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New territorial dynamics

Cities and urbanisation in democratic Portugal

Villes et urbanisation dans la démocratie portugaise
José Alberto Rio Fernandes and João Seixas


Cities are continuously gaining importance in an increasingly urban world. They are transformed by processes of extension and restructuring, with multi-centrism tendencies and growing metropolitan concentration of people, economic capacity and political power.
In the Portuguese case, gaining insight into this question is essential for understanding the post-1974 transformations, and the deep changes promoted by democracy and accompanied by the European integration, with the animation of the consumer society and the anxiety of the Lehman Brothers and sovereign debt crisis. Through complex mechanisms, cities must take on the heavy responsibility of shaping the future of the country.
Thus, we will pay particular attention to cities, urbanization, urbanism and urban politics. We present a detailed synthesis and analysis about the urban development in Portugal and suggest reflection on the future.

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1 - Cities and Urbanization. Complementarity is not necessarily subsidiarity

1Cities have always displayed all possible facets. The sacred texts of the great religions, always cross-sectional, associate cities either with sin (approving their destruction or proposing crossings in the desert for purification) or with virtue (the sophisticated and complementary, rarely the primordial ones); Frank Lloyd Wright declared them "no longer modern" after the telephone and telex, as Alvin Toffler would, decades later, about a "third wave" promoted by extra-territorial communication networks (or from other territorialities), now called the internet, social networks and many other clouds to come.

2It is the very concept of city that is called into question. For decades now, we have become aware of a process of extensive and fragmented urbanization, overlapping on rurality, across wide spaces, marked by a diffuse (and confuse) urbanization, where the very idea of city seems to lose its meaning, as the context is increasingly marked by metropolization and metapolization processes, often - but not always - with the creation of polycentric "urban areas,” much more than the advent of new cities. And yet, cities and urban life resist. Or rather, exist and reinvent themselves, sometimes against their own original cultures, or even showing a strengthening of their epistemological force.

3These dynamics have entered into enforcement in Portugal too, within the context of an "expanded concentration,” especially between Viana and Aveiro, with Porto as the main center, and between Leiria and Setúbal, with Lisbon occupying here a central position. However, both inside and beyond these metapolized spaces, there are cities, dense and compact spaces, diverse and rich in their economic and cultural offer, large in size and benefiting from good mobility conditions, able to pursue their historic role at the nexus between the region, the country, and the world.

4It is on cities and urban spaces seen as dynamic entities that we focus this historical analysis. Cities are seen as organizing centers and territorial structures, considering the present national urban system situation. In both perspectives we look at the city, the urbanization process and the conditions of urbanity and how they have changed.

5This text intends to provide a global assessment of the main changes occurred in Portuguese cities, including in their urban, geographical, social, and economic dimensions over the four decades of the democratic regime starting in the mid-1970s. There are crucial transformations over this historical period, particularly since 1976: the country joined the European Economic Community in 1986, entered the Eurozone in 2002, has been adversely affected by the consequence of the severe 2011 financial bailout, and today has to face the challenge of globalization.

6The text goes into detail in its second section about what we see as the major drivers that have supported the rapid urbanization of Portugal. The third part explores the consequent geographical urban restructuring as well as its related problems. The fourth section presents a brief analysis of urban policies. Finally, the text concludes with a reflection about the future challenges and perspectives of Portuguese cities.

2 - Forty Years of Territorial Urbanization

7The 40 years of Portuguese democracy witnessed broad changes in terms of use and occupation of the national territory. As opposed to the classical division between North and South (historically funded), or between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean (for climatic, landscape, and socio-economic reasons), as decisively proposed by Orlando Ribeiro (1945), an increasingly sharp contrast began to arise between what is commonly called 'coastal' and 'inner' areas, the latter including the ultra-peripheral regions of the archipelagos, except for the central urban mesh of Funchal, as well as places close to the sea such as Melgaço, Baião and Castelo de Paiva, or the Alentejo coastal line. This opposition underlines not only the demographic and social-economic vitality of the urban and suburban territories of the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto, to which the coast of central Algarve and Funchal may be added, but also offers a view on the reverse side of the mirror, with the devitalization of spaces - rural, but not only - of lower demographic densities and lower transactional capabilities (fig. 1 and fig. 2).

