→ HOW A FORMER RED LIGHT DISTRICT IN THE HEART OF LISBON IS REMAKING ITSELF THROUGH SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND BUILDING A STRONG SENSE OF COMMUNITY
→ HOW A FORMER RED LIGHT DISTRICT IN THE HEART OF LISBON IS REMAKING ITSELF THROUGH SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND BUILDING A STRONG SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Written by Ivan Carvalho
Photography by Stefan Jermann
Dear explorer of the unexpected,
The city of the seven hills »A Cidade das Sete Colinas« has enjoyed a long and colorful history from its perch on the west coast of Europe. Having been ruled by the Romans, Moors and Spanish, Lisbon has been accustomed to the winds of change yet it resolutely retains its charm. For first-time arrivals, the city’s clear, crystalline light wonderfully frames the contours of its many historic buildings and landmarks. There is beauty and a rich tradition of craftsmanship to be found around almost every corner.
Fueled by international and local entrepreneurs, the city has in recent years undergone facelifts: LX Factory, a post-industrial hub for design, architecture and fashion in Alcântara; the riverside Mercado da Ribeira, a historic market with fishmongers that was remodeled to include a smorgasbord of restaurants and shops in a food court; and the upscale Embaixada and Entre Tanto emporiums in Príncipe Real.
My journalist colleague, Ivan Carvalho, a writer for Monocle Magazine who has familial ties to Lisbon, suggested we focus on the tiny neighborhood of «Intendente» – a former red-light district and drug trafficking hot spot that is turning into one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the city.
Everything in Intendente revolves around the square of Largo do Intendente and the small businesses that settled there in recent years attract many locals and sophisticated global nomads who are in search of something beyond the mainstream.
The initiative of entrepreneurs and local politicians is clear and hands-on: they want to strengthen the local community by means of interaction, engagement and ensuring rent remains affordable. This community feels very much like a little family and we fell in love with this multi-colored community.
Thanks for stopping by and please let me know what you think about this issue.
SEND US FEEDBACK ON WHAT WE CAN IMPROVE OR WHAT PLACE WE SHOULD EXPLORE NEXT. ARE YOU A WRITER, PHOTOGRAPHER, ARTIST OR BRAND THAT WANTS TO GET INVOLVED? PLEASE DROP US AN EMAIL.
INTENDENTE A BRIEF HISTORY
Written by Ivan Carvalho
Lisbon’s charm has long been identified with trams running up sloped streets, the unique patterns found in its calçada portuguesa stone paving and pretty esplanades with spectacular views of the city and River Tejo. Yet in recent years attention has turned to a low-lying swathe of downtown sandwiched between two of the city’s famed seven hills that make up Lisbon’s historic center. An urban renaissance of sorts is underway and its epicenter is an oddly-shaped square that was once little more than a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes.
Largo do Intendente around 1944 Photography by Eduardo Portugal.
«INTENDENTE IS NEITHER LISBON’S GRANDEST PLAZA NOR HOME TO FAMOUS MONUMENTS BUT IT HAS BECOME A SYMBOL OF URBAN RENEWAL.»
Largo do Intendente around 1940-59. Between Rueda da Palma and Largo do Intendente. Photography by Antonio Passaporte.
Largo do Intendente is neither Lisbon’s grandest plaza nor home to famous monuments but it has become a symbol of urban renewal. Both public officials and private citizens have rolled up their sleeves to come up with creative ways to rehabilitate an area that was once deemed off limits due to its status as a red light district. What’s even more interesting is that the efforts of locals have been small-scale – here, you’ll not find any elaborate masterplans drawn up by “starchitects” from abroad. New cafes, shops and cultural associations have little by little begun to transform the area and are attracting young creatives eager for cheap rents as well as a trickle of tourists curious to go beyond the clichéd images of Lisbon usually presented to outsiders (fado, pastel de nata custard tarts, the Castle of São Jorge).
The area known as Intendente is a sort of mini-district that takes in part of the up-and-coming Anjos neighborhood (which last autumn was declared Lisbon’s coolest place to live by the local edition of Time Out magazine) to the north while to the south it includes a section of Mouraria, the city’s former Moorish ghetto that stretches down to the Baixa and which offers a wonderful maze of cobbled streets and old buildings.
This urban patch to the northwest of the city’s castle has long been a neighborhood of immigrants (communities of slaves freed in the 18th century, Galicians and recent arrivals from the former colonies and Southeast Asia).
Mariana Silva is a freelance photographer and also works with Companhia Limitada.
