BAIRROS: Filipa Ramalhete + Maria Assunção Gato - Neighborhoods in Contemporary Lisbon


Lisbon is said to be a city of neighborhoods. This description entails its different and complex areas as well as indicates that, though different, they have common features. Though very wide, the neighborhood is commonly described as a collective and symbolic representation of a specific area, community, and culture where human relations play an essential role in terms of differentiation. There are anonymous areas which serve as passage ways; and there are neighborhoods, areas which people live in and identify with, where individual features are part of the collective and where present and past coexist.

Though always part of the city's history and urban planning, the neighborhoods should not be viewed as permanent or timeless. In all cities there are historical areas typical of a past that is still present. In the case of Lisbon, the typical neighborhoods' important role is evident for the construction of a collective representation of neighborhood as well as for its ideological and popular construction. Noteworthy is also the fact that this collective representation is not restricted by historical heritage but is rather subject to change.


This accounts for the diversity of the neighborhood as a social and spatial context as well as for the way different neighborhoods relate to their narratives. For example, in the case of the historical neighborhoods, their narratives are considered a means of legitimizing their identity whereas, in the case of the Council neighborhood, the opposite occurs, as a consequence of the term "social housing" having a negative connotation and its inhabitants being discriminated against.


Nevertheless, some key features are shared by all these social and spatial contexts, allowing us to define the concept of Neighborhood. These include:

·         They are socially localized representations which tend to be homogeneous and where there is daily interaction. They are areas where people live and do things, where there is a routine, where people know one another and meet, they are areas of neighborliness, solidarity and social control.

·         They may not be politically and administratively defined but there is some consensus as to their being considered a spatial representation. The neighborhoods are close and their borders are acknowledged and negotiated.
 These borders are individual and collective maps, influenced by objective and subjective factors.

·         Units of observation and analysis where spatial, living and identity scales cross, providing the neighborhood with its own feel, which is integrating, well-known, comfortable, secure and controlling.



These key features do not fully describe the concept. However, they entail part of the essence that explains the attention given to urban neighborhoods and raise questions regarding their current meaning.


This thematic issue therefore focuses on the Neighborhood in Contemporary Lisbon, disseminating the information gathered and the research conducted within the project Bairrosem Lisboa (Neighborhoods in Lisbon)[i]. This project aimed to further existing theories, provide new perspectives on urban reality that could eventually lead to future management policies. Its main objectives included furthering the knowledge of Lisbon, understanding the relation between urban reality and social life today, as well as contribute to the planning of the city of Lisbon (which should be plural, inclusive and able to meet the demands of contemporary society).


The project was conducted between 2010 and 2013 and was developed in three stages. The first stage included an historical, planning and typological analysis of the neighborhoods of Lisbon and research on the state-of-the-art literature regarding the origins and development of the concept of neighborhood. The second stage was devoted to field work in order to further the already conducted research through selecting six case studies which would be representative of the types of neighborhoods previously identified. An architectural survey was carried out of the case studies (including photographic and cartographic register), key actors were interviewed, and surveys were applied to both residents and to non-residents of the selected neighborhoods. Finally, the third stage focused on treating the data and disseminating the results.


When deciding which neighborhoods should be selected, the so-called "typical" and the "social" neighborhoods were not considered. The reasons for this were several. Regarding the "typical" neighborhoods, the reasons lay in that there is plenty of literature on these areas and the fact that our objectives were to find new meanings and challenges posed to and by neighborhoods in contemporary Lisbon, thus making the exclusion of those neighborhoods - rooted in the "typical", i.e., in the past - rather self-evident. In terms of the so-called "social" neighborhood, they are called neighborhoods by the Council rather than are neighborhoods in the sense of representing a specific area, community, identity, ideas at the core of the concept of Neighborhood.


From a historical perspective, the term Neighborhood has been included in the studies on Lisbon since the Middle Ages, making reference to an expanding urban area as opposed to an already built area. In some cases (as in Bairro Alto), the name of the area includes the term "Neighborhood" ("Bairro" in Portuguese). The different studies carried out on the city all refer to a need for housing for those who travel and move to the city; there's reference to these people living in very poor conditions, in particular after the industrialization in the late 19thc (França, 1997; Henriques da Silva, 1994; Custódio, 1994; Nunes Silva, 1994).  This need is seldom met through huge public resources being spent but rather through private investment. As a result, the city has expanded by the construction of buildings with different and popular architecture design, mainly for renting.


