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Essays on Values and Practical Rationality

Ethical and Aesthetical Dimensions


Edited By António Marques and João Sàágua

The essays presented here are the outcome of research carried out by members of IFILNOVA (Institute for Philosophy of New University of Lisbon) in 2016.

The IFILNOVA Permanent Seminar seeks to show how values are relevant to humans (both socially and individually). This seminar is the ‘place’ where different research will converge towards a unified viewpoint. This includes the discussion of the following questions: What is the philosophical contribution to current affairs and decisions that depend crucially on values? Can philosophy make a difference, namely by bringing practical reason to bear on these affairs and decision? And how to do it? Which are our scientific ‘allies’ in this enterprise; psychology, communication sciences, even sociology and history?

This volume shows the connection between practical rationality and values and covers the dimensions ethics, aesthetics and politics.

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Rational Landscape: Spatial justice, politics and aesthetics: The city of Lisbon as a case study (Diana Soeiro)

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Rational Landscape: Spatial justice, politics and aesthetics: The city of Lisbon as a case study


In recent years, a new paradigm has emerged to counterpoise the old paradigm where the social and the historical are privileged. In this new paradigm social, historical and spatial perspectives are in balance, ‘with no one of the three ways of looking at and interpreting the world inherently privileged over the others’ (Soja 2010: 3). This movement, which is still in its formative years, we call spatial turn (Schlitte et al. 2014) and this chapter adopts its methodology which we will now briefly describe.

If in the last century historical and social aspects were highlighted, it is now claimed that spatial perspective has to come into play. This spatial turn was brought forward by geographers and quickly embraced by several other research fields with an impact on human sciences (Soja 2010: 3). In the words of American geographer Edward W. Soja (1940–2015), the shift is that instead of giving ‘greater stress to how social processes such as class formation, social stratification, or racist or masculinist practices shape geographies’, we now focus on ‘how geographies actively affect these social processes and forms’ (Soja 2010: 4). This means going beyond a conservative understanding of space where it is seen as a receptacle, where things happen to it and in it.

Adopting a critical spatial perspective, we will dwell on the relation between philosophy and urban planning, taking both a theoretical and practical approach, strengthening the symmetry between social and spatial explanation. As Ferrão reminds us (2012: 67), in urban planning, the academic domain (basic training) and professional domain (spatial planning practice) do not coincide, requiring the contribution of several other disciplines. The city of Lisbon (Portugal) will be used as a case study relying mainly on the latest report issued by the Lisbon City Council (CML) this year. This chapter therefore gives a description of the method, which highlights spatial dynamics, acknowledging it as an active element. ← 267 | 268 →

By putting forward the explanatory power of spatial thinking, we can better assess both affectivity and the impact of decision-making on spatial dynamics. History and sociology reflect on space and spatial dynamics as a consequence of what happens historically and socially, making space a secondary element, an aftermath. A critical spatial perspective understands space as an element that can be the cause of social and historical transformations. Space is acknowledged as an active component and not exclusively as passive (where social and historical transformations are simply reflected).

Adopting a negative description, says Soja, space is actively involved in sustaining ‘inequality, injustice, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression and discrimination.’ (Soja 2010: 4) The positive formulation of this statement is that the way we shape space can play an active role to help us achieve a more just society. In order to help us achieve that, urban planning and the highest principles by which the city is sustained play a leading role. The exercise of identifying these, which includes detecting specific elements that lead to specific urban planning measures and their implementation, is what Soja called spatial justice.

1.  From politics and aesthetics to spatial justice

When it comes to spatial planning, if we adopt a critical spatial perspective, this enables us to throw a new light on the relation between two traditional areas – politics and aesthetics. The relation between the two is known to be strong with politics frequently making use of aesthetics in order to affirm and sustain power (Adorno et al. 2006; Rancière 2013; Benjamin 20021). In order to move on from this dialogue between politics and aesthetics (whether claiming that the relation is beneficial, ← 268 | 269 → dreadful or inevitable, or claiming that they both should be independent and follow separate ways), spatial justice is a useful approach. Through the methodology of spatial justice, justice is highlighted as the main foundation on which the city stands, allowing us to find a new way of rationalizing the urban landscape. To the power of politics we counterpoise the power of place (see De Blij 2010).

Cities are growing at a very fast rate, rapidly increasing their complexity and therefore demanding not only material but also contemplative resources in order to better help us plan the future.

In 2014, for the first time more than half of the world’s population became urban. It is expected that in 2050, 66 per cent of the world population will live in urban areas. In developed regions the number will reach 85 per cent. In Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Oceania the growth is expected to be minimal since a large number of people already live in urban areas – in 2050, many countries are expected to reach almost 100 percent. The fastest growth rate will take place in Africa (rising from 40 per cent in 2014 to 56 per cent in 2050) and Asia (from 48 to 64 per cent). In 2010–2015, the highest average growth rates in Africa were in Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Lesotho, Namibia, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. In Asia: in China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.

