Jorge Catarino • Senior Partner
… goes back to its foundation. The concentration of people has always generated development, security, control, organization and power. The growth of cities/urban areas has been due to the offer of living, working and, in the modern era, leisure conditions.
The attractiveness of cities consequently depends on what they offer and, on the condition, they give or prefigure for people, public or private institutions to settle.
Soon, Lisbon stood out, first as an important national centre and later as an Iberian and even world centre. With bigger or smaller development over time, Lisbon has gained status and strategic importance in the territory. The best working conditions or its concentration, in a country with an always underdeveloped and dependent interior, were significant reasons for the city’s growth.
On the other hand, the arrival of the population in the city has always led to growth problems. In the peaks of immigration to the city, it has always been weakly absorbed, because it was unprepared and did not have the accommodation conditions that everyone was looking for.
Looking only at the last 100 years we confirm this fact with more precision. The republican principles that led to the publication in 1918 of the first incentive to build “economic houses”, triggered in the 20th century public support for the creation of living conditions in the country and particularly in the capital.
The economic neighbourhoods of Ajuda and Arco do Cego date from the 1930s, while other localities such as Santa Cruz de Benfica, which were directed by the middle class and in some cases by profession and size of household (in this district for engineers), date from the 1950s. Other operations followed and already on a larger scale: Alvalade with the Plano de Faria da Costa, Olivais Sul, Chelas, Telheiras and SAAL and PER programmes, where only in the last one was given home conditions to 19.700 families.
These programmes were mostly intended at solving problems with different causes, but with the same purpose: to give housing to those who already lived in the city, usually coming from the rural country and who did not have a house worthy of the name. It was the population without means that settled in the city and created the conditions for survival: the attraction for a city that produced more jobs than housing conditions.
Public programmes solved some of the problems, but were always insufficient in the face of demand. The installation on the suburbs of the city became more critical, taking the problem beyond its limits. The direct arrival of the population to the peripheries was, however, accompanied by the departure of the population from the city itself, who were looking for better living conditions, although at the cost of being away from their place of work. In the last 30 years, Lisbon has lost 300,000 citizens (from around 800,000 to 500,000).
This situation is known when the current MDP was drawn up in 2012, which makes the rehabilitation of buildings and housing the first objectives to be achieved. At the same time, it proposes the densification of the urban network in order to allow the growth of its residents and the increase of living and working conditions, both by the increase of public green spaces and leisure, as well as working conditions and accessibility.
The city’s power of attraction has not disappeared, but we must make it accessible, both for its own survival and for the satisfaction of those who seek to live there. The sale value of the houses, or even their rent, has become unaffordable for most families.
This need to take in more residents and the conditions of access to housing give place, for the first time, to a housing programme to attract the population rather than to support the resident population.
And these new programmes should be twofold: the permanent residents and the temporary residents, such as students. And the conditions of access should be considered, for example by seeking solutions already tested in social housing estates and EPUL, with long-term contracts and full property rights after that time.
Housing models should also have other characteristics, compared to current ones, derived from new ways of living and working (in the same place) and to the questions presented by the pandemic (like the need for outside spaces). As in previous housing programmes, it is necessary to study the types of housing that are intended and not to offer the house more financially accessible, which then does not meet the real needs of those who will live there.
The architecture has to find diversified solutions (review the Olivais or Telheiras cases) and the City Hall has to find again the capacity to execute, that it had in the past, and give the private the opportunity to participate in this challenge, supporting their investments in this area, with deadlines compatible with the level of urgency of the development of the city and before the disappearance of…
…the power of attraction of the City.