The exceptions to this (in which there was public funding involved) took place twice within the 20th century: during Estado Novo (1926-1979) when several areas in the city were urbanized as is the case of the neighborhoods of Alvito, Caselas, Encarnação, Calçada dos Mestres, Alto da Ajuda, Alvalade, Madredeus, among others; and from 1974 until the 1990s, in this case so as to provide houses for those living in poor housing conditions as well as to demolish shack areas. Lisbon Council opted for building housing projects through public funding to rehouse those who were living in the shack areas (examples include the neighborhoods of Boavista, Olaias, Alto do Chapeleiro-Galinheiras, Chelas, among others).


Lisbon today is therefore the result of different changes made to the city throughout the centuries. Except for the buildings built after the 1755 earthquake, the neighborhoods constructed during Estado Novo and the urban regeneration project is eastern Lisbon for Expo '98, all other areas of the city were not built quickly or in an ongoing manner. Yet, the idea of neighborhood is deeply rooted in a rather popular city whose expansion was mostly carried out with limited resources.


In the Atlas of Lisbon (1993), the only neighborhoods mentioned are Bairro Alto and to Barata Salgueiro, Camões and Estefânea (middle class neighborhoods) and to neighborhoods built during Estado Novo (Encarnação, Alvalade, Alvito). Whenever mention is made to urban regeneration in contemporary Lisbon, the neighborhood of Alfama is referred to. However, several Council documents describe Lisbon as a "city of Neighborhoods" (CML, 2005 and 2009), thus attention is drawn to the concept of Neighborhood and its associations, whether in terms of individuals choosing their place to live or to strategic Council programs and objectives. Within this context, the Neighborhood becomes an identity area which allows for neighborly relations. This is the more valued because of our globalized society, fragmented and socially differentiated territories and the fact that most people are not deeply rooted in the areas where they live.


Upon a brief literature review on the neighborhoods of Lisbon, we realized the most texts were produced in the past three decades, due to the ongoing interest by researchers from the social sciences. From our analysis, two different but not mutually exclusive approaches to the neighborhood appeared to be the most relevant: one mostly analytical and the other mostly operational, linked to urban regeneration and to the resolution of social tension/issues.


In the analytical perspective, studies on the history of the city are the most relevant. Examples are the studies by Carita on the architecture designs and typologies in Bairro Alto (1994), those by Costa (2002), on the neighborhood of Alvalade, by Heitor (2001) on Chelas and Olivais, by Nunes (2007) also on Olivais. Other works are also noteworthy whose perspectives are sociological and anthropological. Among these, two themes are the most important: the "typical" neighborhoods as places where very specific and identity social practices take place - studies by Firmino da Costa (2002, 2008) and Santos Silva (2003) on Alfama, and by Cordeiro on Bica (1997) - and those neighborhoods as repository of social practices that then give origin to the image of the neighborhood, as advocates Menezes in his studies on Madragoa and Mouraria (2002 and 2004). The analytical perspective also focuses on the analysis of multicultural neighborhoods, on Council neighborhoods and on rundown neighborhoods (Cardoso and Perista, 2004; Pinto and Gonçalves, 2000; Pinto, 1994; Guerra, 1994; Coelho, 1994).


The operational perspective is often that of the town council and is deeply linked with the analytical perspective. This includes mostly documents on urban regeneration; the neighborhood becomes a space with a specific social and urban identity that must be regenerated, preserved or redesigned. As Costa and Ribeiro state, the neighborhood as object of regeneration "Before it is regenerated, and even if it is not regenerated, is socially rebuilt through its symbolic representations, even if these are different or opposed. The idea of the neighborhood as an urban space to regenerate becomes part of those representations."  (1989: 85). The concern with the urban decay of the older and more traditional neighborhoods - along with the idea that urban regeneration is a boost for rejuvenating an area, enhancing its quality of life and creating a tourist product - led to assessments being carried out  (Ribeiro et al, 1991) aimed at urban intervention of local offices (Gabinetes Técnicos Locais - GTL).