By 2050, most countries in Africa will have reached between 60 and 70 per cent living in urban areas, with Ethiopia (38 %), Kenya (44 %), Madagascar (30 %) Angola (64 %), Congo (60 %), Morocco (74 %), South Africa (77 %) and Nigeria (67 %) being the countries most responsible for this due to a combination of the size of their population and the growth rate. In Asia, already 100 per cent of the population of Hong Kong and Macau live in urban areas and the outlook for Japan is that by 2050 the figure will reach 98 per cent. The countries that will have a bigger impact between 2014 and 2050 by creating a prevailing urban population as a result of their large population and the growth rate are Southern Asia (from 34% to 52 %), India (from 32 % to 50 %), Indonesia (from 53 % to 71 %) and China (from 54 % to 76 %) (United Nations 2014, 20–25). In Portugal, the urban population was 48 per cent in 1990, 63 per cent in 2014 and it is expected to rise to 77 per cent in 2050. In absolute numbers, this means that around 7 564 million people ← 269 | 270 → will live in an urban environment and 2 279 million in a rural environment (United Nations 2014: 23).

Looking at these numbers, we quote Lewis Mumford, who back in 1961 sagely predicted: ‘Will the city disappear or will the whole planet turn into a vast urban hive? – which would be another mode of disappearance.’ (1966: 3) The question is: if we are on the verge of globally becoming fully urban, what sense can we make of ‘the city’ as we know it?

The prospect of our planet becoming a global village is not a futurist scenario anymore and the likelihood of the whole world becoming ‘a city’, literally, is closer than we perhaps anticipated. Assuming that sustainability is always a relevant criteria to apply to existing cities, as it is a concept that embodies the effort to continue to promote growth while assuring the population a quality living standard that allows them to prosper, the criteria truly becomes indispensible in new cities, particularly in those countries which are experiencing an accelerated growth rate.

But what does a country’s population becoming increasingly urban means to a country? Construction is one of the most significant actions to increase a country’s GDP. This means that if on one hand the creation of cities and larger cities that progressively attract more people reflects positively and immediately on a country’s economy, on the other hand, they may not be assuring sustainability because they are being created rapidly, which reflects negatively on the population in the short term and on the economy in the mid and long term. We highlight three main reasons that contribute t a lack of sustainability in the urbanization process: (1) economically and politically, urban rehabilitation proves to be less profitable in the short term than new construction, which may hinder access to investment; (2) countries where urban areas are already extensive will have to have more robust economic strategies in order to be sustainable since they are not able to rely on new construction to increase their GDP; (3) countries that offer the possibility for new construction due to easy access to investment, which immediately benefits the country’s GDP but does not assure sustainability, can experience faster growth than is desirable. Though sustainability has become an over-used ← 270 | 271 → word that may sometimes have a blurred meaning, a significant criterion to assess what is urban sustainability is spatial justice.

We present here a brief description of what spatial justice may refer to: ‘On the level of culture and society, there are four broad categories of spatial strategies of power: (1) the construction of hierarchies, (2) segregation, (3) marginalization, and (4) long-term, large-scale mechanisms of spatial transformation like apartheid, colonialism and globalization. Each of these has a particular paradigm of operation, and each impacts at various scales of physical space. From the scale of the body, up through the scale of buildings and cities to the scale of the landscape, power exercises explicit and implicit control over the shaping and occupation of space’ (Findley 2005: 7). In developing countries these strategies are more visible but this does not mean that they do not exist in developed countries. They do exist but are usually more subtle.

Considering what has been said perceptively, we observe that all over the world cities are being created, renovated and expanded. It is not our goal to discuss here how aesthetically appealing the options being taken in each case are because that would be to express an understanding of aesthetics in its most superficial sense. In adopting a higher sense of what is at stake in the aesthetic experience, spatial justice can be useful and it does concern aesthetics because the fact is that, perceptively, cities (taken as an object able to be conceived, moulded and experienced by the human mind) are appearing at a fast pace before our eyes, changing the way we move around space, constricting the way we move our body, the way we relate with our family, with the work place, the way we eat and our access to food, and so on. It is not only the case that cities look different, we experience them differently. As much as we shape them, they shape us. Space is a topic that simultaneously concerns aesthetics and ontology and the two are truly inseparable when we discuss spatial planning.

As we have seen, an increase in built area benefits a country’s economy, which at first sight may be considered as something having a positive political impact. But only if we reflect on how, why and under what principles these cities are being built, will we be able to then truly assess if their political and economic impact is positive.

Being the state of affairs the one we have described above, adopting a critical spatial perspective and acknowledging the methodology ← 271 | 272 → of spatial justice as an effective approach strategy, we ask: how can we better rationalize landscape? We will take Lisbon as a case study.

2.  Spatial strategies of power: on borders

We tend to dislike the word ‘power’ – though some tend to like it precisely for the exact same characteristics we will describe below. Behind it seem to lie obscure secrets, blackmail, bribery, deceit, betrayal and corruption. But power is not always a bad thing. Someone will always have power and, as Plato said in the Republic, each one of us exerts power in a specific realm2 – whether we like it or not, whether we do it well or badly.

