Rethinking public spaces in waterfront areas: Notes from lisbon

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In port cities with declining industries, waterfront redevelopment is one major part of the competitive agenda. The increasing economic importance of service, leisure, and tourism industries created an opportunity to reuse urban waterfront areas no longer considered profitable. Parque das Nações in Lisbon is a product of such a process: It's a newly built mixed-use waterfront neighborhood, planned, and developed, first and foremost, to be the site of Expo '98. This former industrial and port area has been emerging in the last 15 years as a "showcase" for Lisbon: A piece of the competitive strategy of the Portuguese capital. Its public spaces are an important part of that strategy and have been managed in order to remain particularly safe and clean. On one hand, Parque das Nações is a socially homogenous elite residential neighborhood, on the other hand, it is emerging as a new metropolitan centrality characterized by an intense mobility and by an increasing concentration of urbanites carrying on work and leisure related activities. It is the coexistence of these two complementary and contradictory dynamics that shapes the interactive logic of public life in the area. This chapter explores the use, appropriation, and interaction patterns afforded by the public spaces of Parque das Nações. I discard both the idealized conception of public spaces that characterizes them as havens of diversity and accessibility and the more contemporary idea of public spaces as empty spaces that no longer promote encounters with others, serving exclusively as marketing tools for real-estate developers. Instead, I argue that the production of urban areas such as Parque das Nações is a socially unequal process resulting in excessively planned and controlled public spaces. However, when they attract different populations for different reasons, these spaces might foster unexpected, emergent, or even transgressive uses and interactions that promote public space vitality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-344
Number of pages26
JournalResearch In Urban Sociology
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Everyday life
  • Lisbon
  • Public spaces
  • Waterfront redevelopment


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