College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

22 June 2020

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How North Queensland can learn from Venice

JCU Planning students have travelled to Venice. They didn’t go for pizza or romantic Gondola rides, but to learn about sustainable architecture and heritage preservation, and how these are relevant to North Queensland.

Meredith Hutton, studying a Masters of Planning and Urban Design, enjoyed experiencing global perspectives on sustainable architecture. For Bachelor of Planning student Tyson Schmid, going to Venice was part of pursuing his passion for creating sustainable environments.

“I’m passionate about inter-related systems, which is what Venice has, because it’s a city built in a lagoon: it was built on the ocean pretty much,” Tyson says.

“It had its boom and bust economically and socially, and is now like this floating Disney theme park with more tourists than locals visiting every day.”

Venice is also a dire warning about the effects of climate change, with flooding becoming more frequent and severe in recent years.

Although Venice is a different climate to Cairns or Townsville, there are parallels in the way these cities are experiencing climate change.

“Townsville, as a coastal city, emits CO2. We contribute to climate change and we’re going to be experiencing the effects of global warming. Events like heat waves will become more regular and more intense,” Tyson says.

Aqua Alta in effect in Venice. Image: Lisa Law.
Gondolas in Venice. Image: Lisa Law
Left: Aqua Alta in effect in Venice. Right:Gondolas and water architecture. Images: Lisa Law.

A surprising lack of action

Despite the water literally lapping at the feet of Venetians, the city is doing little to fight climate change, according to Tyson.

“Flooding is happening more frequently, and to a more intense scale, not to mention that the sea level is also rising slowly. They’re experiencing a gradual inundation with intense flooding. It’s the repercussions of global warming,” he says.

“What stood out to me is that they actually aren’t taking any actions to address their contribution to this global issue.

“For example, it’s illegal to put solar panels on the roofs in Venice, because they’re obsessed with retaining their cultural heritage to keep tourism booming. But that cultural heritage won’t mean anything when the city is underwater.”

Compared to Venice, Townsville’s approach to adapting to — and preventing — climate change is advanced.

“I think Townsville is doing well in leading the way. I think places like Venice should look to smaller regional towns like us. If we can do it, they can too,” Tyson says.

“We’ve got massive movements of adapting to our climate, like painting our roofs white. We’ve got a relatively good uptake of solar.”

Townsville also makes better use of its environment, like maintaining sand dunes to preserve the coast line, as opposed to the brick walls employed in Venice.

While Tyson’s passion for sustainability shaped his experience, Meredith’s background in business, her previous occupation before starting her Masters in Planning and Urban Design, shaped hers.

“The things that you're exposed to and lessons learned were way more than what I was expecting to get out of the trip,” she said. “I thought it was just going be an awesome holiday with a little junket of study, but the study was one of the highlights of the trip.”

Many students from a variety of nations and disciplines took part in the international masterclass facilitated by a new partnership between JCU and the Pomeroy Academy.

Professionals from industries including architecture, business and planning sat side by side with environmental psychologists, hospitality professionals and computer scientists.

“The knowledge of the architects who ran the course and the Italian professors and architects and lecturers involved with the program was just really outstanding,” Meredith says.

For Meredith, the focus on architectural preservation, especially in a culture with as much to preserve as Italy, was a highlight of the trip.

“I found it really interesting just hearing about the different processes that are involved from, not just the physical restoration and preservation of all these historic buildings, but also the level of what happens behind the scenes to make that happen,” she says.

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