Port city lives: debating conceptual and methodological tools to grasp contemporary urban change

In November, I presented the first paper based on my post-doc research, tightly linked to the Lxnights collective research project. Since I’m still at the very beginning of my work, I chose to present my initial ideas and ask for comments, suggestions and critiques.  The feed back was great! Thanks to all the colleagues that were at the session.

So, to continue collecting useful comments, I decided to post the abstract I sent to the ESA RN 37 Midterm Conference in Lisbon. Please feel free to ask questions and send suggestions.

Port city lives: debating conceptual and methodological tools to grasp contemporary urban change

Based on a research project taking its first steps, this presentation has two main objectives: reflecting on how the concept of gentrification can be useful to understand contemporary urban change in the Cais do Sodré area in Lisbon and generating a debate around action-research strategies to reconstitute shared memories of the urban landscape in gentrified areas.

Located on the waterfront, near the port, its offices, warehouses, bars and cheap hotels made Cais do Sodré an area of transition and transit and a nightlife zone characterized by prostitution. Following a period of decline, the nightlife was recently transformed: several venues recuperated the ‘cabaret’ theme and attract younger and wealthier patrons. Many buildings were rehabilitated for residential and tourism purposes and several sections of the waterfront were or will be regenerated. Cais do Sodré also remains an interface linking the subway and bus lines with the train to Cascais and the ferryboat to Cacilhas.

The areas surrounding Cais do Sodré have different occupation patterns and social destinations. Distinctive urban sedimentation layers can be uncovered and varied dynamics of regeneration – associated to residential issues but also to tourism, leisure and cultural activities – are occurring at different paces. The effects of deindustrialization, consequent social recomposition and landscape transformation are discernible in the area. The consequences of the current economic crisis and of rent-law alterations that potentiate the displacement of low-income residents and business owners are also becoming visible.

Working on our first article

New group meeting. This time to discuss the first draft our first collective article  that will be submitted to a high-impact factor journal at the end of this year. The article is called to set the methodological foundations and identify the key concepts in our research project. Namely, the interplay between gentrification, studentification and the turistification of urban spaces in the production of a “sanitizied” nightscape in Lisbon’s historical neighborhoods. The meeting also served to get to the nitty gritty of  a paper proposal for the 2015 Urban Affairs Association in Miami.    Let’s cross fingers!

Making the most of the last days of summer-like weather in Lisbon.

Making the most of the last days of summer-like weather in Lisbon.

Erasmus “Welcome Weeks” and the consumption of the city

CIMG0685Since the last week of August Lisbon has received a large amount of foreign students, most of them (approximately 3.500 for both semesters) belonging to the Erasmus Programme. During this time some organizations presumably devoted to help and guide the young foreign students in their first days in the city, organized several activities to get to know the particularities of Lisbon to them while creating that friendly atmosphere of socialization attributed to Erasmus students: Walking Tours, Barbecues, Surf Days, Drinking Contests, Trips to Sintra, Language Tandems and Parties. Lots of Parties. In fact, almost the totality of the activities are nightlife and alcohol-oriented. And happen always in the very same places.

If we put those Erasmus “Welcome Weeks” over a map they seem to be almost coincident with the nightscapes of tourist and local middle-class (and upper) groups of youngsters: starting the night very early in the Bairro Alto (filling bars otherwise empty) and then going to the pubs and discos sited on Santos and Cais do Sodré, party areas near the river Tejo. Thus, what’s the impact of those nightlife activities over the urban landscape, the changing local venues, and the transformation of the city? Clearly the Erasmus environment -initially guided by several organizations of students- contribute, together with other similar groups of young middle-class (and upper) individuals, to the nightlife specialization of some urban areas and their progressive elitization.

Certainly the importance of those highly-mobile, well-educated young individuals called “Erasmus” in the transformation of the city is well represented by their mainstream international-style patterns of consumption. However, several “alternative” students reject those lifestyles avoiding Erasmus and tourist environments and seeking for a real contact with the “local elements”. During my fieldwork in the last two weeks I talked to several students attending the “Welcome Weeks” that seems to be building up that kind of distinguished forms of identification: they are complaining about the “nonsense conversations” and the “stupid behaviors” of other students, and escaping from the “tourist prices and places”. Are they just less-income students or something more?



In the following months we will see how they behave and where will they go in some creative strategies of distinction: Are they harmless for the urbanization processes or maybe are they contributing to the transformation of the city as well?


For a previous study about “alternative” Erasmus and their “impact” to the city, see my article: Patrimonial revaluation processes in Alfama neighbourhood (Lisbon): the role of Erasmus students in city thematization (in Spanish)