New York - the new Venice?

Venice may seem an unlikely place to think about globalisation. At the right time of year, at the right time of day (before the half-naked tourists descend on San Marco like a barbarian horde) the Queen of the Adriatic can seem as if she has been exempted from the 21st century. Not to mention the 19th and the 20th.

Usually I come here to forget about modernity; to immerse myself in an urban past that seems almost uniquely intact. It is, I know, an illusion. The mere absence of cars does not make this the same city that Canaletto grew up in 300 years ago. The internal combustion engine disturbs the peace here too, albeit in a lower, water-borne register. The appetites of budget travellers have altered the city's economy, just as the emissions of nearby heavy industry - incongruously visible on the skyline - have altered the lagoon's ecology.

On the plus side, of course, you are unlikely nowadays to expire prematurely in a cholera epidemic, the fate of Thomas Mann's Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice.

Yet precisely because history did leave Venice behind, architecturally if not in other ways, this is the ideal place to ponder the vast economic changes we are witnessing in our time. For what befell Venice roughly 500 years ago may well be the imminent fate of the city's North American counterpart: New York.

Just as the world economy tilted away from Venice in around the year 1500, condemning it to relative decline, slow stagnation and ultimate relegation from metropolis to museum, so it could now be tilting away from what was once the greatest entrept of the Atlantic world.

It's not just the American investment bankers fretting that London is doing more deals than New York. Much more financial restructuring is needed in Europe's still fragmented economy than in the United States

finance economics
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