Hidden opportunities in (un)privileged urban spaces: the case of the Cova da Moura

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Cova da Moura - an African migrant slum in the Lisbon region (Portugal) - is a case study of multistakeholder involvement and collaboration to build social and territorial intervention consensus. It involved 26 local partners, from Central Administration to community organizations. The innovative model of governance developed to support this intervention is analyzed in terms of its contribution to community and urban resilience. The replicability of the lessons learned is also discussed.
Slums are identified in our society as problematic areas that may lead to conflict and civil disobedience. However, these areas, though affected by several critical factors, also often hide organized social inclusive communities and they constituted spaces for creativity and innovation. Slums are normally pockets of poverty and social exclusion where informal economy dominates and pushes individuals and their families further into impoverishment. Nevertheless, this same informal economy can sometimes provide a “cushion” through difficult times, supported by consolidated and complex networks of social and economic relations that when affected can result in conflicting and violent consequences, difficult to manage.

Although negative images and perceptions are associated to the slums, these are places that can also house populations with high levels education, professional expertise and formal jobs, as well as an excellent integration in local cultures and in the society at large. In fact, they are frequently zones with an unusual multicultural richness and expanded social support networks, very often innovative in the way they self-organize / mobilize to overcome difficulties. These informal settlements on one side present a set of problems characteristic of social exclusion settings, but on the other side they are places for learning human and community resistance and resilience in face of adversity. They can show what urbanists often call “to make city” in the most practical terms and with success.

Informal areas in our cities have deserved special attention from the “city politics” perspective and in the European context has generated a set of communitarian and national programs aiming to overcome social exclusion (URBAN, PROQUAL,PRU, etc.). Nevertheless, most interventions fail to consider the informal settlements' positive side as it reveals different ways to create urban sustainable space. Moreover the distorted vision the society at large have of these communities/places encourage frequently their dismantlement, losing the opportunity not only of learning with them, but also to find the adequate solution in the face of that specific reality and cultural context. By destroying these communities, we are making our society poorer, and transferring the existing problems elsewhere multiplied, to be eventually solved afterwards by major intervention plans.

It is the authors view that urban planners and decision-makers can contribute the most to a better and more resilient city if they mobilize / involve / collaborate with the inhabitants of these informal settlements, their formal and informal leaders and/or their formal and informal organizations, as well as all the other relevant stakeholders. By dynamically bridging gaps and constructing/reinforcing mutual relations of trust, it is possible to benefit from their different knowledge and experience, assuring community and societal structure continuity and functioning.

How to make the most of these communities by potentiating an urban space more sustainable and resilient? How to facilitate these communities taking advantage of their already existing organization and mobilization, promoting a constructive dialogue for their maturation?

The answer to these questions require to get to know these communities and to recognize the positive key elements that already exist in them to facilitate the development and articulation with the remaining society.

It is in this context that emerged the "Critical Neighborhoods Initiative" whose objective was to improve this knowledge in several neighborhoods for the development of a proposal of intervention of requalification and reinsertion making the most out of the existing competences and the value added already existing, aiming the integration of these spaces in the city. One of these settlements is Cova da Moura, a "doubly illegal" mainly African migrant slum, located in the Lisbon region (Portugal) and often represented by the media as a "criminal ghetto" and a serious social problem.

In this paper, the authors present the Cova da Moura case study as an relevant case of multistakeholder involvement and collaboration - 26 local partners, from Central and Local Administration to locally active organizations and slum organizations and community representatives - envisaging obtaining a social and territorial intervention consensus. After characterizing and analyzing Cova da Moura's community, the authors proceed to identify, debated and interpreted the critical factors relevant for assuring urban resilience, in its different dimensions. The innovative model of governance developed to support this intervention is presented, as well as the definition and development of the public policy of the social territorial intervention. Finally the lessons learned will be presented and discussed in terms of their replicability.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventICLEI 4th Global Forum in Urban Resilience and Adaptation: Session H3 Fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration - Innovative global solutions - Bonn, Germany
Duration: 31 May 20132 Jun 2013


ConferenceICLEI 4th Global Forum in Urban Resilience and Adaptation


Dive into the research topics of 'Hidden opportunities in (un)privileged urban spaces: the case of the Cova da Moura'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this