We all know about the negative population growth rate of Lisbon – many families have left the city for greener pastures, higher paying jobs, maybe just a change of scenery. However, the families who started this trend decades ago have those still in Lisbon wondering what to do with their stuff.
We aren’t talking about Aunt Mildrid’s old tea set – we’re talking about their homes. A 2008 study found that around 4,000 of Lisbon’s 55,000 buildings were abandoned. On almost every block, it seems, no matter the neighborhood, there’s at least one building with the windows bricked up.
Sometimes it’s just the front still standing, supported with steel beams so it doesn’t crumble into the street. Personally, I find it romantic in a somber, artistic kind of way – it’s at least a
good backdrop for an album cover or fashion photo shoot.
A 2010 article El País claimed that 100,000 Lisboetas left the city every decade over the past 30 years. Manuel Salgado, then deputy mayor and head of urban planning, was quoted as saying, “Some rehabilitation programs have already been approved by the city, others cannot be recovered and will have to be demolished.”
“Some rehabilitation programs have already been approved by the city, others cannot be recovered and will have to be demolished.”
It’s not just residential buildings – plenty of commercial spaces sit empty, including this gem in the middle of Monsanto.
In May of 2010, the Crono Project began Salgado’s promised rehabilitation by commissioning artists to use neglected business-district buildings as their canvas instead of handing them over to developers. The abandoned buildings on Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo were handed over to the graffiti artists Blu SAM (Italian) and OsGêmeos (Brazilian).
Each enchanting four-story artwork is a sort of social criticism: the most obvious one depicts a fat man in a suit drinking through a straw from planet Earth, wearing a crown decorated with the distinguishable symbols of big-oil companies.
There’s also a giant green crocodile, a black burglar figure dancing in and out of windows, an over-sized bird, and lots of little hidden images found in between.
These works have been received with mixed emotions by Lisboetas, but have meanwhile (among other pieces) given Lisbon top rankings in the world’s street art scene. Read more about that here.
So what’s next? Let Atlas make a suggestion. Right across the street from this 2011 project lies a building with all the makings of a fantastic public library. The façade is standing on the wings — the inside could be constructed from scratch at a much lower price. The grand entrance seems to have enough structural integrity to be used as is.
Update April 2016: RIP: This building across from the Sheraton has been torn down for a brand-new multistory luxury residential development.
What needs to go down for the city to take an interest in continuing their efforts? I say it’s no longer enough to slap a coat of paint on a crumbling wall, let’s do something for the benefit of the city. If Texas can turn an abandoned Wal-mart into a public library, why can’t Lisbon use their access to way cooler structures like this and do something for the people? Don’t they want us to stay?