Fig. 1 - Population variation 1981-2011 by municipality

Fig. 1 - Population variation 1981-2011 by municipality

Census INE, 2011.

Fig. 2 - Use of mobile communication antennas in 2013

Fig. 2 - Use of mobile communication antennas in 2013

Obvious concentration in Braga-Porto-Aveiro and Leiria-Lisboa-Setúbal regions.

F. Ribeiro J. and Ferrão J., 2014 ; Csájia B. Cs. et al., 2013).

8It is very clear that one of the key forces for change in the Portuguese society, economy and territory over the four decades of democracy, lies in the intense urbanization process. A late and rapid urbanization, in which the private and social housing markets played a very important role, strongly supported by investments in infrastructures and public facilities (DOMINGUES, 2007) and which, while being relevant already in the 1960s, developed at an especially strong pace at the turn of the century. According to the INE databases and our own calculations, we observe that the number of dwellings built in the first 25 years after Portugal joined the EEC (1986) was about 4.5 units per hour; with the national ratio of inhabitants per unit decreasing from 3.25 to 1.85.

Fig. 3 - 60% of the Portuguese population in 1950, 1981 and 2011

Fig. 3 - 60% of the Portuguese population in 1950, 1981 and 2011

Source: INE (Instituto Nacional de Estatística).

9As can be clearly deduced from the analysis of population change for the period 1981‑2011 (by municipality), almost all urban territories register a positive variation, in contrast with those that already suffered from low density (fig. 3). Among those, the highest population growth is recorded in the peripheral municipalities of metropolitan areas as well as in some 'inner' districts that operate as poles of attraction and migration restraint. There is, therefore, a growing polarization in the occupation of land, albeit with increasingly complex tones, especially if we consider variables other than just those of demographic nature.

10The built area (without the most scattered constructions), including the housing units for underprivileged strata, the still tenuous (although rapidly growing in recent years) urban regeneration, but also the provision of second homes and real estate investment capital of different scales, increased in Portugal to such an extent that it became one of the highest per capita surfaces in the EU (BARATA‑SALGUEIRO, 2007). This growth has led to the proliferation of diffuse urbanized areas and unstructured urban meshes, both in the two major metropolitan areas and along the central coast, even on the Algarve seashore and in most of the medium/small towns, with special evidence in the historically dense and scattered Northwest. This urbanization, driven by economic and social needs, while ensuring basic rights, such as the right to housing and public services, also led to the settlement of significant diseconomies, with relevant costs in terms of energetic and environmental efficiency and sustainability. As a result, most of the Portuguese urban areas remain today - with the relative exception of the metropolitan area of Lisbon, as well as some sectors of the metropolitan area of Porto - without sufficient size and structure to ensure all potential gains usually associated with the urbanization processes at this scale level.

11In 1981 about 30% of the Portuguese lived in settlements with over 10,000 inhabitants, although in 2011 this proportion reached about 40%. And this percentage of 'urban population' would certainly be greater if one takes into account the rules defined by the INE, which does not include multiple proto-urban (or semi-urbanized) areas in the outskirts of the major metropolitan systems of Lisbon, the Northwest and the Algarve. But if one sees a high population concentration around the urban regions of Lisbon and Porto, in a process of intensification of polarities, this phenomenon is accompanied by urban fragmentation, exemplarily felt in the devitalization of historic centers and other locations until very recently (fig. 4 and 5).

12Generally, at the national level, one may speak of a densification in the coastal bands ranging from Braga to Setúbal and from Lagos to Olhão, as well as on the southern slope of Madeira, around Funchal. Here, as in the rest of the country, one grasps the idea of a consolidated geography becoming more complex, with the profusion of infrastructures and public facilities at the municipal level, although anchored in relevant investments at the regional scale. Furthermore, investments made by private companies have to be added, together with the investment made by companies and individuals in real estate, services and distribution.

