September 29, 2008 / 6:33 PM / 10 years ago

Briton wins prize for "Mickey Mouse" Venice idea

People dressed as cartoon characters Mickey and Minnie greet visitors with their latest Year of the Mouse costumes at Hong Kong Disneyland January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

VENICE (Reuters) - A proposal to turn the lagoon city of Venice into a Disney-style theme park has won a prize from a famed Venetian academy, even though it rejected the idea.

The venerable Istituto Veneto described the scheme by British economist John Kay as a thought-provoking critique of the Italian city’s unwieldy tourist economy.

Kay won 5,000 euros ($7,315) from the nearly 200-year-old institute for writing that Venice would be better off as a theme park, complete with a 50 euro entrance fee.

“Only one man can save Venice: Mickey Mouse,” read the headline for his article explaining the concept, published in March in British newspaper The Times. “The city is already a theme park and should be handed over to Disney — they would do a better job of running it.”

Its population long dwindling, Venice’s remaining 70,000 residents are far outnumbered by the millions of tourists who flock to the city every year — creating an artificial economy that cheats tourists and sends locals packing, Kay wrote.

“If the first thing visitors to Venice remember is the magnificence of the setting, the second is the frequency with which they were ripped off,” he wrote.

“Disney wants its guests to have a good time because it cares whether they come back. Most residents of Venice would rather that visitors didn’t come back.”

The academy’s decision to give Kay an award for the article outraged Venice’s mayor, who the Briton said should be substituted by a theme park manager.

Mayor Massimo Cacciari said he found it “simply comic” that a Venetian cultural institution should reward “the most kitsch images about Venice and its future.”

Writing by Phil Stewart, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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