Practices of Citizenship and Real Estate Dynamics: Roberto Falanga and Chiara Pussetti in conversation with Vando Borghi and Davide Olori

The European Journal of Creative Practices in Cities and Landscapes. Vol 1, no 1 (2018)
ISSN 2612-0496

Practices of Citizenship and Real Estate Dynamics: Roberto Falanga and Chiara Pussetti in conversation with Vando Borghi and Davide Olori

Vando BorghiUniversity of Bologna (Italy)

Vando Borghi is professor in Sociology of economic and labour processes at the University of Bologna. His research deals with the interaction among policies, institutions and social practices and is conducted on different empirical grounds: labor, unemployment and vulnerability, activation policies, urban transformations, culture and city policies, research and policy bases. In recent years, this research has focused mainly on the theme of the cognitive/informational bases of policies and on the effects of inclusion or exclusion of social actors in the production processes of these same bases.

Roberto FalangaUniversity of Lisbon
ORCID https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1059-5509

Bachelor and Master degrees in psychology (University Sapienza, Rome), and PhD in Sociology (University of Coimbra, Portugal). I have conducted original research upon participatory processes in urban policymaking in Southern Europe, with remarkable track record of published international papers, book chapters, and policy briefs on the topic. In my current position, I am Postdoc Research Fellow (SFRH/BPD/109406/2015) and co-Principal Investigator of the H2020-funded project ROCK (GA 780320) at the Institute of Social Sciences (University of Lisbon). Along with my academic career, since 2014 I have had responsibilities as consultant of the BipZip Programme, which promotes participatory approaches to local development and regeneration of urban neighbourhoods in Lisbon, which was awarded in 2013 as best practice by the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy. Between 2015 and 2016, I have worked as policy evaluator of urban practices of citizen participation for the EEA-funded programme “Portugal Participa: Caminhos para a Inovação Societal” in Portugal. In 2017, I have been contracted by the Council of Europe as international expert on citizen participation for the programme on local development of Eastern European countries.

Davide OloriUniversity of Bologna

Davide Olori (Bachelor and Master degrees in Sociology), obtained his PhD in Sociology (University of Bologna, 2016) and Social Science (University of Chile, 2017). He has researched and published on territorial segregation, socio-spatial vulnerabilization and environmental explotation. His is currently a Postdoc Research Fellow at Department of Sociology and Law Economy of University of Bologna, working on the H2020-funded project ROCK (GA 780320), tracing the social consequences of urban regeneration of the university area in the historic centre of Bologna.

Chiara PussettiUniversity of Lisbon
ORCID http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2146-3587

Chiara Pussetti (PhD in Cultural Anthropology, University of Turin, Italy, 2003) has lectured at graduate and post-graduate levels in Italy, Portugal, and Brazil and has researched and published extensively on the subjects of migration, healthcare, body and emotions, social inequality, suffering and well-being, creativity and public art in urban contexts. Chiara is currently researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, PI of the ICS-UL team of the ROCK project (GA 780320) and of the EXCEL Project (FCT, Portugal, PTDC/SOC-ANT/30572/2017).

Published: 2018-12-31

Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.
Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.

The Instituto de Ciências Sociais of the University of Lisbon and the Department of Sociology and Business Law of the University of Bologna, partners in the Horizon 2020 ROCK project https://rockproject.eu share research and action interests in the contemporary dynamics of the city and the ways in which urban value is created. In particular, their action is informed by the same interest in tourism and the tourism-led transformation of the historical centers of European cities. We have asked some questions to Chiara Pussetti and Roberto Falanga concerning the context of Lisbon, which is dramatically traversed by these transformations. We are convinced that the specificity of this case goes beyond local peculiarities and can stimulate comparisons capable of contributing to the creation of a broader interpretive frame.

If you had to briefly describe the main transformations of the urban centers observed in your research sites, what would you highlight?