The workshop is located on the ground floor of Largo Residências.
“The area has played a key part in the city’s cultural development,” says Alda Galsterer, a German-born Lisbon resident who operates a contemporary art gallery in the city and who has plans with her husband to open a community arts center in a former carpentry factory not far from Largo do Intendente square. “This melting pot has made important contributions to our local heritage: the West African migrant community and more marginalized sections of Portuguese society helped provide the impetus for the emergence of fado, a soulful music typically associated with Lisbon.”
Everywhere in Intendente one sees immigrant faces from China, Brazil and Africa, a reversal of Portugal’s long forgotten empire when it sent teams of seafaring explorers to colonize vast tracts of territory from Macau to Mozambique for king and country. In place of ethnic enclaves you see a melting pot of food shops and other small businesses run by foreigners from various nationalities, including hidden “clandestino” restaurants operated in upstairs apartments by Chinese who seek to avoid paying taxes. In the works are plans for a mosque and Hindu temple close to each other along Avenida Almirante Reis, the main boulevard that cuts through the area.
THIS MELTING POT HAS MADE IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR LOCAL HERITAGE: THE WEST AFRICAN MIGRANT COMMUNITY AND MORE MARGINALIZED SECTIONS OF PORTUGUESE SOCIETY HELPED PROVIDE THE IMPETUS FOR THE EMERGENCE OF FADO, A SOULFUL MUSIC TYPICALLY ASSOCIATED WITH LISBON.
The avenue runs past one side of Intendente square, which has been a hub of activity since 2011 when Lisbon’s former mayor António Costa opted to move his office to the rundown area to kickstart urban regeneration. Moving city hall to an area where residents regularly complained of people shooting up heroin in the stairwells of buildings helped to allay locals’ fears about crime. Soon, there was a greater police presence and prostitutes and their male clients became less frequent.
Costa also decided to pedestrianize the plaza with the traditional square-cube pavement common to Portuguese cities and he was able to procure an artwork from Joana Vasconcelos, Portugal’s most famous contemporary artist, that now sits in the middle of the square. Her figure-eight love seat done in red wrought iron offers a creative twist on public seating and features a heart-shaped pattern that subtly refers to the streetwalkers who once roamed the area in large numbers. He introduced pro-business schemes for small-scale entrepreneurs that included on-the-spot registration for new start-ups.
Businesses began to appear almost immediately on the square that is marked by historic buildings, some done in the *Pombaline style of architecture with more sober tile facades. At no. 19, Marta Silva, a dancer and native of Porto, runs Largo Residências, an arts center that includes a downstairs café and hotel and looks to engage with the local community, helping one-time prostitutes and addicts get off the streets. “This area is a micro climate with its own energy unlike other parts of Lisbon,” she says. “There’s still plenty of grit. It’s not been overrun with tourists.”
* Neoclassicism emerged in Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755 and was disseminated to Rio de Janeiro through the work of the Swedish military engineer Jacob Funck (1715-1788) and Portuguese military engineers trained at the Lisbon Academia Militar. The "Pombaline style," which was created by the Portuguese Prime Minister Pombal and his engineers in their rebuilding of the capital, was the Portuguese adaptation of the French military engineering tradition of Vauban and Belidor to the reconstruction needs of Lisbon and the modernization priorities of Pombal.
Next door to Silva is independent retailer Catarina Portas, whose store occupies the former tile factory of Viúva Lamego, whose decorative hand-painted ceramics are still visible on the building’s exterior. A one-time journalist turned cultural anthropologist and shopkeeper, her store specializes in selling homewares, textiles, soaps and food that are all sourced from Portuguese companies. “What I find interesting about Intendente is that it’s the only neighborhood in Lisbon that’s unexpected. I don’t know what I’ll find in the street and what sort of people I’ll meet. For example, in Avenida da Liberdade or Bairro Alto, you expect to see locals of a certain social class dressed in a certain way and of course there are tourists. Here, it’s surprising. At 5pm, the African immigrants go to the mosque, then you might see Portuguese teenagers loitering about the square. In the evenings, there might be local artists or a foreign couple having a beer at the bar. It’s a meeting spot for people from all facets of society.”