Power exists and the question is how to deal with it and manage it better in order for it to be as beneficial as possible for the majority of people. Spatially, one of the main elements that allows us to define power strategies are borders. From the Great Wall of China (206 BC) to the current European refugee crisis (2015) and Donald Trump’s wish to build a wall across the Mexican border (2016), there are many examples of how borders are one of the most basic elements used to sustain power. It is a way of preserving territory.

As Paquot tell us: ‘Animals’ territory does not correspond to a perfectly delimited portion, protected and protective. It is mobile, elastic in its outline, variable according to ‘seasons’, hours, activities and dangers. … It is mostly at the moment of reproduction that animals delimit their territory.’ (Paquot 2009: 14, 15) But among men, territory easily becomes about exact delimitation. Sometimes this delimitation is spatially visible; sometimes the delimitation is artificially created on paper with no sense of discontinuity existing in the landscape. Either way, delimitation is always about distance. In Deleuze’s words: ‘The territory is ← 272 | 273 → first of all the critical distance between two beings of the same species: Mark your distance. What is mine is first of all my distance; I possess only distances.’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 319)

In 2012, a new administrative reform of Lisbon’s spatial structure policy was implemented through Law 56/2012 (November 8) setting out a new city map. The Mayor of Lisbon at the time, António Costa3, implemented the new plan which had started being drafted in 2008 by Augusto Mateus and João Seixas. (CML 2012) The new map consisted of establishing new boundaries and merging several parishes. Instead of the 53 that had existed since 1959, there were now 24. According to the new administrative plan, as Lisbon is a coastal city with a river waterfront to the south, the delimitation of parishes does not coincide with the land margin itself but instead with one of the river’s thalwegs (one of the deepest parts of a river), thereby adding 15.7 km2 to the area of Lisbon. Out of the 24 parishes, ten are located on the riverfront (Pais 2016: 6, 7, 10).

This new administrative reform means that when the time for local council elections comes (every four years), a team is elected to represent each parish. This may seem an obvious statement but it is particularly relevant to mention it because, parallel to the plan that established new boundaries for the parishes, a second map with different boundaries called the Operational Units for Planning and Management (UOPG) co-exists. The UOPG divides Lisbon into nine administrative areas and it is part of the 2012 Municipal Director Plan (PDM) that established the boundaries. Each area is managed according to a specific program defined and regulated by the PDM which translates into specific execution and financing strategies (Pais 2016: 12).

This means that two administrative reforms took place in parallel and that both established different boundaries on paper. One is legally binding when it comes to electing representatives, and has some autonomy (24 parishes), while the other is legally binding when it comes to bigger management options and distributing financing (nine operational units). There are units which include two or more parishes and there are units that cut through parishes, thus making one parish belong to two different units. It is clearly assumed in the latest report on Lisbon ← 273 | 274 → that these two systems co-exist and that their boundaries do not coincide (Pais 2016: 13).

In an effort to get closer to the population by practising ‘good governance’ (Pais 2016: 14), Lisbon City Council decided to create five management areas called Territorial Intervention Units (UIT), thereby establishing a third set of boundaries in Lisbon. Each UIT is managed by a multidisciplinary team that helps identify and solve problems related to public space and public equipment, thus creating an intermediate structure between parishes and City Council. In the case of UITs, which were established in 2011 and have been officially working since 2015, the boundaries coincide with the 2012 parish boundaries (and not with the PDM’s boundaries). Each UIT includes between three and six parishes (Pais 2016: 14).

When it comes to mainland Portugal, there are a total of 18 districts, among them Lisbon. Setúbal, however, is also an important district. When we look at the boundaries of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (AML), which includes an area both north and south of the river, the north area lies within the district of Lisbon but the area south of the river is part of the district of Setúbal (according to the country’s districts map). As a result, this means that there is a fourth set of boundaries that comes into play when we consider Lisbon’s spatial planning.

The co-existence of these four sets of boundaries brings an additional challenge to synchronized action among all parishes and between the districts of Lisbon and Setúbal, disempowering the spatial dynamics and consequently their representatives and citizens. Why and how this power structure came to be is not relevant at the moment, but the fact is that two different systems co-existed, a third was created in order to build a bridge between parishes and the City (which may perhaps have been an attempt to solve the conflict between the two previously existing ones which had different boundaries), and a national spatial planning framework established a fourth one. This leads to excessive bureaucracy, population disempowerment and bad governance since it becomes hard to understand how the system works (and therefore how to access and manage it), making it harder to understand how a specific budget is managed, who manages it, and consequently to identify whose responsibility it is to assure specific structures or services. ← 274 | 275 →

Boundaries can have a positive effect, bringing about positive social outcomes, but to simultaneously use four different sets of boundaries seems excessive, confusing and detrimental to promoting a simple, intelligible, straightforward system that creates a fluid and easily adaptable spatial dynamic. The excessive superimposed sets of delimitation are administratively too heavy and they promote lack of flexibility and mobility to the city’s inhabitants – the lack of an elastic outline that Paquot referred that is natural to animals. This spatial dynamics makes Lisbon, territorially, vulnerable to have social and economic fissures. The current system does not promote social justice, neither for the citizens nor for their representatives.

