Is Lisbon a Sustainable and Just City?
Perspectives from Europe´s 2020 Green Capital

Nearly 60 people attended the fourth UrbanA Community Conversation, on May 26th. It was also the first in our new “City Series” of community conversations, for which we visited the current European Green Capital, Lisbon. The event was facilitated by Constança Belchior from the UrbanA Portugal team and included perspectives from UrbanA Fellow Rafael Calado of Fablab Lisboa, Luís Matos of Rés do Chão and Patrícia Robalo of Morar em Lisboa and Lisbon’s Housing Movement about a range of issues including urban greening, evictions, gentrification, civic engagement and local community solutions in this fast-changing city.

UrbanA Community Conversation — City Series #1 — Lisbon

Presentation slides from the event are available here, images from the event here and the video of the introduction and three guests presentations is available on the UrbanA YouTube channel.

UrbanA Community Conversation — City Series #1 — Lisbon — Video

UrbanA’s City Series: Lisbon

To begin with, two quick surveys identified people’s locations and interests. (What is your location: Lisbon 52%, Rest of Europe 39%, Rest of World 6%, Portugal 3% + What brought you here today? Sustainability and Justice 57%, Community-Led Initiatives 33%, Housing 7%, Maker-movements 3%) Constança outlined the intention to “Amplify our collective knowledge about what drives and supports sustainability and justice in our cities, with Lisbon as our gate of departure.”. The rest of the event incorporated three distinct sections; presentations on three perspectives from Lisbon, discussion in break-out groups about challenges and opportunities regarding urban sustainability and justice, and finally a plenary discussion.

The call began by outlining UrbanA activities in Lisbon to date: an event in Mouraria in November and the start of work in Marvila, until COVID stopped things. We also shared images from the recent “Urban 20 Hub” publication, a collaboration between the Lisbon team and UrbanA fellow Marilyn Hamilton (we’ve a podcast with her too). This led to presentation of the central question concerning UrbanA´s activities in Lisbon:

“How might an urban community of practice help manifest the dream of a sustainable and just Lisbon?”

Constança Belchior outlined the three stage step of UrbanA’s first City Series event

UrbanA’s City Series: Lisbon

Rafael Calado is an architect by trade and also co-founded Repair Café Lisboa and the BioHacking Group Lisboa. This FabLab (Fabrication Laboratory) was set up by Lisbon Council after the economic crisis in 2013 in an abandoned abattoir behind an old market in the most diverse neighbourhood in the city. It was set up to empower creativity by democratizing the access to digital prototyping tools and giving free access to machines except for commercial production. An example of the “Nurturing a Community” philosophy behind the project was seen when the “Covid19 fast response” project printed badly needed PPE equipment for front line medical workers during the pandemic. (We made an UrbanA podcast with Rafael in February)

UrbanA Fellow Rafael Calado outlines Fablab Lisboa’s “Nurturing a Community” attitude

Patrícia Robalo is also an architect and part of Morar em Lisboa (Living in Lisbon), a housing network of various entities that seeks a new politics of housing for a city for all. Patrícia’s presentation focused on “The City as an instrument of spatial inequality, urban injustice and unsustainability”. She began by asking “Which Sustainability” and argued that Spatial justice and ecological sustainability are not priorities of the current urban model, which is driven by three main factors within the current economic model; crisis, competitiveness and financialization. She shared Morar em Lisboa’s priorities for how they want things in the city to be improved.

Patrícia Robalo of Morar em Lisboa claims Spatial justice and ecological sustainability are not priorities of Lisbon’s current urban model

Rés do Chão (Ground Floor) is an urban design NGO founded in 2013 that has developed a methodology based around facilitation of community groups and group design processes. For work in Marvila, some financial support came from the city council’s innovative BIP/ZIP Program. Luís Matos spoke about the community led project Transformar Marvila com Jardim e Ciclovias (Transforming Marvila with parks and bikeways), which was the result of an organised community of four local neighbourhoods, the 4Crescente network, who rejected a proposed city plan for housing blocks, arguing instead that they never got the infrastructure like parks, play areas and the like, that other urban areas got. Having fought and won, an urban design project is now underway to turn 144.000m2 of public vacant land into a city-scale public park.

Luís Matos from Rés do Chão talks about Marvila’s community led project

Group Discussions

After the presentations, participants broke into groups of three to six, in both English and Portuguese. Break-out groups were invited to discuss the question “How am I experiencing sustainability and justice in my city, especially now with Covid-19?”; and harvest the main challenges and opportunities in a shared document.

Participants’ insights included that problems due to COVID were most exacerbated for the most vulnerable communities in socially disadvantaged parts of the city. That many communities had not the tools or access to digital meetings that others had. While new forms of solidarity emerged in the period, there are questions about the wider purpose of this solidarity or how it will evolve, as lockdown restrictions ease. Can we begin to address spatial aspects to the city, to deal with gentrification and urban injustice. With the changing city of Lisbon, especially driven by touristification, the pandemic displayed a great emptying of the city. There is a fear of “returning to normal”, led by market forces. Things are still in limbo now, but while unhealthy patterns remain, solidarity is still vulnerable. Great challenge is how to build from the lessons learned in the pandemic, how to put them into practice into a wider scale, as the economy picks up.

Break-out groups entered main challenges and opportunities in the harvested shared document

This event “UrbanA Community Conversation — City Series #1 — Lisbon” was published at:

We would like to warmly thank our 3 guest speakers from Lisbon and everybody who tuned in, contributed insights and who is looking forward to the next steps for the UrbanA CoP.

We leave you with a lovely message that lifted our spirits. Teodora-Irina Comăniță was scheduled to participate in the big Urban Future Global Conference event in April in Lisbon, which was cancelled due to COVID. Teodora still made it here translocally, writing after on insta:

“When you can’t go to Lisbon, bring Lisbon to you!”

“When you can’t go to Lisbon, bring Lisbon to you!”, Teodora-Irina Comăniță on Instagram

Invitation to join the UrbanA Community of Practice

Want to get in touch with the Community? Join our UrbanA Community of Practice LinkedIn group to initiate conversations on sustainable just cities. You can also subscribe to the UrbanA newsletter and follow us on channels: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Youtube.




Sharing knowledge on the integration of justice and sustainability in cities #sustainablejustcities — Previously Urban Arena

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Duncan Crowley

Duncan Crowley

Irish architect exploring community-led ecocities (Dublin, Barcelona, Curitiba, Lisbon). Eco activist & PhD student working with UrbanA, ECOLISE & Degrowth 🌎🐝

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