Policies of an urbicide: self-construction, destruction and protest in Lisbon

Lisbon is one of the last cities in Europe that has vast extensions of self-built houses: bairros de barracas, constantly subject to destructive planning moved by public administration and private investors. The neighborhood of Santa Filomena emerged from the occupation of rural lands along the railway that connects Lisbon with Sintra; since the seventies, it was a residence for migrants from Cabo Verde and “retornados”, portugueses from the colonies.

A 1993 census calculated almost 2000 people living in more than 500 houses, some of them nicely built. If many houses were built as makeshift shanties in cardboard or wood, most of them were solid constructions in bricks and mortar.  Since then the population of the settlement incremented up to 2500; but in 2007 the land was bought by a real estate fund, linked with Millenium BCP, the biggest private bank in Portugal. Only the residents that were registered in 1993’s census were included in the Programa Especial de Realojamento, through which the government emptied the area. The “development” of Santa Caterina brought large gains to private investors, with the help of the local government which actually bought plots of the land; it aims at the systematic expoliation of the territory as an instrument to promote its subsequent revalorization. Those who were not included in the census, were removed from their houses without any compensation. Giacomo Pozzi, from Bicocca University in Milan, observed how the residents of the so-called “barracas” (shanties) organize their resistance: initially in a structured form, through the collective Habita, which later became an association, in defense of the right to housing; later, some chose more informal ways of protest, sometims in small groups or individually, through what Giacomo calls “acts of transgression”

unnamedLocal and national instiutions, using different strategies, managed to dearticulate those differents forms of struggle against the program. The result is that today the bairro Santa Filomena no longer exists. Recently though some international organs denounced the violence of these forms of destruction and dispossession, bringing again to public attention how the practice of housing is a crucial axis in the social production of welfare and dignity.

More on tourism and its effects in Lisbon:

  • Terramotourism, documentary on Lisbon by Left Hand Rotation collective.
  • Dani Malet Calvo, “Lisboa, genealogía de un colapso turístico“, blog Seres Urbanos, El País.
  • Dani Malet Calvo, Jordi Nofre, Miguel Geraldes (2016), “The Erasmus Corner: place-making of a sanitised nightlife spot in the Bairro Alto” [PDF]
  • Dani Malet Calvo, Jordi Nofre, Adan Cassan, Sylwia Wodzinska (2016), “Club Carib: a geo-ethnography of seduction in a Lisbon dancing bar” [PDF]

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