This woman is shaping the neighborhood
with a new rhythm
Written by Ivan Carvalho
Photography by Stefan Jermann
Set in the middle of the Largo do Intendente square at no. 19, a stately tile-covered building has bared witness to the comings and goings of the Intendente area since it was erected in the 19th century. In the 1800s, when Lisbon’s urban sprawl was still in its gestation, the square marked the city’s outskirts and merchants would park their horse-drawn carts here before carrying deliveries of olive oil, vegetables and other foodstuffs to residents’ doorsteps. Meanwhile, there was another form of commerce getting started as the owners of the Viúva Lamego tile company opened their offices upstairs at no. 19 to be next to their brand new factory. In the 1960s, when the square was still open to traffic, delivery trucks were a common sight and soon there appeared that very urban form of trafficking: prostitution and drug dealing.
By then the area was on the decline and housed on the ground floor of no. 19 was the neighborhood’s most upscale brothel – streetwalkers who couldn’t afford a proper room to entertain their johns resorted to stairwells and even delivery vans to service their clients.
MARTA SILVA, A PROFESSIONAL DANCER WHO GREW UP IN PORTO, HAS GOTTEN THE NEIGHBORHOOD MOVING TO A NEW RHYTHM AND HER STATUS AS AN OUTSIDER HAS HELPED, IN HER VIEW, TO SEE THE INHERENT ADVANTAGES IN SETTING UP HER NEW VENTURE IN INTENDENTE.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the activities inside no. 19 seem a world away from its colorful past. Instead of junkies shooting up heroin and hookers turning tricks, downstairs visitors now get a caffeine fix at a café that makes up part of one of the city’s most ambitious urban initiatives: Largo Residências. What’s more they can get a shot of culture on the side as the café doubles as a mini-gallery space where photography is exhibited, musical groups play and films and documentaries are screened. Upstairs, a clean, well-lit part hostel, part hotel has been inaugurated and there are rooms that welcome artists in residence, who come for stays that vary from a few days to a year.
Curiously, the creative force behind this urban revitalization doesn’t hail from the neighborhood or from Lisbon. Marta Silva, a professional dancer who grew up in Porto, has gotten the neighborhood moving to a new rhythm and her status as an outsider has helped, in her view, to see the inherent advantages in setting up her new venture in Intendente.
At Largo Residências people work hand in hand. More than just a beautifully restored hostel and artists’ residency, it is a place that is building a community.
Companhia Limitada is a music- and theatre company initiated by Largo Residências. Madalena Victorino/artistic director; Joana Guerra/cello; Pedro Salvador/musical director; Félipe Moreira/voice/dance.12
On a tour of Largo Residências, which opened in 2011, Silva is keen to point out that hers is more than a business. “Our mission was to help a disadvantaged area of the city but we wanted to avoid gentrification,” she says, while showing off a room complete with hardwood floors, vintage dressers – many pieces of antique furniture have come from nearby buildings long abandoned – and beds built from pallets by a local craftsman whose daughter took dancing lessons from Marta. “We want to reach out to locals and get them involved. We even hired a few former prostitutes to work at the hostel to give them some newfound dignity. The artist-in-residence program tries to find projects that tie in with the local population.”
Activities have included a noted Portuguese jazz artist who worked with neighborhood musicians to create a band and who put together a percussion orchestra made up of local kids. Classes dedicated to preparing ethnic food are organized along with language lessons – recently, there was Indian food and Hindi courses to attend. At the café, painters in residence put on shows and DJs are invited to perform their playlists in the evenings. Income from the café and hotel help fund projects, and next door there’s a bike shop that teaches people how to repair bicycles and gives lessons to local youth and adults who want to learn how to ride on two wheels in a city that still lacks a proper cycling culture.
Félipe Moreira and Pedro Salvador rehearsing for their upcoming performance in Intendente.
“Our idea was that we could do something more than just teach art,” adds Silva, who gestures to one of the windows that overlook the square. “We’ve created this creative micro climate that has its own vibe.” Yet another activity in her portfolio is a shop where visitors will discover pottery, music and writings created by locals. “There area was once home to traditional Portuguese tile art so our idea is to bring art back home. Besides a workspace for artists we look to create a stage in and around the square in places, some of which have been vacant for some time, so that we can create a meeting spot of people who hail from different disciplines and backgrounds: strangers, tourists, locals from the neighborhood, city residents.”
BESIDES A WORKSPACE FOR ARTISTS WE LOOK TO CREATE A STAGE IN AND AROUND THE SQUARE IN PLACES, SOME OF WHICH HAVE BEEN VACANT FOR SOME TIME, SO THAT WE CAN CREATE A MEETING SPOT OF PEOPLE WHO HAIL FROM DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES AND BACKGROUNDS: STRANGERS, TOURISTS, LOCALS FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD, CITY RESIDENTS.”
