it possible that these structures insolently consider that simply because they have suffered an accident, financial or otherwise during the initial construction period, they have the right to contaminate our island. Just as an airplane is required to take on sufficient fuel to get it to its next destination, any construction project should be required to have enough resources to get it to completion.

When you study some of the laws that govern this matter, for example the Urbanization Law, you can find plenty of articles that allow, for one reason or another, authorities to paralyze work on any construction project. Surprisingly, there is no mention whatsoever that refers to the obligation of a project’s promoters to actually finish what they started. Evidently, since the laws are drafted by politicians who are not exactly known for their ability to finish what they started, the word “surprisingly” is probably overdone.

Although I consider the road to the demolition of existing structures to be a dangerous one if based simply on visual contamination, I do believe it is possible to develop a good set of rules to handle half finished projects. Obviously, any law drafted to regulate this matter must guarantee affected parties the right to develop alternatives within a specified period of time (years, not decades!).

We must also analyze those projects that, due to simple lack of use or care are severely deteriorated. We are all aware that fashion once considered that holes in blue jeans were “chic”. Likewise, any amount of building materials has been used to create a rustic look to buildings, mostly with a lot of success. However, when we observe walls that are crumbling due to lack of care or, even worse, to bad construction practices, we do not need rocket science to see that something has gone seriously wrong and that we must find a cure.

With every day that goes by, all aspects of defense of our environment become more and more critical. For an island like Margarita that lives of tourism and that is faced with increasingly heavy competition from other locations, the avoidance of visual contamination is more than critical, it is vital.