3.  Design and decision support systems in architecture and urban planning

An understanding of what governance actually means is sometimes confusing. But whenever the word is used it is meant to imply a close connection with democracy, also referring to the wide participation of a majority (Fung & Wright 2003). When applied in the context of urban planning, governance therefore aims to stress democracy’s essence by highlighting the relevance of participation in the spatial dynamics so that space can be a true democratic experience, i.e. a shared exercise of power. With no community involvement there is no participation and consequently no governance at play (Haus et al. 2004).

In Lisbon, participation in public discussion on urban-related issues (Territorial Management Instruments (IGT)) is still very low (Pais 2016: 362). Since 2008, Lisbon City Council has implemented a Participatory Budget, an instrument where part of the budget available is spent on projects that citizens themselves propose and, subsequently, vote for. The ones with more votes are the ones going forward. For the last five years now, we can observe that the number of proposals has been slowly decreasing though we can see that the number of voters has been increasing. In 2015, the Participatory Budget had around 36 000 ← 275 | 276 → voters (Pais 2016: 364, 365). As Lisbon has around 500 000 inhabitants, we can conclude that only around 7.2 per cent of the population votes.

This number is not very expressive though it can be argued that the instrument is recent. However, since both proposal submission and the voting process take place online, the population that is being targeted has to be IT savvy and have access to a computer and the internet. Furthermore, the way in which the Participatory Budget is publicized (mostly online and on very specific websites) only reaches a small number of people and, above all, a very specific demographic.

Even excluding the obligatory computer and internet use of the Participatory Budget, if we look at the participation in public meetings, we conclude that there is some alienation on the population’s behalf when it comes to actively participating in the decision-making process as a result of low attendance. Participation though increases as we move away from the historic centre towards the periphery (Pais 2016: 368). The population and the elderly follow a similar pattern, with the centre having a lower population but a high elderly rate. We can therefore conclude that those over 65 years old, although they represent around 23.9 per cent of the population, have little or no participation (Pais 2016: 25). Since 2009, the majority of proposals have shown a greater concern and need for intervention in public and green spaces followed by mobility issues (Pais 2016: 364).

When it comes to explain low citizen participation in urban planning, we think that more than forty years of dictatorship (1926–1974) still weighs on free speech and publicly taking a stand. In addition, in an effort to make a positive contribution to help the population heal this cultural scar, community and proximity structures should be encouraged to play a more active role, thereby allowing more segments of the population to be represented in the participation process.

4.  On scale

In 2011, around 2.8 million people lived in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (AML) out of which around 500 000 in the city of Lisbon (Pais 2016: 17). Portugal has a total area of 92 200 km2, the AML has around ← 276 | 277 → 3 000 km2 and Lisbon 84.97 km2 (OECD 2011: 23; AML 2016). This means that out of the overall urban population in Portugal, around 37 per cent live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (which represents 3.3 percent of the country’s territory), out of which 6.6 per cent in Lisbon (representing 0.09 percent of the country’s territory).

If we consider that mainland Portugal has a total of 18 districts, each with their respective district capital, we have around 63 per cent of the urban population living in 17 districts. (Let us not forget that when referring to the Lisbon district we are only referring to the area north of the river.) Portugal is therefore, a macrocephalic country, having one big city, densely populated when compared to any other city of the rest of the country, where a large majority of the population is concentrated. As in many other countries, the primacy of capital cities is not perceived as a positive phenomenon. A macrocephalic growth of capital cities indicates ‘a high concentration of elites and a monopoly of the institutions of modernization’ (Aveline-Dubach et al. 2014: 28).

Such a high concentration of population in such a small area also exposes it to higher risks when it comes to natural hazards, which are unpredictable events. In Portugal it is well known that there are several seismic flaws. Back in 1755 the country suffered a violent earthquake (of an estimated 8.5–9.5 magnitude on the Richter scale) and ever since then we believe we are particularly vulnerable to a similar kind of event. If that were to happen, there is a 39 per cent likelihood of Lisbon crumbling, with all its parishes affected. Knowing that seismic prediction can be a difficult science (Hough 2009), it is positive to know that a project (Geo SIG) is underway to produce a better cartographic map of Lisbon. By looking at a recent map that assesses seismic risk, we can observe that the river coastal area, the historic centre and the eastern part of the city are the most susceptible areas (Pais 2016: 92–95). It is also known that 85 per cent of Lisbon is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, thereby exposing 68 per cent of the population to high risk and potentially, almost certainly, destroying 57 per cent of existing buildings.

The situation sounds dramatic and it is even more so considering that the biggest concentration of empty houses is precisely in the historic centre (over 35 per cent), then in the area surrounding it with between 15 and 35 per cent, and then in the outer area of the city with less than 15 per cent (Pais 2016: 116). On one hand, we can assess this as positive ← 277 | 278 → since fewer people would be hurt but the historic centre is also where the majority of people work (Pais 2016: 109, 265).