Khalid K, a singer and vocal artist from Paris who creates a vast array of instruments and sounds with his voice at a small concert in Sport Club Intendente. The concert was organized by Largo Residências as are many other events at this location.
With the artists’ residency project, which is a sort of micro version of New York’s Chelsea Hotel, and the thriving café, where locals are as numerous as travelers, the neighborhood has been given a new lease on life. More importantly, Silva’s efforts with Largo Residências appear to have benefitted Intendente while avoiding the pitfalls of many urban renewal plans where cheaper neighborhoods are soon made hip by artists moving in and then followed by trendy coffee shops, rising rents and new well-off residents who displace long-time ones. Adds Silva: “Ours is a social business where the people from the community come together. It’s important to keep the social fabric of the neighborhood intact otherwise it loses its character. It’s no longer Intendente.”
Largo do Intendente Pina Manique 45
An urban refuge where people can come together for food, drinks and music, Casa Independente opened its doors in 2012 in an old mansion overlooking the Largo do Intendente square.
Lounging in its cozy courtyard, surrounded by well-worn walls with cracks showing in them, we enjoy a drink and listen to some electronic music with beats merging into Afro-house, a trend that has recently popped up on the city’s music scene. Interestingly enough, the connection with Africa is still strong in Intendente and it is readily apparent in music trends that see African beats becoming Europeanized.
Situated on the fringe of Europe, Portugal has been trying to play catch up ever since the country’s Carnation Revolution of 1974 overturned the authoritarian Estado Novo regime and brought in democracy. Keen to modernize, an inward-looking populace sought inspiration from the outside world, happy to follow trends found elsewhere. Shopping malls – the bigger, the better – and foreign brands became popular as the Portuguese were hungry for all things new.
Yet in the rush to join the rest of the globalized world Portugal’s consumers risked losing out on a big slice of their heritage. Fortunately, in stepped Catarina Portas, a journalist turned shopkeeper who got locals to rethink their retail ways and who put some pride back into the “Made in Portugal” label.
Catarina Portas at work in her office coordinating her various business ventures. The former journalist has become one of the most active entrepreneurs in Portugal.
Hand-illustrated packaging, toys, olive oils and herbs, perfumes, knitwear and ceramics. The selection at «A Vida Portuguesa» is overwhelming and carefully curated.
A visit to Largo do Intendente square is not complete without a stop at her shop, A Vida Portuguesa, which stocks classic goods all manufactured in Portugal. Part social anthropologist, part entrepreneur, Portas came up with the idea in 2006 to create an independent retail space where people could purchase some of the forgotten brands from the country’s past. The idea came to her while she was doing research for a book on 20th-century daily life in Portugal. “When I started to look at the historic brands, I noticed how quickly they were vanishing,” she says while gesturing to a shelf in her Bairro Alto office that holds ceramic coffee mugs from a now defunct Portuguese supplier. “I wanted to counter what was going on in Portugal, a kind of retail that saw 20 years of malls, hypermarkets and multinational brands coming in to take over. I loved these old Portuguese products and I didn’t want them to disappear, but I also thought that the country needed a little bit of self-esteem, to appreciate its own products.”
A self-described fan of factories, she loves to drop in on workshops scattered across the country to meet with owners and workers as she hunts for items that were once common on store shelves in Portugal, including ceramics, foodstuffs and toiletries. One of her most popular items is a range of exquisitely scented, hand-wrapped artisanal soaps from Claus Porto, a family-run firm from Porto that has seen a renaissance in recent years thanks to her efforts. She also carries an 83-year-old brand of local toothpaste, Couto, that is prized for fighting receding gums and which Portuguese pharmacies had all but forgotten about in recent decades as they pushed the likes of Colgate to clients who had grown accustomed to well-known foreign products.
Today, her assortment of goods extends from classic plates by Vista Alegre, a leading porcelain maker based in Aveiro with a history dating back nearly 200 hundred years, to traditional cobertores de papa wool blankets woven in a tiny factory in the Serra da Estrela mountains – there are even colored pencils from Viarco, the last producer of its kind on the Iberian peninsula. In addition to her array of popular foodstuffs such as tinned fish, Azorean tea and local olive oil, she recently has expanded her inventory to new Portuguese labels, including Porto clothing brand La Paz that weaves super cozy wool jumpers inspired by looks worn by local fishermen.
