Perusing Porto Part II: The Doughnut City

While most of Portugal is struggling from an economic standpoint, that struggle is most apparent in places like Porto. Abandoned buildings, boarded storefronts, impromptu hand-me-down markets, and an overall absence of energy characterize the city. However, much of this desolation is concentrated into one region. Porto is rotting from the inside out.

Over the past few years, Porto has become known by many locals as the doughnut city. This is based on the simple fact that the central region is slowly but surely turning into an economic wasteland; unless things turn around, the middle of the city might effectively cease to exist.

The real estate market is crumbling. The industrial and manufacturing base is now an array of abandoned factories. Successful local retail establishments are few and far between. Unemployment is through the roof, and any skilled or highly educated people are emigrating at alarming rates.

One of my tour guides was a former architect; all of his former architect friends have moved out of Portugal in search of better markets where their expertise is actually in demand. A native of Porto, he refuses to leave, and now gives walking tours through the ravaged center of his hometown and explains to foreigners just how bad things are. He sarcastically calls his guided walks “the worst tours in the world.”

Tourism, in fact, is one of the only things holding the place up. People travelling through the Iberian Peninsula go to see some of the masterful Portuguese architecture like Koolhaas’ Casa da Musica and the gilded Sao Francisco Church. They go to the Serralves Museum, they take boating excursions down the Rio Douro, they explore some of the lush green spaces on the west side of town, they visit the many wine cellars of the Vila Nova de Gaia and sip Port.

The outside of the renowned Sao Francisco Church
A boat on the Rio Douro
The gardens leading up to the Serralves Museum

In midst of doing all of this, tourists travel along some of the well-trodden paths through the city center and supplement the economy. These paths tend to avert the misery that surrounds them.

Most people you talk to who have visited Porto will not get a sense of how poor some of the conditions are, because they won’t ever see it — and the lack of visibility makes it difficult for any real change to take place. This is a depressing reality, but it also makes the doughnut city one of the most interesting places on the Iberian Peninsula.

Stay tuned for the next update.

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