Another area where a massive macrocephalic imbalance occurs is in culture. Most museums and cultural activities take place in Lisbon. Yet when it comes to art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces, there is a tendency for these spaces to decrease in Lisbon but to increase in the rest of the country (Pais 2016, 177–180). This is perhaps one of the few areas that demonstrates a resistance to the excessive concentration of resources and activities in Lisbon.

From an Economy perspective, which also confirms the country’s macrocephaly, 37 per cent of GDP in 2014 was generated in the AML, which hosts 29 per cent of all jobs (Pais 2016: 254, 256).

The primacy of capital cities should be discouraged at a national policy level and Lisbon should invest in prospering instead of growing (Jackson 2011).

5.  Urban planning and cultural identity

When it comes to the existence of green spaces in Lisbon, it is hard to understand how their area is calculated although a lot of them are identified as having a quite extensive ‘area of influence’ (Pais 2016: 40–46). There is a general feeling of the lack of green spaces in the proximity and these, as we have seen, are among the main concerns when it comes to citizen participation. Green areas are essential to ensure a high quality living standard as they have a positive effect on stress, mental and physical health, and air quality (Gilbert 2016).

Different types of green areas are urban farms, which have only recently started to be promoted around the city by the City Council. Just like the chapter on investment in solar power, whose high potential is acknowledged (Pais 2016: 81), the chapter on urban farms is still too short (Pais 2016: 48–51). What is more, the use of renewable energies is a key element to promote a sustainable city, especially in a city where almost 50 per cent of energy certificates are C or G in services and around 55 per cent of dwellings are C and D (Pais 2016: 83, 84). There ← 278 | 279 → is a still long way to go in planning more green spaces and creating a culture that envisions its future as mostly relying on renewable energy sources.

Culturally, although the risk of an earthquake (and tsunami) is high, Lisbon is characterized by old buildings with more than 20 per cent built before 1919, 19 per cent between 1919 and 1945, 25 per cent between 1946 and1960, 21 per cent between 1961 and1980 and 15 per cent between 1981 and 2011 (Pais 2016: 106, 107). Most new buildings have been built in the north and northeast of the city. The centre and the historic centre contain 63 per cent of buildings considered to be structurally ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ (Pais 2016: 109). Curiously enough, these are also the areas where most businesses are located (60 per cent) and where most people in Lisbon work (65 per cent) (Pais 2016: 265). Even co-working spaces and start-ups are located in these areas (Pais 2016: 274, 275).

Speaking of businesses, in 2015 the number of companies formed exceeded the number of bankruptcies for the first time since 2008 (Pais 2016: 274). However, this number should not cause immediate optimism since less than one in three business start-ups survive for five years, half may last two to three years and 20 per cent close within a year (Stokes & Wilson 2010: 86). Still, it is noticeable that there is a will to create new business. Is that will being supported and encouraged by national and city-level measures? Healthy, small and medium sized business are vital for a sustainable economy and a carefully strategy should be in place to support these activities, short, medium and long-term. Only then, this recent entrepreneurship impulse will fructify.

Family wise, following the impact of the 2008 crisis, in 2015 each woman living in the AML had 1.56 children and Lisbon had the highest rate in the AML with 2.03 children (Pordata 2016). It is therefore significant if we add the information that the average number of residents per house in 2011 was 2.3 (Pais 2016: 121). This means that either there are a lot of single parents or there are many couples with no children. It is common knowledge that the government wants to change this situation by encouraging families to have more children (Faria 2014) as traditionally people in Portugal used to have large families. But what does that mean when it comes to house typologies? If families have more children, this means that they need to have more space. Is Lisbon’s real ← 279 | 280 → estate market ready to offer more square metres and, more importantly, can families afford it? If not, that means that more people will move from the city centre to the outer crown of the city, or even perhaps to the AML or a different district (which we can observe has been a growing tendency in the last few decades). This brings us to the topic of mobility and transports. If people move away from the city centre: 1) do they, necessarily, have to get into the city daily?; 2) if so, how will they get to the city?

Since 1991 the use of individual transportation (car) has tripled, parking spaces are rarely sufficient and there is a great discrepancy between night and daytime use of parking spaces (lack of spaces during the day and a large majority empty at night). Most buildings inside the city do not have private parking and so those that do are usually prized (causing a great impact on rents or sale prices). Consequently, it comes as no surprise that collective transports (metro, bus and boat) have experienced a decrease in the number of passengers (Pais 2016: 204, 220, 221–224). An alternative option was created recently and, since 2008, there has been a 500 per cent increase in cyclable areas. To date, 79 km are already open and there is a total of 148 km of cyclable routes (Pais 2016: 225).