If 1998, with the inauguration of the Expo, was possibly a unique opportunity for an international promotion of the city of Lisbon, with the 2007 economic crisis we have witnessed the most intense and rapid transformation of the Portuguese Capital. The austerity policies implemented by the center-right government as a response to the Troika between 2011 and 2014 had promoted a vertical growth of the real estate market and, at the same time, strong tax cuts for tourism, restaurants and hotel operators. In these years Easyjet and Ryanair started operating in the Lisbon airport (2009), transforming a city so far peripheral and expensive to reach in a low-cost tourist destination. In the same period, policies to attract foreign capitals were implemented through a series of agreements with third countries. These agreements include that retirees from several European countries settling in Portugal—even temporarily—can receive tax-free pensions for ten years. The intense flow of tourists in the low-cost regime was rapidly created in Lisbon by the attractiveness of its extreme economic accessibility compared to other European capitals—at least, until recently. The city became also a trendy destination because of the international publicity linked to the presence as residents of several movie stars and public figures in the Portuguese capital—such as Madonna, but also Monica Bellucci, Christian Louboutin, Michael Fassbender and John Malkovich who chose Lisbon as their place of residence. So in a few years many new foreign residents with a large real-estate purchase capacity settled in the city. The Golden Visa programme operated by Portugal—a residence permit for those who do not belong to the European Union or the Schengen area and decide to invest at least €500,000 in the Portuguese property, or to transfer at least €1 million, or to create jobs—has attracted many investors from different countries, in particular China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Turkey. Investors do not even need to be residents. The only condition is that investors must spend at least 2 weeks in Portugal every 2 years. From 2012 to date, according to SEF data from 2018 (Serviço Estrangeiros and Fronteira), Portugal has already issued 5,876 Golden Visa for foreign investors and 9,861 for their family members.

Alongside these new “golden” residents and retirees of the bilateral agreements, the foreign population has intensified due to the presence of call centers that since the years of the crisis have mushroomed in the Portuguese territory because of the reduced cost of wages. These very rapid and intense changes had an impact not only on the lower availability of houses and on the exponential increase in rental and purchase prices, but also on the increase in transport, restaurant and supermarket prices without significant changes in the minimum Portuguese salary, which is around 580 euros. This also meant an intense redevelopment of the historic center and of all the urban territories that may have some kind of interest or tourist attraction. We have thus witnessed the “hipsterization” of the downtown districts, which are now the theater of theme restaurants, fado sell-out shows for tourists, endless rows of colored tuktuks (the picturesque three-wheeled taxis originally used in Southeast Asia, based on a Piaggio Vespa), hotels de charme—often in buildings of high patrimonial value—and “boutique” houses, often not taking into account the actual needs of the local population.

Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.
Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.

The renewal of the port area between Santa Apolónia and Terreiro do Paço, has allowed the landing of cruise ships directly in the city center, changing the skyline of the Tagus river and intensifying coastal tourism activities. The main negative effects have to do with the proliferation of tourist leases, the sale of public assets, the absurd increase in rents and the sale value of houses, the Airbnb-ification of the center and the precarization of the right to housing. These phenomena are linked to the massive purchase of properties by investment funds, the eviction of the resident population, the aggravation of previous socio-economic differences and existing forms of structural violence, the removal of disadvantaged sectors of the population, the proliferation of precarious working contracts in the tourism sector. The years of the so-called post-crisis period are marked by a massive investment in the regeneration and redevelopment of neighborhoods and structures for residential or commercial use.

How does these complex and multi-layered transformation manifest themselves in concrete forms in the physical structure of the city?

Lisbon is undoubtedly different today. It is difficult to define whether it was better back then or now. Some loved its past nostalgic tones of decadence, others like its shiny current version. Undoubtedly, these modifications have transformed squares and neighborhoods that used to have a bad reputation because of the population that lived and frequented them—associated to illegal actions, such as trafficking and prostitution—and previously characterised by the deteriorate conditions of houses and buildings. Since Lisbon has become within a few years a destination of international investment in real estate, as we have said previously, the rental and sale prices of restored properties are definitely out of reach for the average Portuguese.

The rehabilitation of the working-class neighborhoods of the center, of the areas alongside the river Tagus and of the neighborhoods linked to tourism has privileged the expansion of a recreational consumer market (souvenir and art shops) and luxury restaurants (gourmet hamburgerie, creatively revisited traditional cuisine, etc.), tourist accommodation or short-term rent apartments. This happened at the expense of permanent rental houses and traditional local proximity shops (butchers, bakeries, fruit and vegetables stores, haberdashery, etc., run by local residents), in some cases replaced by new merchants coming mainly from India, Pakistan and China. Together with the tendency of a residential segregation in the suburbs, we are witnessing the direct or indirect removal of the original residents from the center, denying access to housing to the more economically vulnerable groups. In recent years, this process started affecting also the middle classes.

Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.
Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.