13The evolution of the urban sprawl in the metropolitan area of Lisbon and Porto between 1987 and 2000 and between 1990 and 2007 (respectively) provides evidence for the spread of the urbanized area from consolidated centers towards an initially unstructured periphery, where small cities and villages play a role in the construction of a multicentric regional pole.

Fig. 4 - Land Use in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon

Fig. 4 - Land Use in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon

Source: Lisbon Metropolitan Authority.

Fig. 5 - Urbanized areas in Greater Porto

Fig. 5 - Urbanized areas in Greater Porto

Source: Land Use Chart / DGT. Author credits: Pedro Chamusca.

14Another element associated with this type of urbanization, affecting population mobility and preventing greater flexibility in the adjustment to change, relates to the small size of the real estate rental market, which, being simultaneously the cause and effect of a set of incentives present in Portuguese society and economy, eventually lead to the dominance of home ownership supported by credit loans (in 2011 only 19.7% of conventional housing units were leased). This encouraged household indebtedness and even the request for loans by Portuguese banks to entities abroad with the intent to meet a huge demand which, in turn, fuelled a powerful interaction with the municipal power (enriched by way of urbanization and construction fees) and the multiplication of companies associated with construction and real estate marketing.

Fig. 6 - Bank loans granted to individuals, values at the end of the years 2001‑2010

Fig. 6 - Bank loans granted to individuals, values at the end of the years 2001‑2010

Source: Banco de Portugal.

Fig. 7 - Housing units leased in 2011 (%), by municipality

Fig. 7 - Housing units leased in 2011 (%), by municipality

Source: Census INE.

15The evolution of the urban area and land occupation, surely translating an overall improvement in the economic conditions and housing comfort, resulted in significant negative externalities. The increased consumption and homework commute began to change along with the changes operated in decision-making as to the location of residencies and companies, with a strong reinforcement of individual mobility, reflected, for example, in the growing weight of households owning more than one car and a relocation of economic activities such as trade, with the emergence and strengthening of large shopping centers. The environmental costs of this model are significant and well evident in the fact that, despite having reduced the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the last two decades, the national transportation sector shows the biggest increase in emission rates within the EU 27.

3 - The Urban Structuring of Contemporary Portugal

16The advent of democracy in 1974, and the entry of Portugal in the European Community in 1986, resulted in significant changes in the social-economic conditions of the population, with important effects of a spatial nature. Notably, these territorial changes also brought relevant alterations in the life of residents (and visitors) in Portugal.

17First, it should be noted the increase in the purchasing power, the internationalization of the economy, the alleviation of poverty and the general access to better education, health and social protection for all. As regards housing, the State's efforts in building housing units alternated or occurred in parallel with the strengthening of the capacity of almost everyone accessing bank loans, especially after the euro, with a significant increase in home ownership. In parallel, road infrastructures and an increasing number of cars adjusted and altered the circulation system, with notable emphasis on mass mobility and suburbanization.

18Somehow, the European integration translated into a certain triumph of the consumer society, with the growing frequency of hypermarkets and shopping malls, cinema multiplexes, museums and cultural events, while rural areas changed due to commodification or agricultural abandonment. All this happened rather rapidly in contrast with the post WWII modernization in Central Europe.

19In this context, small and medium-sized cities often operate as places of "aspiration" of the population of small towns and villages, especially the younger and more mobile, who seek better studies and jobs, and use these places as hubs for a journey that will take them to major cities (Lisbon and Porto or their surroundings, as always), or to other countries, not only those commonly chosen by the Portuguese emigration, nor will this emigration occur in the same manner for many of those departing (several of them well-educated) and which, in addition to the latter, will also include residents in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto.

20Small, medium and large cities (and/or metapoles) mainly grow through a suburbanization process, with some traces of peri-urbanization or even desurbanization, especially in the Northwest, or between Leiria and Setúbal, where multifamily buildings and villas mix with fields, factories and stores of different sizes, thus composing a framework of formal dispersion that will often correspond to functional and social discontinuities.