The culture of car use seems to be on the rise and despite measures being taken to discourage it, these do not seem to be effective. Bike lanes are a positive investment but because the city has many hills it is not an option that is possible for everybody, particularly for the elderly. However, car culture is not fully responsible for the rise of individual transportation. While urban planning discourages car use, reducing and limiting circulation space in particular parishes, it is known that when compared with 2010, buses (Carris), metro (Metropolitano de Lisboa) and boat (Grupo Transtejo) have reduced their offer in 25%-30%. Since 2010, Carris lost 26.5% of its workers and Metropolitano de Lisboa, 18.2%. (Saraiva 2016) The metro system has little or no maintenance and the material is either in bad shape or in need of replacement. Most trains are from the 1990s and are in need of a deep revision so they continue to run in the next twenty years. Still, due to budget restrictions imposed both by the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Finances that is due to take place. Maintenance engineers, conductors and administration are at a breaking point and the situation leads, inevitably, ← 280 | 281 → to a bad service. (Cipriano 2016) As for Carris, the current City Council President, Fernando Medina, has recently admitted that he expects that a solution will be effective in ten years, due to the current chaotic state of the company. There is a strategy being outlined, that aims to integrate all available means of transportation in order to bring back mobility to Lisbon, and part of the solution encompasses that the Carris management starts being done by the City Hall itself. In Medina’s own words, both Carris and Metropolitano de Lisboa do not currently provide a public service due to its quality standards. (Boaventura 2016)

We now understand better why car use has increased but cannot help wondering how the disappearing space for car circulation, being currently implemented around city, will articulate with a bad transportation service in the next ten years (assuming that that will be the gap until the situation is solved). It is expected that the city will experience a low mobility capacity during these years, with heavy traffic associated to a poor quality public transportation service, unless either a wide mass of people start using the bicycle lanes (which due to the city’s topography is not for everybody) or move away from the city centre (which is contradictory with the plan that has among its goals to be able to attract more people to live in Lisbon). A large part of the population uses the car to move around the city due to poor public transportation service but also those who come to work in Lisbon, living in the outskirts, are a vast majority because Lisbon’s centre is macrocephalic when compared to AML or its district. It would be beneficial if, also in this sense, the macrocephaly would be smoothed allowing to revitalize not only the city centre but also its outskirts. If livelihood in the outskirts was more sustainable, citizens would not need to go to the city centre and many would choose to move from the city centre to the outskirts.

Tourism seems to be an activity that many identify with Lisbon’s future due to the city’s inviting weather, varied landscape and friendly people. The city was awarded Best Tourist Destination for Cruises by the World Travel Awards (2014), 2nd Best European Destination 2013 and 9th Best World City for Company Events (ICCA 2010) (Pais 2016: 298). Lisbon offers mostly 4-star hotels clustered in the centre (Pais 2016: 302) but alternatives like Airbnb, which have become increasingly popular, are not mentioned in Lisbon’s latest 2015 report. Since 2013 there has been an increase of 53 per cent in Lisbon’s hosting capacity ← 281 | 282 → (beds) (Pais 2016: 298). This massive commitment to tourism is a sharp reaction to the 2008 financial crisis by allowing many businesses to access quick money in order to survive. How sustainable is it? Again, we wonder. How many hotels does a city need? Truly that is a question that requires an urgent answer. We may end up with many hotels on our hands, particularly in the centre and historic centre which is the area the Lisbon City Council considers to be the most promising to revitalize by increasing the population living there (Pais 2016: 22). But if hotels continue to be built, where will people live? Is the goal to attract temporary inhabitants or permanent residents to these areas?

A key element in traditional construction and a significant part of our culture are azulejo tiles, which are found on many buildings around Lisbon. In order to preserve and identify them properly, a program called the Lisbon Program for Tile Research and Conservation (PISAL) has recently been created (Pais 2016: 190, 191). The value of this building material is not exclusively aesthetic. It is an object that reminds us of the Arab presence and influence in Lisbon and lacking a very important function in cooling buildings by protecting them from excessive heat. There should be incentives given to use this traditional element more often in architecture instead of making it just a vague memory, shown exclusively in museums instead of on the streets.4

6.  On inequality

Out of all 18 municipalities that are part of the AML, Lisbon is the municipality with the highest Ageing Index, with 185.8 elderly people for every 100 youngsters (under age 14). From 1990 a tendency can be seen for the number of adults and youngsters to decrease while the number of elderly people (above age 65) remains steady (Pais 2016: 25). This ← 282 | 283 → makes us predict that infrastructures for the elderly are urgent since the population is getting older. Moreover, elderly tourists have been identified as one of the segments who are most attracted to Lisbon (Pais 2016: 298). How is this segment of the population being integrated in the city’s planning? How can the city be experienced by the elderly?

It is therefore puzzling when we look at the social equipments that were being proposed for the city in 2015. We can see that many daycare centres are planned, with land already assigned, but only four assisted residences in the centre and historic centre and two more in the outer crown (Pais 2016: 169). Let us remember the following: most house typologies in Lisbon have two to four rooms. As a result of high rents or the desire to have more children (which the government encourages), people move out of the city. Yet the number of daycare centres in Lisbon will drastically increase. Why? It is known that mainly in the outer crown of the city a large number of children attending daycare centres do not live in Lisbon (Pais 2016: 151, 152). We can then understand that what happens is that people use the car to go into Lisbon, drop off their children at the daycare centre in one of the outer parishes and then go to work in the centre. Yet overall, when we look more closely at the capacity of daycare centres, homes, home support services, residences and meeting centres, it is underwhelming, with some parishes having close to zero capacity (Pais 2016: 174). This is an area where much needs to be done.

