Lisbon – an urban miscellany

Recently, I was in Lisbon, Portugal, so I thought I would set out a few random observations and thoughts on a loose urbanism theme.

All (and I do mean all) of the pavements across Lisbon are made of these


Although some were a bit more ornate:


They didn’t worry about building the massive 25 De Abril suspension bridge right above homes, shops and offices


Some of which are quite nice and have obviously been renovated recently.


And this is one of three, very nice looking, new homes which have recently been built on a hill beneath the bridge deck:


So, living underneath a bridge didn’t seem to create a place where it was horrible to live.

With this as the inspiration, I now look forward to a new Garden City being developed beneath the new Lower Thames Crossing (whenever that happens). Or, indeed, homes and shops incorporated into the proposed new crossing at Silvertown or Gallions – a better use of TfL’s funds than a ‘Garden Bridge’ at Temple? It also puts into perspective the demand of a large theme park developer, that if the Lower Thames Bridge was built next to its proposed site it would walk away. With this attitude perhaps we should tell them to walk.

There was the usual large scale regeneration on the site of the many disused docks along the Tagus, which in the main was public realm,


medium small scale leisure development,


and large scale cultural facilities


rather than large scale commercial or housing developments.

The city centre, once you got one street away from the main roads, was an interesting mix.

This street, at first glance, doesn’t look promising, but a little further up things looked better and a whole set of small bars, small grocery shops, and small shops and restaurants of all sorts appeared.


There were lots of small streets such this one in Bairro Alto. These streets are a strange mix – there would be derelict buildings, then a few ‘hip’ shops and bars, and then a tiny bar in what looked liked someone’s front room run by an elderly man or woman.  All these were mixed up without any identifiable rhyme or reason, with newly restored buildings next to derelict ones.


So, it was not unusual to find a nicely restored building such as this one


Next to a building like this:


Some of the empty city centre buildings were being renovated – a example of incremental regeneration (or more accurately ‘Rehabitilation’), which is a strategy which is right for this sort of location, and something we need to do more of in the UK, although some help is likely to be required to speed things up.

Despite many buildings having balconies, very few had any planting – a lot more of this would have made quite a difference:


Generally, there was a lack of greenary in Lisbon:


Although Avenida da Liberdade has tried to make up for this:


There were a few small parks and open spaces to rest in and have a coffee, with – UK designers please note – shade designed in. Not everyone wants to bake in the sun, not even in England.


In the small streets there were lots of small shops selling a few boxes of fruit and vegetables, along with confectionary, bottles of alcohol, and nice bread. Most were a bit tatty, but the fruit, veg’ and bread was good quality and also cheap. However, it would be interesting to know what sort of living people made from these small shops and bars.


There were a few, but not many, small Supermarkets, but these were at a small scale and infrequent. It was interesting to note that many things, including meat, were cheaper than in the UK, so it does make me wonder what benefits we are actually getting from the UK’s Big 4 Supermarkets and their dominance of the market.

It was nice to see the local Greggs making an effort:


And it seems that each district has a small-scale public market. This one was opposite the National Assembly (Parliament):


I have already suggested, elsewhere, that this is something we can learn from and use in the UK as part of a town centre regeneration strategy, but most consultants just go straight for a national brand as the anchor tenant.  I have plenty of ideas on this theme.

There was a bit of large scale regeneration/place-making for the ‘hipsters’ in the centre – note the pallets and futons to sit on, and the space for ‘pop-up’ food, craft stalls, and a DJ booth.


I can’t draw any firm conclusions and lessons from a short trip, but I liked Lisbon, and its people and, on the whole, I think central Lisbon needs lots of small-scale, incremental, improvements and interventions rather than large scale regeneration (apart from, as has been done, the large scale disused dock areas). This small-scale, incremental, approach is something we need more of in the UK (especially in ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’, places): the trip to Lisbon hasn’t taught me this but has reinforced my existing thoughts about the incremental approach.






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