Portas started A Vida Portuguesa with €1,000, some small-business advice from a friend and some bartering skills. Today, she operates 4 shops, one in Porto and three in Lisbon, and the Intendente boutique she opened in 2013 is easily her most impressive. Given her love of manufacturing, Portas was delighted when she discovered that the former tile factory of Viúva Lamego in Intendente square, with its elaborate hand-painted façade, was available to rent. Founded in 1849, Viúva Lamego is a testament to Portuguese design. Its decorative work comes in various styles and the company, now based in Sintra, has collaborated over the years with artists and architects, including Álvaro Siza Vieira for the Portuguese Pavilion at the Lisbon Expo 98 site and Rem Koolhaas, who won the commission to build the Casa da Música concert hall in Porto.
Portas’ eyes light up when she talks about the space. “Before it was so full of ceramics that you could barely get in and walk around. The company has worked with important figures in the past. There was Maria Keil and the modernist tiles she created for street murals in Lisbon and for the first subway stations in the city in the 1950s and ’60s.” While her first shop in the Chiado district of Lisbon was geared towards toiletries and food, her 500-sqm Intendente shop let her expand the offering into homewares. Colorful cups and trays, cutting knives and even toy airplanes – all proudly made in Portugal – compete for the attention of visitors.
The problem for years with Portuguese industry has been that they make things for outsiders, supplying products to foreign brands and never developing their own brands.
The presentation is museum-like, with brief descriptions on brands and their backstory. When talking with suppliers she insists on using the original packaging instead of trying to revamp the product’s image to cater to new tastes. “All of these items show that Portugal makes a lot of interesting products. The problem for years with Portuguese industry has been that they make things for outsiders, supplying products to foreign brands and never developing their own brands. Today in Europe we are becoming simply consumers and have to import everything. We have forgotten how to make things.”
Catarina Portas photographed at «A Vida Portuguesa» in the Intendente neighborhood of Lisbon.
With Portugal still emerging from the debt crisis that crippled its economy, her emphasis on supporting local manufacturers has helped to turn the tables. On any given day, her shops are filled with tourists eager to stock up on everything from lavender cologne to kitchen rugs, and who are happy to fork over their hard-earned euros since they know it is going to support traditional businesses, some family-run, that don’t produce in sweatshops in mainland China.
Her ability to create a beautifully curated inventory of brands that have survived the passage of time has shown others in Portugal that there is tremendous value in highlighting the quality of Portuguese manufacturers. Today, one sees in Lisbon and Porto shops sprouting up that try to promote local goods in much the same way, although none are able to offer the vast selection that Portas offers.
Her approach is proof, if ever proof was needed, of the social and economic value of heritage. Yet Portas, who is twisting the wrapper on a popular cough candy that she sells in her shops, is adamant that she is no sentimentalist. “Sometimes visitors come into the store and think all of this is about nostalgia for the past but it’s not. It’s about identity. Identity, rekindling local manufacturing and national pride.”
Ramiro is what the Portuguese refer to as a cervejaria (“beer hall” in English) but locals flock to it more for its menu than what you can get at the bar. When I spotted the long line outside its entrance one evening in Lisbon, I decided it was best to return for a late lunch to avoid the crush of patrons. Ramiro opened in 1956 and was a place where blue-collar types would come to eat. Today, down-to-earth locals still frequent it but the joint now attracts a fair share of tourists, local politicians and well-to-do types who like to eat good. Ramiro is still very reasonably priced for a place that has been called a temple of seafood. In fact, in any other major metropolis one would probably spend a small fortune for this kind of quality seafood (tiger shrimp, clams, goose barnacles, if it’s from the sea there’s a good chance you’ll find it here on the menu) but here prices are within reach of even working-class stiffs. It’s one of the charming aspects about the place and yet another reason why it is always booked full. Written by Stefan Jermann
Long a local institution on the Lisbon dining scene, Ramiro gained a global reputation after it was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s highly acclaimed television show No Reservations – Bourdain was brought to the restaurant by two famed Lisbon chefs José Avillez and Henrique Sá Pessoa, the former now regarded as the country’s leading culinary star. It’s a sign that a restaurant is doing well if top chefs, those whipping up fancy sauces and foams, hang up their aprons after work and come here to tuck into hearty fare. But what is the secret recipe to this restaurant’s incredible success?