21One may say that, currently, Portugal conjugates a spatial dispersion with a certain specialized refocusing of activities and people. A conjugation associated with processes where an increased number of people present different ways of urban living, work and consumption. Faced with a structuring of geographical development in territories of concentrations and flows marked by multicentrism (several similar centers in close or different levels of a hierarchy), polycentrism (where these add up other centers, functioning as a network) and/or region-archipelago or city-archipelago ("hubs" and "spokes"), made even more complex by the different rhythms of displacement of residents and visitors and the various temporalities of spaces, at different scales. This complexity, while attractive to the study, challenges, however, our ability to understand it, requiring both in-depth and specialized knowledge and the understanding of an entire system, which may be very chaotic and unpredictable.

22On a national scale, even if city-regions and international relations are stronger, the structural imbalances now take different forms, as well as the maps of the social-economic capabilities or, rather, of the economic shocks, significantly marked, since 2008, by the financial crisis and sovereign debt. The transition from a relatively peripheral global positioning among the industrialized economies to a slightly more central positioning - although not as intense as it would occur in other territories, such as in neighboring Spain - makes the Portuguese economy and society in general more dependent on public support and on structures, agents and chains - including precisely those financing and structuring public policies - essentially based on 'input-based' models (Figueiredo, 2010). This favors the maintenance of economic-institutional frameworks and hinders significant increases in efficiency, innovation and knowledge.

23The metropolitan areas (or metro-urban regions) defined around Lisbon and Porto and, in a way, also in the Algarve and Madeira, have had as the latest trend a change in the occupation of spaces in which the semi-compact and semi-dispersed prevail, with a strong social-territorial interrelationship (Fig. 4 & 5). In this context, the old relations of hierarchical dependence (never entirely clear) combine with apparently stronger complementarity relations without, however, giving rise to a truly polycentric structure. These perhaps promote a regionalization process of the economic systems or of the famous Marshallian districts (BAGNASCO and LE GALES, 2000). Outside these regions the scenario is not much more encouraging. The urban centers of less critical mass have to face significant restrictions in their geo-economic, cultural and even political interconnections, although the latter are vital to any strategic order and to the social-economic and territorial sustainability of the country, despite some very specific and interesting dynamics as in the cases of the axis Vila Real-Régua-Lamego, the smaller axis of Faro-Loulé and Aveiro-Ílhavo, or the cities of Coimbra and Viseu (the only urban center in the so-called ‘interior’ demonstrating interesting forms of socioeconomic and cultural vitality).

24If, from an economic standpoint, the difference between metropolitan spaces and small towns is rather obvious, at a social level the scenario becomes more complex, since there are now new forms of social-spatial separation that add to the traditional ones, particularly in the accessibility to spaces of housing, employability and uses of the city, in a time when income and urban rents are strongly segregating, thus placing especially the elderly and the poor in situations of relative exclusion, whether within a rural or urban context. This reality is quite challenging, even more so if we consider the fact that we live in a period marked by a crisis of systems and social cohesion and inclusion policies, together with the decline (and failure?) of the Welfare State itself.

25While the increase in economic and cultural inequalities seems to have slowed down (and, perhaps, stopped), it is in the conditions of mobility (social and spatial) that much of the ability to strengthen urbanity will reside, so that the city may, as always, promote citizenship, at the intersection between the faces of diversity and hope. In this sense, it’s good to see that the use of public transport is recovering after hard years of austerity (with the interventions of the IMF, the Central Bank and the European Commission between 2011 and 2014). New metro lines in Lisbon and Porto and a reinforced intermodality have improved user friendliness at a good price. Moreover, it seems that the center - the old one - recovers its condition. Although residence costs lead locals away, cafés and restaurants push the prices of their services up and terraces compete with the few places where you sit without having to pay for it. Feasts and events, simple weekend getaways, or even a visit to what tourists value in "our city" and we did not know well (or not at all), reunite (almost) all of us with the symbolically central space in the beautiful Évora and Guimarães, in Lisbon and Porto, as in Coimbra or Funchal, or even in smaller cities, where tourists are more significantly present (FERNANDES and SPOSITO, 2013).