Education is also an area that shows inequalities. Portugal’s illiteracy rate now stands at 5.2 per cent and in Lisbon it is 3.2 per cent. Although there is not much difference between these figures, when it comes to publishing, 55 per cent of books published are done so outside Lisbon but in terms of reading habits, 70 per cent of newspapers and magazines are sold in the AML (out of which 48 per cent in Lisbon) (Pais 2016: 181, 182).

In the AML, out of its 18 municipalities only three have a population with a college degree, between 20 and 27 per cent. And as for number of years of schooling, Lisbon has 42 per cent with 9 years schooling, 32 per cent with a college degree, 16 per cent with 12 years of schooling and 7 per cent with no schooling at all (Pais 2016: 33).

Numbers of Erasmus students, particularly from Italy, Spain and Germany, are on the rise but the majority are from Portuguese-speaking ← 283 | 284 → African countries (PALOPs). Foreign students comprise 10 per cent of the total of students (around 13 000) (Pais 2016: 283–286) and numbers seem to be on the rise showing a growth potential that can be relevant to embrace in order to promote a sustainable city growth.

Education is therefore an area that offers a huge potential for the Portuguese, with room to create a more appealing offer to those who wish to attain twelve years of schooling. Also, in universities, there is a move to attract both Portuguese and international students that should be utilised. Hopefully, this double call will not lead to changes that somehow increase inequality between national and foreign students.

Acoustics can also be an element of inequality. For the first time in 2012, Lisbon created a Noise Map that aimed to implement legal measures to reduce noise that had been compulsory since 2007. If we look at a General Noise Map of the city made in 2010, we can easily conclude that more than half the population is exposed to levels higher than 60 Lden (Pais 2016: 57, 58). In order to tackle this problem, a strategy is being implemented between 2014 and 2029, representing an investment of 9 million euros, to replace the city’s road pavements in order to provide better noise absorption, to lower the speed limit in some areas and to erect acoustic barriers (Pais 2016: 61). Even so, when it comes to areas with an active nightlife or which are frequently used for temporary events that emit loud noise, although regulations are being slowly introduced, better fiscalization methods need to be implemented. Local residents should be entitled to their rest and a city that is ‘alive’ does not always imply being a ‘loud city’.

Having considered acoustics and the impact it can have on the population, we may wonder why if a specific population is bothered by excessive noise in their area, they do not move. The fact is that in Lisbon ownership accounts for the main occupation of houses (50.9 per cent), which makes moving a less viable option. Renting is an option for 42.3 per cent and only 0.8 per cent are in a co-operative or collective property regime (Pais 2016, 119). Though renting is a more flexible system when it comes to facilitating relocation, high rents, associated to low salaries and a precarious job market contribute to a lower flexibility than expected. The average salary is 1383 euros, 300 euros more than in the rest of the country, the unemployment rate in 2014 at 14.9 per cent, associated to a house market highly subjected to speculation, ← 284 | 285 → confirm this (Pais 2016: 263, 264). Taking into account the real estate market and salaries, co-ops and collective property regimes should be encouraged.

As for access to healthcare in Lisbon, at best one could say that it is undergoing a transition phase. We can see that several proximity structures are being planned, but five central hospitals are closing and the situation is confusing. What we know, from observing the current map of health facilities we can conclude that the centre and historic centre are currently deprived of proximity health structures (Pais 2016: 142).


Spatial justice, proposed by Soja, is an extension of the concept of ‘right to the city’ first proposed by Henri Lefebvre (in 1968) and defended nowadays by one of the most renowned geographers, David Harvey (Harvey 2013). As Harvey says: ‘The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights’ (Harvey 2008: 23).

Here, space as an indispensible relation between aesthetics and ontology is clear. The city, just like Plato said, shapes us but we are the ones shaping it. It is also relevant at this point to remember Husserl and the phenomenological school for whom there only exists lived space and never ‘pure’ space in the sense that ‘we are space’. In that sense, ‘right to the city’ and ‘spatial justice’ connect, philosophically, with a phenomenological approach.

We have presented a detailed analysis of the data available in the latest report on Lisbon (Pais 2016) bearing in mind the right to the city and spatial justice. The report was made in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, a situation that always represents a time when money ← 285 | 286 → and properties change hands. In Lisbon, one of the best examples to illustrate this was the sale of a state fund called ‘Sete Colinas’5 to a German investor. The fund consisted of several historical buildings and large plots of land inside the city (70 thousand square metres and 72 million euros) (Antunes 2016).

Even before that though, as João Ferrão6 shows in his eloquent evaluation of Portugal’s spatial planning policy (2012), there were already problems which he analyses in detail. His conclusion is that when it comes to spatial planning in Portugal, the main problem is cultural. There is a lack of territorial culture in society, common to both citizens and institutions, and also a prevailing spatial planning culture that is stuck in the old modern paradigm where bureaucracy is excessive and the administrative process too complex (Ferrão 2012: 117).

