Lisbon: The Empty City…with Ivaylo L

Walking around Lisbon city centre, one of the things you notice is the abundance of empty flats. The historic buildings are beautiful and in any other European city the apartments inside would be renovated and sold or rented to urbanites, young couples, students, and foreigners seeking a chic pied-à-terre. But in Lisbon many lay vacant.

First of all there’s the prices. Lisbon costs per square metre are three times higher than the suburbs, so naturally people are willing to commute for such savings. However, even with high prices, landlords are unable to raise rental costs due to a government imposed rent control system that’s been in place since the 1950s. This makes it impossible to afford to renovate and draw in new residents. For those looking to buy and perhaps renovate themselves, prices can be astronomical for a city with pretty low wages.

Next, Lisbon has one of the oldest populations in Europe. A full 25% of the population is over 65. These people are less likely to move or have the funds to renovate themselves.

Another issue is the lack of services in the centre. Yes there are plenty of restaurants and bars, but these are often tourist places, not locals’ haunts. And what about supermarkets? You can hardly find a convenience store to buy milk or bread, let alone a big store. As for schools, dry cleaners, surgeries, etc. — forget it.

Ivaylo, however, had just bought a brand new renovated city centre apartment. As I photographed him in his still empty flat (he was still waiting for his furniture to arrive from his old place), I stopped to peer out the windows. There I could see that his neighbours still lived in dilapidated conditions, and all around were empty flats. Lisbon should be full of gorgeous spiffed-up flats like Ivaylo’s and its centre should have a buzzing community of young workers like Ivaylo… but not yet.

By the way, Ivaylo didn’t make it into Elska Issue (04) Lisbon, because he didn’t submit his story. In fact, after our shoot he seemed to have disappeared. Where are you, Ivaylo?!

Originally published at

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