4 - Urban Policies

26Portugal has long been a centralized country, whose options are substantially marked by ministries, directorates-general and public companies and geared almost exclusively by sectorial dimensions extended to the national space, where there is little or no concern with the naturally diverse condition of territories.

27Still, the Estado Novo dictatorship developed several initiatives especially targeted at cities–and even at some cities in particular–thus strengthening the role of district capitals, for example, through the establishment of branches of the Bank of Portugal, hospitals and courthouses, in addition to boosting the urban planning and intervention in Lisbon and Porto, namely through the social housing policy.

28In any case, democracy, also in matters of urban policy and planning, has driven a revolutionary change, both in terms of municipal autonomy, now dependent on direct elections, and through an easier penetration of usual practices in other European countries such as the obligation of carrying out general plans for spatial planning at the municipal level: the municipal master plans. These and the municipal plans and budgets, approved in general meetings, guide much of the effort, either because they constitute municipal seats or due to the fact that cities coincide with municipalities, as is the case with Lisbon, Porto, São João da Madeira and Entroncamento.

29Inspired by the French policy that sought to lessen the gap between Paris and the "French desert", in Portugal one of the first urban policy efforts nationwide aimed at strengthening the so-called medium-sized cities, located outside the metropolitan area of Lisbon and Porto, with more than 50 thousand inhabitants (with some exceptions). The PROSIURB (in 1994), designed to strengthen medium-sized cities and balance the national urban network, will have another significant effect: it will force the implementation of strategic planning (with some degree of involvement from all stakeholders) and the formation of a "City Office,” which brings together the different agents of the city (these offices did not last long, unfortunately), leading, in several cases, to further coordination between neighboring cities, taking into account urban axes.

30Under the influence of the PROSIURB–with much less money than required to produce a real effect–municipalities with a population between 50 and 200 ,000 inhabitants represented 36% of the overall Portuguese population in 1981 and 47% in 2011. In any case, there is a considerable consolidation, or even proto-metropolization, of some - few - regional and subregional centralities in non-coastal territories, namely Viseu (with Mangualde), Vila Real (with Régua), Castelo Branco-Fundão-Covilhã and Évora.

31With greater autonomy, much of the city transformations will result from what is undertaken directly by the municipal executives or from what they are able to negotiate with the central government. So, the importance of leadership becomes very clear, as in Braga, within a great growth model, Maia, in the assertion of modernity, Évora, Sintra and Guimarães, in the enhancement of the historic fabric and cultural dimension of the city, or Almada, in its combat against the periphery effect, among many other cases.

32This process of shaping the future of the city had found several expressions and, especially, a more or less skillful articulation between municipal plans and budgets, and between these and the opportunities arising from the sectorial policies of the Central Government, particularly from the way European funds can be made available for public and private investments. In this sense, the POLIS program marked a profound change, not only for having clear priorities of urban policy, but also for introducing several new features, including: privileging larger cities and those considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; making the financial support depend on applications assessed under a competitive process; and requiring the articulation between urbanism and environmental enhancement. The effects were remarkable in several cities, in most cases giving rise to an increase in the prices of the buildings located opposite the waterfront and leading people to travel and stay in ennobled places. These can often be seen as outcomes of the London Docklands “success story” especially, as a very favorable assessment was made by the government about the renewal experience of the eastern side of Lisbon, on the occasion of EXPO 98. However, there are also projects in difficult areas of the urban periphery and, both in these and in other cases (such as Castelo Branco, among many more), there is no water nearby.

33Despite the remarkable impact of the projects of the POLIS program, it is not fair to neglect the fact that there had been integrated urban projects before, with important effects on the city and especially on people's lives. We highlight, among the rest, the ones pertaining to the URBAN, a European program that required a reflection on the physical intervention alongside a set of initiatives that would allow "clearing" problematic spaces in the MAL (Metropolitan Area of Lisbon) and MAP (Metropolitan Area of Porto), where unemployment and family breakdown rates were (and are!) particularly high and are associated with matters of insecurity and drug addiction.