Other physical alterations are linked to the “brand” that Lisbon has constructed of itself to attract new touristic flows. There are countless concrete examples of branding through art and street performances. Lisbon is no longer just the city of light, but today it is defined as the city of arts, an open-air museum, through a process led by the municipality. In particular, the urban art gallery (GAU) manages and regulates every street performance and event organised by cultural or artistic associations, influencing their contents, artistic forms and languages through a system of awards or fines. At the same time, strong investments were made in the production of branding strategies linked to the cultural and symbolic specificities of the city: azulejos, fado and sardines, for instance, or the various patterns of the calçada portuguesa, Lisbon’s traditional street paving made by a mosaic of black and white stone tiles.

Branding campaigns often correspond to the transformations of the local commercial activities directed more to tourists rather than the local population. In the case of Lisbon, did private investments led the municipality to develop the city branding campaigns, or, on the contrary, it was the public action that planned the ideal conditions for the proliferation of private initiatives?

In the case of Lisbon, as we said earlier, during the so-called “post-crisis era,” private investments boomed and increased constantly. The increase of tourism, the Golden Visa program, negative Euribor taxes, tax easing and the opening of bank credits have contributed to attract foreign investments and to strongly boost the real-estate market. Portuguese government has and continue to strongly invest in the creation of an attractive image of the country and its main attraction poles (Lisbon, Porto, Nazaré and Algarve). Recently, it has extended this branding strategy to the countryside of AlenTagus, where agricultural tourism residences are multiplying, in order to capture foreign investments. In the beginning, public bodies strongly invested in media visibility. The government contracted experts in the optimisation of search engines, whose only mission was to ensure that Portuguese beaches, golf courts, cathedrals, Douro wineyards, the giant waves of Nazaré or the mild hills of AlenTagus appeared on top of every search, any time a tourist was looking for travel destinations.

Place branding was an important strategy to capture foreign investments. During the three years of the presidency of João Cotrim de Figueiredo (2013-2016), more than half of the whole budget of Turismo de Portugal was given to Google, in particular to buy keywords to guarantee the priority to national websites. During those years, a particular image of Lisbon and Portugal was created as privileged touristic destinations, an ideal place to live, invest, spend holidays or even to enjoy retirement.

Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.
Marvila. Photo Vitor Barros.

Luís Araújo, who succeeded Contim in his office, opted for targeting advertisement to countries with high investment capacity, for example China, Brazil and Turkey, betting on Portugal’s pristine beaches, elegant palaces and castles, high cuisine, football and golf. One of the most successful example was Revive, a joint program of the Economy, Finance and Culture ministries, in which the state, together with the municipalities, allowed private investors to exploit public historical buildings in exchange for their physical regeneration and economical valorization. The idea of the program is to sell to private companies important heritage buildings—not only for their high patrimonial value, but also for the historical, cultural and social identity of the country—to be regenerated and transformed in hotel de charme or in other profitable touristic activities.

The Câmara Municipal de Lisboa proudly leads a strategic plan to invest on projects and events in the creative and entrepreneurial sector, with a strong attention in freelance work and innovation. The promotion of the city of Lisbon and of the Portuguese territory in general was made, on the one hand, through the exploitation of the themes of well being, quality of life, natural beauties, good weather, light and the sea. On the other hand, branding the territory meant also valorizing cultural heritage—material and immaterial—and the realisation of artistic events, festivals and open-air exhibitions, in order to create the image of Lisbon as a new Berlin: the city of creative people, of artists, startups, co-working spaces, Fab Labs, according to a well-known narrative of creativity, innovation and technology.

What is the role in these processes of culture, seen not only as traditional cultural institutions such as museums, libraries, etc., but also the universe of everyday life experience and immaterial culture?

Cultural heritage is for sure an element for the attraction of “educated” tourists interested in visiting museums, monuments, palaces, monasteries and other historical buildings. The involvement of the department of heritage of the city council in the definition of tourism strategies testifies the interest of public authorities in the promotion of this kind of tourism. However, the main element of interest for tourists or investors are the climatic conditions and the proximity to natural amenities and seaside destinations (Cascais, Sintra). The cultural universe linked to the everyday life of Lisbon also plays a key role: cafés, tascas (small, family-led restaurants), food and typical products (bacalhau, ginginha, pastel de belem, to name a few), the small, really vintage trams running up and down the urban hills, gourmet markets and the Feira da Ladra (the hyper-touristic flea market), azulejos-clad palaces, the pervasive presence of urban art, the many miradouros (belvederes), fado, and the vibrant nightlife that thanks to the weather invests great part of the historic city centre and the Tagus riverfronts.