08 July, 2013

INURA Lisbon 2013

The 23rd annual conference of INURA took place in Lisbon, and organized by the Centre for Social Studies (Centro de Estudos Sociais, CES), University of Coimbra, Portugal.

The venue provided an ideal spot to meet up with two (Christian Schmid and Dirk Lohaus) of SUSTAINGOV's four partners, to touch base, to update one another and learn about each others work. Organizationally, it became clear that Hesse and Carr shall organize a meeting in Zurich in the fall. Partners, a doodle will be sent around soon!

At the retreat and during a morning of back-to-back presentations chaired by Richard Milgrom and Roger Keil, Carr presented the results of SUSTAINLUX and the research agenda for SUSTAINGOV. This was followed by Lohaus of IBA Basel who presented the challenges of cross-border integration of Basel (CH), Mulhouse (FR), and Lorrach (DE). Lohaus showed an impressive array of different projects underway that can assist co-operative development across borders. We were all extended an invitation to attend their Congress on Cross Border Planning, this coming October 17th and 18th, 2013. Quickly evident to everyone in the audience were the similarities between the cross-border agglomeration of Luxembourg and that of Basel. Both are cases that challenge prevailing notions of nationally contained metropolitan regions, neatly defined membership, and vertically coordinated and controlled production. 

Beyond the immediate relevance to SUSTAINGOV, the conference was also an opportunity to explore other urban worlds -- a necessary on-going education to urban researchers. It is not sufficient to conceive of cities as mere places articulated as isolate on a map, or a container of places where events and processes unfold simply "over there" and disassociated from "here". Rather cities compose each other. They are connected and reinforced through value chains and social political economic networks. Understanding "other" places is thus the same as understanding ourselves.

Quinta de Laje, June 2013
Quinta de Laje is not much more than a hillside now. When the middle class apartment blocks are built and sold, all memory too of former livelihoods may well enter the realms of forgotten history. Not long ago, however, 350 homes and gardens were standing and growing here. These were recently bulldozed by the City of Lisbon. This is what it used to look like.

This pile of torn mattresses, broken pipes, old wood and furniture, and scrap plastic  was the last stop on a tour through the outskirts of Lisbon. We had already passed through Santa Filomena and Casal da Boba. While the latter seemed a representation of typical post-war social housing (modernist medium rise apartment blocks), the former was a series of unabashed disenfranchisement: homes of corrugated steel shacks with no windows, and no sign of public services -- except for the bulldozer.

None of the neighborhoods benefited from government services. Residents and local activists (voluntary social workers and lawyers) continually fight to demand, for example, garbage collection in their neighborhood. The cynic, which is sometimes difficult to differentiate from the keen eye, might observe this as a strategy of the City to enforce dismal standards in the hopes that the residents leave themselves. 

During our tour, some guests were grasping for somehow logical explanations: "Were the residents perhaps illegally squatting, or were they immigrants?" These would be familiar stories - of housing activists fighting for affordable housing, or of immigration activists fighting for revised immigration law. Still, not even these concerns could be pacified: The removed were citizens who had bought the property.
Tenho um amgio que me dá agua para eu viver, Quinta de Laje, 2013
The rationality of such processes, rather, is unveiled by looking at wider political economic processes: Portugal under Troika, and Lisbon as a City expanding through big investment. The land needed to be vacated in the name of so called national interest.

There are reasons why is this relevant to SUSTAINGOV specifically and Luxembourg in general. First, this is a story about participation. This is a cautionary tale of what can happen when local residents and administrations are not respected. Second, this is Europe. All the European strategies and agreements concerning sustainable development and urban development are designed, at least under the pretense, to assist localities across the continent towards development, in enhancing regional specificities, and their capabilities to feedback to EU policy. Portugal is known to for its very effective use of their European funds. Yet, I wonder if the cases of Quinta de Laje are surfacing among the periodic inventories and evaluations of success. There is something going on here. Is there perhaps a link with the fact that 200,000 million Euros  were earned on the conversion of 100,000 Ha of rural land into urban space? (Thanks to Pedro Bingue for that excellent presentation!) Third, Portugal is not so different from Luxembourg: two levels of government (municipal and national), small state characteristics, ideology of private property, and a prevailing understanding that the capital city is the centre of the country ("Portugal é Lisboa e o resto é paisagem", Lisbon is Portugal and the rest is landscape). One major difference is that the Municipalities in Portugal are neither accustomed nor equipped to organize their land resources. This is a right that Municipalities in Luxembourg want to preserve.

Many thanks et bon courage to Prof. Giovanni Allegretti and his energetic team for putting together a fascinating conference introducing us to the complexities of Lisbon and Portugal.

No comments:

Post a Comment