34Another case, with a particular incidence on the city center, is that of the so-called projects of commercial urbanism that were developed within the framework of the PROCOM and URBCOM programs. Targeted at streets with high commercial density and small-sized independent establishments, these allowed significant improvements in the conditions of urban comfort in central areas where shops and restaurants concentrate, covering more than a quarter of the Portuguese municipalities. Although the effects significantly varied from case to case, mainly by virtue of the unequal dynamism of entrepreneurs and the political will of the local authorities, one can speak of a "before" and an "after" in relation to the competitiveness of the retail market, as well as to the quality of the public space in many city centers.

35However, other policies, as is obviously case for housing, reproduce old practices, one key initiative [PER (Plano Especial de Realojamento) (Special Re-housing Plan)] being materialized through the production of real estate and construction of social housing, thus creating serious urban issues associated with the homogenization of city fragments, even though, at the same time, it was possible to promote the demolition of shacks and shanty houses in the two largest cities and to achieve significant improvements in housing conditions for many thousands of Portuguese nationals.

36There are also notable actions in the environmental field, in traditional domains, with the extension of the sewerage network to all cities and the reinforcement of the quantity and quality of water, along with the remarkable improvement of other infrastructures (also digital) and State-dependent network of equipment, particularly in the areas of education, health, sports and culture.

37Recently, there has been also important advances in matters of urban policy through the POLIS XXI Program driven by the Secretary of State, and combining "territorial planning" with "cities.” Although this program has significantly boosted the urban policy, it is not as much integrating as would have been desired. Now, in addition to the articulation between environment and urbanism, the operations defined by the “Partnerships for Urban Regeneration” require municipalities to promote the involvement of several agents, which will occur more in formal terms than in fact, and to design forms of integrated intervention (hampered by the sectorial view of the State). Initially conceived for areas suffering from economic vitality deficits, particularly fragile at a social level and environmentally problematic, the project unfortunately achieved only a stalemate in most cases, as many municipalities identified the tourist enhancement of old fabric sites as a priority. In addition, the program also encourages operations carried out by city networks, which could lead to innovative practices, partially successful, for example, in the case of the Quadrilateral of the Minho region, combining, under a set of common projects, the cities of Barcelos, Braga, Guimarães and Vila Nova de Famalicão. Over time, these have increased mutual confidence and reinforced their cooperation, in conjunction with the university or through the creation of a sub-regional transport system.

38However, despite the growing importance of cities and one being now able to speak of a true urban policy, we can see that sectorial policies remain very important and that municipal actions, almost always at the expense of a long-term vision, favor the use of funding opportunities: how or when these occur always remains unclear. Therefore, although there is a certain Europeanization of policies, with the recent reinforcement of the reasoning built around the concepts of governance and urban regeneration, one can observe very different policies from one municipality to another. Over these forty something years since the revolution, what stands out is not so much the overall effect of a set of specific policies, but the differences resulting from the way the opportunities were (and whether or not they were) exploited, for example with the missing social housing in Braga, the enormous volume of assisted-rent housing units in Gondomar, the investments in already enhanced waterfronts and the protection of historic buildings in Porto, or the actions targeted at the renewal and corporatization of the city in Vila Nova Gaia, among many other postures that further deepen diversity. Naturally, the pace of change slowed down during the last decade, as the period has to be associated with a reduction of investment and salaries, increased taxes, unemployment and emigration, and a reduced action of national and local administrations. As a consequence, some of the recent investments were seen as white elephants, as it was especially the case with some highways, suffering from the limited number of cars in circulation and the excess of dependency on public-private partnerships with financial loan resources.

