What’s happening in Lisbon’s historic Baixa?

Physics of The Portuguese Heritage, an exhibition that can be visited until September 2019, at the Museum of Popular Art in Belem (Lisbon). It proposes a critical look into contemporary interventions in the Portuguese built heritage, showcasing it in 3 states: "solid", "liquid" and "gaseous", referring the latter state to the abrupt, abusive, and destructive transformations happening in the historic Baixa (s) of Lisbon and Porto.

Not to be missed!

Cities are like archives, and the history of the present is - it seems – contemporary globalisation.

The Portuguese capital city, Lisboa, is not really a power player within the present world system; it is nonetheless being challenged by the impact of a growing worldwide process of interconnectedness (1), including mass tourism, considerable real-estate investment and speculation.

In the 21st century, only the unwise city would surrender to financial interest, sacrificing its historic built heritage. The wise city would effectively use it to meet the needs of its citizens far into the future (2).

The paradox is that on one hand, globalization has encouraged the preservation of built heritage (3), on the other hand Lisbon local authorities are divided into promoting the city’s self-identity and encouraging the demolition of the city’s built environment.

Looking into the transformations happening in the historic down town of Lisbon – Baixa, and the quick interventions carried out during the last decade, the situation is dramatic.

The destruction of the 18th century Pombaline buildings, reduced to their façades, should be a cause for public outrage (4). The model of façadism is predatory and it poses very clear sustainable problems, in medium and long-term (5).

Is the situation inevitable? No, the problem is that everybody knows how things should be done, what is missing is the will to act accordingly (6).

The images we publish below were taken in 15 minutes, in a week day, 3 pm. They cover 3 streets in Lisbon's historic Baixa – Rua Augusta, Rua Áurea, Rua de Santa Justa.

Many traditional shops, which were once bustling and prosperous businesses, are closing each day, giving place to gift and handicraft shops, restaurants of dubious quality, and “faked” historical shops.

The city council launched a program to support Lisbon “historical shops”, recognizing its economic, social, and cultural value. This initiative nonetheless failed in avoiding many and many of these businesses to fall apart.

(1) CABIGON, Josefina V. – “Cities in Globalization”, in Asia-Pacific Social Science Review / https://apssr.com

(2) GUTTAL, Shalmali – “Globalisation”, in Development in Practice Journal. Ed. Tailor & Francis Online / https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09614520701469492

(3) JELINCIC, Daniela Angelina – “Tourism, heritage and globalisation”, in GERM, Group for Study and Research on Globalisation / http://www.mondialisations.org/php/public/art.php?id=28925&lan=EN

(4) SILVA, Raquel Henriques da - interview in Físicas do Património Português, Exhibition Catalogue

(5) and (6) ROSSA, Walter – interview in Físicas do Património Português, Exhibition Catalogue

Post and Photo credits: Lisboa Architecture Walks & Trips

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