I somehow always seem to end up in the best places. In the need to have accommodation booked in advance to apply for my visa to Portugal, I booked a short term rental on Airbnb, with plans to take a month to search for a location suitable to myself. I arrived in Martim Moniz, a small area named after the famous noble knight of Portugal, and immediately saw the contrast between a large renovated square with fountains and lounge chairs and somewhat pricey restaurants to the many ethnic wholesale shops and multiple ethnic-owned convenience shops/mini-markets/”Bangladesheries” dotted amongst the residences.
I soon learned from talking to anyone in Portugal that this area – the neighbouring bairro called Intendente more particularly was once a main hub for drug dealing and prostitution and despite recent municipal and local development interventions to requalify the urban space, many Lisboners still hold on to its reputation as an unsafe area. It has become a key area for immigrants to amalgamate – hence the Bangladesheries, which are amazing to pick up milk, bread or any veggies you are missing for dinner, right at your doorstep. I quickly fell in love with the area for many reasons: cheap ethnic food shops for Indian spices and takeaways, outside of the tourist-taken-over city center while still remaining central, and the diversity of alternative creative spaces that exist here, such as a bike/food co-op RDA 69, a cultural cooperative Crew Hassan, a reformed brothel turned student cafe/artist residence/hostel Largo Cafe Estudia. Not to mention being right in between two really great yoga studios.
What’s happening in Intendente is another example of gentrification – where developments to an area of the city, whether economic or cultural, bring towards it a new class of people (middle class, artistic, etc.) as well as tourists/visitors that add value to the area. Although this “cleans up” the area by beautifying the space and preventing less opportunity for crime, it also increases rent prices and pushes the local people out of the area and further out into the margins of the city. This is a common occurrence in the growing nature of cities and their economic expansion, and particularly in central Lisbon with the relatively recent influx of tourists and students.
However, Intendente may be a positive example of creative collaboration. Although the municipal government was involved to consciously give the area a makeover, it seems that local stakeholders have been just as important actors in the process. The strategy involved was to encourage the development of creative and cultural industries in the area – indeed, this is becoming an “in-fashion” development strategy, which advocates for the increase of cultural productivity to bring about development. It is a far more complicated topic to make such a generalization, in my opinion, however nice it is to hear that policies are encouraging the arts and other creative industries.
There does seem to be a viable development solution happening here. Although Martim Moniz square is a bit out of place and would be too expensive for me to be frequenting to often if at all – as a student and I could assume for many immigrants in the area as well – the rest of Intendente has a combination of different types of shops and venues that are giving new life to old and abandoned spaces for local ownership and accessible use by locals, youth and artists. Run-down warehouses reformed into venues for the African music scene, factories into locally-inspired shops, brothels into a hostels, and spaces simply available to use as a space. The creative capacity in Intendente is on a boom – and I somehow landed right in the middle of it.