5 - Perspectives for the Next 40 Years

39As we slowly find a way out of the crisis, with income and unemployment rates increasing to pre-austerity levels, we find ourselves today more than ever under dynamics of global order and impact in which the urban territories as well as urban policies both face inevitable changes and relevant repositioning dynamics. In some cases, life goes on as usual but in several cities there is a semi-organic mix of sociopolitical innovation, although combined with a still quite considerable disorientation. This paradox, in Portugal as elsewhere, is being mentioned in several papers and reports, such as "Future Urban Living" (University of Birmingham, Policy Commission, 2014). There is a strong recognition of the striking limitations in the empowering and governmental actions on most cities, when confronted with the challenges faced. The triple crash of the urbanization economies–financial, energetic and environmental (NEF, 2010)–together with the economic and social crisis in which Europe was submerged, had a huge impact on urban areas without many of these showing adequate ability to meet such challenges. This scenario is particularly noticeable in one of the most centralized countries of the western world, even if the situation is considered as much better after the intense austerity period prior to 2016.

40Anyway, on the one hand, these upheavals produced significantly different results in Portuguese cities and urban systems. Today, urban complexity changes considerably, becoming much deeper and more diverse, based on production and consumer systems that are very flexible and decentralized but dependent - perhaps more than ever - on agents and local and regional factors.

41Faced with a concentration of power due to the greater control of global value chains and the emigration movement itself to central locations (an over-centralization), there is still a relative economic and territorial decentralization, with considerable and differentiated results partially dependent on the better or worse capacity to develop effective local political actions.

42On the other hand, the emergence of 'businesses without workers,” where performance flexibility and digital platforms dilute the duality between capital and labor, is a particularly strong challenge to take up. Virtually all cities and metropolitan areas have become increasingly conditioned by the relevance of direct demand (via the Internet), in trade and services of the most varied types; in urban tourism, in college studentships and congresses, in urban breaks, along with waves of migration and emigration of variable length; all acquiring greater urban importance, faced with the residential daily lives. The entrepreneurial city (Harvey, 1989) invests in marketing and in rankings, attractive to investment, innovative and sustainable, with Uber, Air BnB, Booking and everything else that will arise from new responses to the citizen-consumer-traveler, increasingly demanding and flexible in his choices.

43The larger cities (and some others, relevant for their high schools and tourism) become more and more international while reframing their national and regional ties, positioning themselves differently within their own classical polycentric urban systems of variable geometry.

44Complex urban spaces in different places are also differentiated by their users, with the most diverse inequalities, as between residents and visitors. However, the gap between the rich and the poor still happens to be the most challenging issue, particularly worrying in the general context of the welfare State retreat that the government attempts to contain in Portugal.

45We live today in 'times of frontier', which calls for long-term visions. Therefore, assimilating the nature and positioning of the assets and policies of multifaceted Portuguese territorial systems and subsystems and, consequently, attaching greater importance to the spatial dimension in the promotion of socioeconomic and environmental development would be highly relevant. Especially after several decades marked by a positivist policy approach characterized by its diversity and fragmentation (inter and intra-systems) and by a considerable mismatch between the attempts to force political-spatial rationality on political-social structures that have demonstrated their considerable organicity and instability.

46All in all, the territorial development models pursued in Portugal in the most recent decades have yielded highly paradoxical results. Here stands a country that is much more urban, but also more suburban and peri-urban. Despite strong infrastructural 'inputs', the high exposure and the fragile sustainability of many territorial systems persist. The consumption of energy, water, soil, equipment and public infrastructures remains quite high. After an arduous path towards greater cohesion and the provision of focused capabilities and qualifications, there is a continued fragility in the assertion and competitiveness of most districts and more unequal living conditions between Lisbon and "the rest", and also within the metropolitan area of Lisbon itself.

47Although there’s hope for progress, most political decisions with striking territorial impacts remain based on 'technicist' supports and 'uni-sectorial efficiencies', and are dominated by one of the most centralized states in Europe, where not much capacity and no elected legitimacy at any intermediate level between the nation and the municipality exist. Also, municipalities remain relatively weak and unbalanced in their ability to combine competences with resources and permanent networking capacities.