After I spent some time with one of the main cooks in the Ramiro kitchen, I saw the preparation was extremely simple: there are no “haute cuisine” secrets behind what they are making. Instead, they rely on the freshest seafood daily delivered and the ingredients are usually salt, olive oil, garlic and cilantro. In the end, the langoustine and clams are brushed off with a homemade sauce and that is about the only recipe that is kept secret. Again, the menu’s fair prices accommodate the top tier of the ladder to low-wage workers. And of course the first-rate service reacts to customers’ needs instinctively – small glasses of draft beer were brought to my table whenever one had just been quaffed. That left a lasting impression on me.
Once you take a seat at Ramiro you feel like you don’t want to leave and the meal just keeps on going as the beer keeps flowing. I navigated the menu and tried various dishes, starting with some oysters and then followed by tiny clams and tiger shrimp. Up next I was handed yet another plate with various grilled langoustines, whose taste was accentuated by the brisk, rough waters of the Atlantic, a key ingredient in ensuring top quality seafood.
For the grand finale, a lobster landed at my table. One could get the impression that all this food would fill you up but there is easily room for dessert, which in the case of Ramiro is a savory one: a steak sandwich called a prego is delivered to your table. Served in a bread roll and prepared with garlic the prego helps absorb the beer one’s had over the course of their meal. This culinary experience amounts to an explosion of the sea in your mouth followed by a rich protein overdose of beef and it is simply sublime. I, for one, can envision my Last Supper taking place at Ramiro. It’s heaven on earth and, fortunately for me, it’s right here in Intendente.
The only downside to the place is if you come at the dining rush hour in the evening (expect to wait up to an hour outside on the sidewalk for a table). Once seated the waiters might seem a bit stressed at first but given the fact that every seat is taken and that the service is well oiled you might cut them some slack. After all, this isn’t a place for a romantic dinner with your loved one. Ramiro is not about the romance, great ambiance or cutting-edge cuisine. But if you are a seafood lover then it is a must stop the next time you are in Lisbon.
Micro entrepreneurs + start-ups
delivering a fresh breeze to Lisbon
Meet Josiane and Fred
On Rua dos Anjos no 4, right before you enter Largo do Intendente, Retrox, a small vintage shop, has opened its doors. Run by Josiane and Frederico Lima, it’s furnished with old books and magazines, designer chairs, unique lamps and other antiques. Retrox feels like it has always been part of the neighborhood. The handsome couple opened in Intendente because they enjoy being away from the tourist crowds and rent is still affordable here. The idea of selling vintage pieces came natural to them – they’ve always been collectors and there came a point when their apartment was so jam-packed that they began a business selling what they are most passionate about.
Josiane Lima at her Retrox shop in
Intendente that she runs with her
husband. When their apartment
became overrun with furniture and
memorabilia, the two collectors
decided to open their own vintage store.
Josiane and Frederico’s story is not unique. In 2015 Lisbon, together with Northern Ireland and the Spanish region of Valencia, were the winners of »European Entrepreneurial Region«. The jury of the EER has acknowledged Lisbon’s ability to position itself as an Atlantic business and start-up hub geared towards the Americas, Africa and the EU. Many smaller initiatives and efforts by the city have been set up such as “Empresa na hora” – allowing less than a day to take care of bureaucratic red tape to open a new business. In the Baixa (downtown) district, the Startup Lisboa business incubator was brought into life in 2012 and is part of an urban regeneration project where participants will receive mentoring, promotion and financial instruments.
Antonio Costa, Lisbon’s former mayor who just stepped down to run for prime minister, said: “Lisbon is a unique city with a great potential for the entrepreneur. This has been a priority for the city of Lisbon, which has launched various articulated projects and programs with this objective. The vital steps have been spaces for incubators and testing new concepts.” One of Lisbon’s major start-up incubator’s is “Startup Lisboa”. They provide three buildings for start-ups in the tech, commerce and tourism sectors and provide aid financial and know-how to budding entrepreneurs.
One typical startup is called »hole19golf.com« — an easy-to-use app that helps golfers gain insight into the game so they can play better. Then there’s »CITADIN«, a shoe business that produces chic quality urban footwear by hand that is quite affordable compared to better-known rivals from abroad. The start-up »Portugalinsights.com« focuses on guided tours beyond the ordinary. They organize customized tours for small groups on such topics as the history and memories printed on tiles or stories told by modest folk living in the city.
While venture capital firms are keeping close tabs on these very innovative firms, it is important to note that lots of small new businesses such as Retrox need to grow at an organic pace. While many international cities have made it hard for smaller shops to survive, it is refreshing to see that Lisbon hosts plenty of them and they seem to be doing just fine. While the local factor plays an important role, those business owners know that their concepts need to be unique and authentic in order to keep a competitive advantage over items sold at big shopping malls and international chains.