These assessments included studies on rundown neighborhoods as Bairro do Relógio (Freitas, 1990) or Chelas (Coelho, 2012) and the work conducted for the design of the city's Strategic Plan (1992) and of the Strategic Charter for Lisbon 2010-2024 (2009), in which the Neighborhood plays a key role.


Finally, we must emphasize that the two important categories mentioned are not the only ones and that there are other more recent approaches on the Neighborhood as made evident by Cordeiro and Figueiredo on a blog about Alta de Lisboa (2012). Therefore, the Neighborhood has drawn the attention of researchers throughout the decades and there have been many reasons for their interest, including strategies to promote the neighborhood in opposition to - or together with - the establishing of Lisbon as a world city. Noteworthy is also the fact that some neighborhoods have drawn more attention than others as a result of the need for regeneration or their "typicality" in the historical context of the city or because of tourism. The studies conducted were also due to public policies which lead several actors (estate companies, inhabitants, shop owners) to devise social strategies that construct, reconstruct and reproduce discourse on the neighborhood and its identity for the neighborhood and for the outside.


The following thematic issue includes 5 papers written by members of the project Bairrosem Lisboa and represent complementary analysis of a theme from different perspectives.


The first text, The Meaning of the Neighborhood:  A Compilation of Notes by Margarida Tavares da Conceição presents a rather concise but thorough analysis of the origin of the word and the concept of Neighborhood, the conclusion being that there is not a just one systematic definition. The concept may be applied to different geographical realities thus not allow for establishing simple and widely acknowledged and used typologies. The sociological perspective is crucial for it being applied to such a wide variety of places.


Maria Assunção Gato, based on that sociological perspective, develops the arguments for her text entitled 'People make the neighborhood':  Social capitals in the Neighborhood context. Using two neighborhoods as examples, the importance of social capital is made evident both as a collective resource to draw the efforts of local actors and as an enhancement of a territory-based social identity In general, emphasis is given to the ability individuals have of creating and altering the spaces they inhabit as well as to the importance of social bonds and a sharing of a sense of belonging that still exist in the contemporary city.


The third text, Typology of neighborhood(s) in Lisbon, Nuno Pires Soares proposes a classification of the neighborhoods in Lisbon based on a historical and urban planning perspectives that, though personal, is also thorough. To sum up, the author proposes a morphological classification divided into two major classes - planned and unplanned neighborhoods - and a chronological sub classification that distributes neighborhoods along the different historical eras. Based on this proposal, six neighborhoods were selected.


The main tool used in the study was a questionnaire applied to both residents and non-residents. The text, The neighborhoods from the residents' perspectives, by Filipa Ramalhete and Bruno Neves, presents the results from the questionnaires by means of an analysis which, using different scales, allowed to understand how each neighborhood was part of the social and demographic context of the city and analyze each considering its social, demographic, historical and symbolic specificities.


The text by Luís Marques and Sara Machado, Spatial representations of the Neighborhood, also focuses on the above mentioned results. The authors focus on the borders of the neighborhoods by means of the individual cognitive perceptions of residents and non-residents and using the Geographical Information Systems as a tool used for treating and presenting data. This text both allows for a new discussion on spatial representations using new methodologies as well as confirms two assumptions The first is that, though neighborhoods do not have an administrative border or any type of border, there is some consensus about them among residents. The second is that there are no pre-determined or fixed spatial elements that justify the idea that neighborhoods are territory units though urban planning and urban morphology are essential.


In conclusion, the neighborhood is a rather wide concept and ours is a mere contribution to the debate on this theme. At each given time, the neighborhoods will always be places representative of their residents and spatial representations of their identities and specificities.





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The project was developed under the coordination of the research center CEACT/UAL – Centro de Estudos de Arquitetura, Cidade e Território, Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa. The project partners were the research center e-GEO – Centro de Estudos de Geografia e Planeamento Regional, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and SIPA/IHRU – Sistema de Informação do Património Arquitetónico, Instituto da Habitação e da Reabilitação Urbana.


Filipa Ramalhete (CEACT/UAL, e-GEO-FCSH/UNL) + Maria Assunção Gato (DINÂMIA’CET-IUL)