48Finally, Portugal has to deal with the impacts of this crisis (or crises), whose effects have been particularly felt in low density areas and in specific (sub)urban regions. Even if theres no sufficient data to support a clear reading of such a complex reality, we can agree that: a) most low density territories, especially those poorly connected with Lisboa and Porto, have greatly suffered from a population loss; b) some of the poorest municipalities have affirmed their differences; c) Lisbon has suffered less than Porto from the crisis, in a general context of spatial sprawl (Ferrão 2012, Seixas et al., 2015), now vigorously reversed in some of the most industrialized areas. And, simultaneously, we are witnessing the emergence and gradual development of innovation dynamics and transformation practices of a very stimulating nature, occurring, mainly, where a critical mass of qualified professionals and public services can be mobilized (that is, around Lisbon and in the Northwest).

49For the next few years major challenges lie ahead in the government and administration of the territory, considering the debates about decentralization processes that could lead to strengthening the regional and metropolitan legitimacy - and responsibility -, together with the increase in municipal competencies. At the same time, measures for the development of the "inner" land are being announced (they are especially claimed after the great fires of 2016 and 2017) as well as the implementation of strategic rehabilitation plans, which are extending the Partnerships for Urban Regeneration, with less budget but greater ambition in matters of energy efficiency and promotion of private investment.

50In parallel, it seems necessary to identify the main drivers for economic, social and environmental development - given the new global and local configurations and how much cities can contribute because, within a global context of climate change, energy crisis, economic and financial crisis, demographic aging and reinforcement of social disparities, new processes of change need to be bolstered (Seixas and Albet, 2012).

51The end of the crisis brings new pressures on urban socioeconomic and environmental systems; particularly on the increased spatial polarizations and inequalities both in terms of income and universal access to urban rights; serious difficulties involved in developing new models of social and economic progress need to be addressed together with ecological regeneration.

52Regarding the valorization of city compactness, it seems possible to materialize new and alternative development models, able to complement the old ones and to face the tourist boom that is particularly relevant in Lisbon and Porto (European Best City Destination). The challenge is to reinforce the cohesion of metropolitan systems and to enhance the ability to articulate urban and rural spaces, thus stimulating small towns and containing the abandonment of large surface areas. But if all this is true at a national scale, the same applies for the wider Europe, where cities are given a crucial role in enhancing connectivity, and promoting citizenship, creativity and innovation.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 - Population variation 1981-2011 by municipality
Credits Census INE, 2011.
File image/jpeg, 568k
Title Fig. 2 - Use of mobile communication antennas in 2013
Caption Obvious concentration in Braga-Porto-Aveiro and Leiria-Lisboa-Setúbal regions.
Credits F. Ribeiro J. and Ferrão J., 2014 ; Csájia B. Cs. et al., 2013).
File image/jpeg, 752k
Title Fig. 3 - 60% of the Portuguese population in 1950, 1981 and 2011
Credits Source: INE (Instituto Nacional de Estatística).
File image/jpeg, 424k
Title Fig. 4 - Land Use in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon
Credits Source: Lisbon Metropolitan Authority.
File image/jpeg, 840k
Title Fig. 5 - Urbanized areas in Greater Porto
Credits Source: Land Use Chart / DGT. Author credits: Pedro Chamusca.
File image/jpeg, 1.2M
Title Fig. 6 - Bank loans granted to individuals, values at the end of the years 2001‑2010
Credits Source: Banco de Portugal.
File image/jpeg, 116k
Title Fig. 7 - Housing units leased in 2011 (%), by municipality
Credits Source: Census INE.
File image/jpeg, 542k
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Electronic reference

José Alberto Rio Fernandes and João Seixas, « Cities and urbanisation in democratic Portugal », Méditerranée [Online], 130 | 2018, Online since 28 November 2018, connection on 15 October 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.10698

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About the authors

José Alberto Rio Fernandes

Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto/Centro de Estudos em Geografia e Ordenamento do Território

João Seixas

Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Universidade Nova de Lisboa / Centro Interdisciplinar de Ciências Sociais

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Tous droits réservés

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