In order to change this situation it is necessary to reveal society’s shared beliefs and values as these are the key to linking institutions and citizens (Ferrão 2012: 125). For this to happen, the spatial planning community should take more initiatives and play a more active role in discussing the country’s issues. Decision-makers should make spatial planning a priority, invest in further training and encourage the participation of the many intervening actors in society that lead to successful urban planning; and citizens should be taught to demand more from spatial planning and take a more active role (Ferrão 2012: 131–134).

As much as it is aesthetically appealing to see investment take place in the city of Lisbon, thus making the city look better, the question is: who will this investment benefit? Is the investment creating stronger foundations for the population living there to become more secure and sustained? According to what values is Lisbon’s landscape being rationalized?

From the analysis we have just carried out, we conclude that the investment orientation, supported by public policies, has created a spatial ← 286 | 287 → dynamic that encourages an easy way in and an easy way out of the city, where cruise passengers are on the rise especially since 2008 (Pais 2016: 234), where the airport increased the number of passengers by 71 per cent between 2002 and 2013 (Pais 2016: 388), where accommodation is widely available and Erasmus students make up 10 per cent of university students. Lisbon is a good city for temporary visitors and in recent years the city seems to have worked hard to make them feel welcome. That has been achieved.

But what about Lisbon’s inhabitants? There has been a loss of jobs, a loss of inhabitants, a GDP decrease and a large loss of businesses. We can say that this has happened as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. But the question is whether the recent investments being made will enable us to recover from it better, creating a more resilient economic structure that allows our growth to be sustainable. How is territorial culture being promoted by recent investments and construction work in the city? Is a dialogue with the city’s actors taking place? What are society’s shared values so that the city we envision is a shared, democratic exertion of power?

It is important to reflect on the fact that Lisbon is not Portugal and that macrocephaly should not be encouraged, meaning that Portugal should make an effort to stop conceiving its territory as ‘Lisbon, and the rest of the country’, which is culturally a much embedded attitude that strengthens the country’s macrocephaly. This cultural attitude becomes a major obstacle to changing one of the most visible national spatial problems, the primacy of its capital. Ultimatley, it also affects negatively the capital itself putting excessive weight on social equipments, urban structures and administration, lowering living standards and expectations for the population.

A slow, carefully planned and progressive effort in the direction of distributing power and resources to other districts should take place. But for this to happen as successfully as possible, not only Lisbon but also the rest of the country would need to take significant steps to change the way they conceive spatial planning (and acknowledge its usefulness), which implies the cultural change that Ferrão rightfully calls for. It would also require coherent articulation among all the districts where all society’s actors would have to be aware of their role and contribution towards the successful planning and implementation of a national spatial planning ← 287 | 288 → policy. Cultural changes are usually slower than we would wish but this would be a beneficial move in the right direction.

Coming back to where we stand now, when it comes to the city of Lisbon, we consider that an excessive focus on tourism, along with the recent changes in the main arteries of the city that aesthetically made the city look better, can create an illusion of prosperity for those who visit the city but not for those who inhabit it. The question is: to whom is the city being shaped for? How is it shaping its inhabitants? Moreover, if the idea is that Lisbon should ‘hang on to’ tourism (as if it were the city’s only resource for keeping the economy going), and if the number of beds available is rapidly on the rise, such cultural attitude not only promotes an economy with low sustainability (highly dependent on the tourist flow) but greatly contributes to cultural disempowerment by turning the city’s inhabitants into hosts with no life of their own, living in the limbo of those who come and go, experiencing space as a living paradox where they see themselves excluded from the place they inhabit. Lisbon demands more from all of us and an adequate spatial strategy, politically endorsed, is key in order to shape the city’s social and economic success. Only then the city’s landscape will be rational embodying simultaneously, spatial justice, politics and aesthetics.


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1 According to Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), the first to significantly reflect on the relation between politics and aesthetics, right-wing fascism practised the aestheticizing of politics while communism politicized art (Benjamin 2002: 122). On this topic, see also Hillach et al. (1979).

2 That is why he then describes how can we exert power in the best way possible, which implies understanding what are the characterises of a virtuous city, among them justice which in its turn can only be found in the city if, and only if, it can be found in each of its citizens. (Plato 1930, 1935)

3 Currently Prime Minister of Portugal, in office since 26 November 2015.

4 Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Veira (b.1933), Pritzker Prize honouree in 1992, used tiles in the metro station in the heart of the historic centre, Baixa/Chiado, in 1998 (featuring art work by Ângelo de Sousa (1938–2011)) and also in Terraços de Bragança, also located in Lisbon’s historic centre in Rua do Alecrim (2004).

5 Among the properties included in the Sete Colinas Fund were the Almada-Carvalhais Palace, a national monument since 1920 (Largo do Conde Barão), the Portugália building (Avenida Almirante Reis), the São Paulo building, several buildings in Praça de São Paulo and Avenida 24 de Julho, and a building in Portas de Santo Antão (next to the Coliseu dos Recreios theatre) (Antunes 2016).

6 João Ferrão (b.1952) is a Portuguese geographer who was Secretary of State of Spatial Planning and Cities in Portugal’s 17th Constitutional Government (2005–9).