Intendente is one of the most interesting places in Lisbon. It has a rich history and culture plus you don't spot masses of tourists here. It felt like a natural move to open a shop here.»
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Since 2013 Margarida Martins has been president of the Arroios parish council, the city district that includes the Intendente neighborhood. She is a strong proponent of promoting her district’s multiethnic makeup and creating initiatives where immigrant groups feel welcome. Her efforts at fostering social solidarity stem from her past work as an activist for AIDS patients. Martins sat down with Mirus to talk about what makes Intendente and the surrounding area special. Translation by Ivan Carvalho
«Walking down Avenida Almirante Reis you can see the richness we have here. We are in the heart of the city, close to the downtown area of Baixa with its tourists and things that are typically Portuguese, but we have a microcosm of the world right here in Intendente and the other areas that make up Arroios. I know it well having walked the area for six months while campaigning for my post! We have over 50 nationalities living here, communities with their own culture (Ukrainian, Thai, Italian). In schools, for example, it’s normal to find 14 nationalities in a class. We have people on bike, in the metro, on trams and in cars. There’s a wide cross-section of society (retirees, young couples, single creatives, immigrant families). It’s not a monoculture and we even get tourists coming.»
Margarida Martins moved
with her entire staff into this newly
renovated building located on Largo
We want to maintain this diversity. We are proud of the fact that we don’t have ghettos in our area. In the same building you’ll find Brazilians and Nepalese families living next to immigrants from West Africa. We have Catholic, Protestant, Adventist churches. We want people to feel at home and have them integrated into the community. I think we Portuguese are experts at this if you look at history. Everywhere we went we inserted ourselves into the local culture, we didn’t segregate ourselves.
This rich patchwork of people in Intendente and elsewhere needs to be encouraged. We’ve organized events (for example, ones to promote the many ethnic food cultures); we’ve renovated local marketplaces to set space aside for ethnic restaurants and allocated space in them where families can look after their children while one of the parents goes grocery shopping.»
«We’ve set up a quarterly magazine published in the four languages that are the most commonly spoken here: Portuguese, English (we have an important Nepalese community here), French and Chinese. It helps the people to feel connected, involved in what’s happening around them.
«Ninja» is at home in
intendente and he blends in with the
If you look at Arroios in general and Intendente in particular you’ll see there is a wide variety of businesses and groups: large and small companies, shops, workshops, cultural associations, ethnic restaurants, even craftsmen who specialize in repairing shoes, suitcases and umbrellas. This diversity is our richness, our heritage. It is something that needs to be protected and promoted.» Margarida Martins
A MAKER COMMUNITY
HOUSED IN A FORMER SLAUGHTERHOUSE, THE BIRTH OF LISBON’S FABLAB IS ONE OF THE UPBEAT STORIES TO EMERGE FROM THE ECONOMIC CRISIS THAT HIT THE COUNTRY. FABLAB ATTRACTS YOUNG AND OLD TO EXPERIMENT AND TO TURN THEIR SKETCHES INTO REALITY. HERE, INVENTORS, DREAMERS AND EVEN HUMBLE CRAFTSMEN CAN TURN THEIR 3-D PROTOTYPE INTO A SUCCESS STORY. MIRUS MET UP WITH FABLAB’S ENTHUSIASTIC DIRECTOR, BERNARDO GAEIRAS, TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS HUB OF CREATION.
Fortunately, the powers that be in Lisbon’s city hall were aware of the dilemma and understood that it was in their best interest not to lose the city’s rich network of craftsmen.They sought ways to maintain a skilled base and so they decided to fund a FabLab, those small-scale workshops that have popped up in cities worldwide and which allow inventors, tinkerers and artisans a space where they can work on 3D-printers to make prototypes and use CNC machines, laser cutters and other specialty manufacturing tools to become entrepreneurs.
Astute observers who walk around Lisbon are bound to notice before long that the city is still home to a substantial community of artisans making things, be it elegant leather gloves or handmade dress shoes. Yet the Portuguese capital’s traditional makers are being challenged as more focus comes to the capital from outside, with investors putting pressure on tiny workshops to make way for new businesses, chain stores and the like.
Laser-cut of a mini chair model protoype made at Fablab, Lisbon.
The thinking of Lisbon’s city hall was that it is important to promote lots of economic activities, big and small, and a FabLab can help with the latter. Otherwise, the risk, many argue, is that too much specialization towards one industry – say, for example, tourism in the case of Lisbon – will in the long run prove to be detrimental to a city’s economy. Too much emphasis on consumption, in the form of the city’s already well-established oversized shopping malls, and not enough of production can snuff out diversity as a city begins to attract only well-to-do types looking for expensive apartments in downtown.
FabLab Lisboa director Bernardo
Gaeiras at the workshop, which is
equipped with top-of-the-line laser
cutters and 3D printers.
One ardent believer in making space for makers and entrepreneurs from all walks of life is FabLab Lisboa director Bernardo Gaeiras. The bespectacled Gaeiras has long been a disciple of the FabLab philosophy and the maker movement that has seen workshops sprout up in cities to assist aspiring entrepreneurs with a do-it-yourself streak make prototypes for things ranging from motorcycles to chairs. A designer by training, Gaeiras spent eight years abroad in Amsterdam where he helped to establish the first Dutch FabLab. Upon his return to Portugal he did a residency at Vista Alegre, the famed Portuguese porcelain manufacturer. Two years ago he was tapped to set up Lisbon’s first FabLab.
His goal in Lisbon is to promote a FabLab that supports tinkerers and inventors from all parts of the community. “FabLab belongs to city hall, so it is a public service. We have two open days of the week where we help out the public versus other FabLabs around the world that aren’t so focused on this. The idea is to help the creative economy of the city. After all, the city is the epicenter of creativity.”
Through word of mouth locals have popped in to try out the tools on offer. During the visit by Mirus, there’s a gentleman in a business suit discreetly pouring over schematics on his laptop for a small drone he is trying to get off the ground. Besides high-tech dreamers, Gaeiras says they have helped traditional craftsmen squeezed out during the recession.
“There was a carpenter that had lost his space in the Baixa in downtown,” recalls Gaeiras. “His family had been for more than a hundred years in the city center and when the economic crisis hit he and others in the building where he was working got kicked out so they could build a hotel. There was a group of architects doing research about carpenters and they heard about his story and got in contact with me.”
The 65-year-old carpenter, who was thinking about retiring, came to FabLab and now works alongside a younger generation of makers. It has helped create a mix of old and new techniques that is healthy for everyone argues Gaeiras. “Old technologies aren’t necessarily less valuable than new technologies. On the contrary, they’ve proven themselves through time. We work with craftsmen to give them a second chance. People are curious to see if they can make a new life with is. They learn a new skill, interact with other users and give their feedback on things. It’s very organic and sometimes you don’t know who are the newbies here and who are the experts.”
Among the people with a new direction thanks to FabLab is Maria Boavida. Having studied law and international relations and worked at the International Herald Tribunenewspaper and the UN in Paris and New York, she ended up moving 14 times in 15 years. She finally realized that she needed something new in her life that would ground her. At that moment, Boavida says, she discovered FabLab and knew that this was her true calling. “It felt natural,” she says, as she dons her blue work overalls and picks up a power drill.
Boavida is focusing on aspects of “up-cycling”, essentially taking an item that is most likely destined for the trash bin to create something new that will increase its value. She has done this by transforming old wooden wine boxes, commonly used for packaging the country’s popular port wines, and turning them into beautiful light-fixtures. While she sees FabLab as her playground where she can experiment and learn, Boavida would like to set up her own FabLab workshop in the future, perhaps applying the knowledge she has acquired here and investing in a mobile FabLab in Africa. "Applying this knowledge locally," she says with a smile, knowing that local communities, like Intendente, will benefit in the long run.
MERCADO DO FORNO DO TIJOLO
ARCHITECT: EDUARDO A.H. DOS REIS
YEAR BUILT: 1952
On the hillside of Intendente sits the municipal market that takes up one city block. It was designed so that the pedestrians and vehicles could enter through separate gateways. The market was built in a clean, modernist style and it is in many ways unique since at the time of its opening it functioned almost as its own little village. Later on, sports facilities were added and they are still there today. The large warehouse is vacant at the moment but there are rumors that this could be turned into a new food market or become the home of a future start-up business. A former slaughterhouse for rabbits now hosts the tech workshop FabLab and if it continues to enjoy success it might very well attract new businesses.
About the author: Ivan Carvalho (here with Catarina Portas) is a writer for Monocle, a global affairs and lifestyle magazine. When he is not traveling the globe to explore new places, he enjoys spending time with his family in Milan. Carvalho's fields of interest include design, architecture, food & travel and haute horlogerie. See more of Ivan Carvalho's work.
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