Largo Residências. How to balance the brain and the heart in an excel spreadsheet
Largo Residências docked in Largo do Intendente in 2011. That year, on July 1, even with its doors turned into a construction site, they occupied the former Pensão Pereira. They did not have a solid plan, rather an idea felt in the body of what could be its role in that area. It was a project born of an economic necessity, but which proved to be an important agent of social mediation in the (ongoing) gentrification process of Intendente.
As the face of Largo Residências, Marta Silva embodies this same mediation. She is, at the same time, a well-known figure and liked by everyone in the neighbourhood – residents, wholesalers, cultural and recreational associations – a biding agent between those who are there and the ones who arrive, and an active voice in the connection established with the local political power. Her speech is always uttered in the first person plural, since the cooperative’s work is done by people and for people.
Even though victories are celebrated throughout the whole year, the festival Bairro Intendente em Festa is the largest celebration of that joint work that is committed to keeping Intendente on a human scale. Although Largo is the promoter entity, the programme is outlined alongside every café, shop and association of Intendente, and is a reflection of the many cultures that live there. In the past year, the festival extended its scope of action and introduced a series of debates on what is to li(survi)ve in Intendente nowadays, fitly entitled AGORA. In line with the inclusive stance of Bairro Intendente em Festa, everyone was invited to participate and had the right to speak: residents, investors, architects, journalists. This year, the 2.0 version of these conversations will be focused on that difficult place, but one that is essential to grasp, found between the memory and the projection.
Somehow, Largo Residências kept growing with Intendente’s pace, halfway between the internal and external needs. The team’s core in some way derived (teachers, patrons, etc.) from the SOU association, which existed in that territory – or, better said, slightly above in Anjos, since one street can make a difference – since 2004. After a period of growth with a great involvement of the local population, SOU began to feel the effects of the crisis in 2009/2010. Then, they began a quest for public funding of the municipality and, from that moment onwards, the process was conducted by several pieces that fit each other in the right place.
The specifications of the BIP/ZIP program targeted projects with urban rehabilitation and community development components, which were in tune with the team’s embryonic concept. Albeit uncapable of outlining the project from start to finish, Marta Silva had the knowledge of a human matter, which (at the time) other eyes could not spot, and also the certainty that “the pleasure derives from meeting people and this will generate anything interesting.”
The intersection with Todos festival forced people to look more attentively to the axis Martim Moniz/Intendente, and the news that the office of the then Mayor of Lisbon, António Costa, would move to that area, helped to define a political context where this idea could bear fruit. “We knew that we didn’t want to work focused on target audiences, niches and boxes, we knew that we wanted to work art and social integration, trying to produce a bond with this human heritage, to avoid losing it. We wanted to bring in new people, to pass on the message that safety is born of human occupation and not something done by the police,” Marta Silva explains. “The discourse was conducted side by side with the course of action, while the territory was slipping into our body. It was a project that began with intuition and heart but had many shapes and turns. If it were put on paper and a feasibility study was required… Nothing would get done. It only worked thanks to the craziness of some of us and also because our goals are more territorial and not that capitalist-minded”, she concludes.
The first year of Largo Residências was focused on knowing the outside rather than the inside, establishing connections with people and defining local partnerships. In parallel, even though the major goals are different, it was necessary to understand how one could make the project economically feasible. In other words, it was necessary to combine cultural action with a business model.
The works in the building took two and a half years to be completed, setting out the several strands of the cooperative: part of the building is reserved for artistic residencies and for the team’s headquarters, the rest is occupied by the hostel, the suites and the coffee. Naturally, one would expect the latter to be the main source of income, but its existence owes more to its social potential than its financial counterpart. “There is the culture area, there is business, and, in the middle of all this, there is a cross-sectional thing, focused on an attitude, which is the individual mediation. An area that crosses all others, and which is also an area in itself. It’s the relationship that you establish with people that cross paths with projects or the neighbourhood. The coffee works deeply as a social hub, it’s an open door, a house with affordable prices. There are tables that function like day-care centres, where some neighbours spend the afternoon and just drink one coffee,” Marta declares. “We are always adjusting goals, conciliating the brain with the heart, something not easy to do in Excel.”
The Council, from the beginning, proved to be an important strategic partner, allocating to Largo some of the projects that exist nowadays. The active presence of Marta Silva in the former GABIP of (Gabinete de Apoio ao Bairro de Intervenção Prioritária – Priory Intervention Neighbourhood Office) was essential to build a bridge between the political power and the sellers and cultural agents who were occupying the area.
The works on Largo do Intendente were completed in 2012 and, at the suggestion of António Costa, the new space was opened in a “homemade” way: grilled sardines with the neighbours only, with plastic tables and no flashes. However, showing the city that this area was now renewed was also important. This context launched the first Bairro Intendente em Festa, a festival at the time called Renasce um Largo para a Cidade, with a programme designed alongside the Council and the collective of entities of Intendente. In 2013, the event had another edition, named Largos Mouraria, celebrating the end of more construction works until Largo de São Cristovão.
In 2014, António Costa’s office left Intendente and, with that, many issues were posed to the neighbourhood residents and entities, particularly in relation to the festival’s future. They managed to claim the festival’s organization for the inhabitants of Intendente, keeping the Council’s support, particularly in the production of graphic materials that helped to build the event’s identity. With the new Arroios parish, and the new executive committee, led by Margarida Martins, another important strategic and logistical support came to fruition.
GABIP remained as the festival’s managing entity for 2 years, conducting the event’s transition from the government to the territory. It was followed by another 2 years with EGEAC assuming part of the organization, assuming its partnership role in 2017. The collective of entities of Intendente is currently responsible for the festival.
In 2017, Bairro Intendente em Festa had the need to be an assembly location as well, in addition to being a venue for music, theatre, performances and workshops for the whole family. Like the other activities, the AGORA debates – divided into the topics Housing, Occupation and Associations – are also done in the street. “Last year was a year in which part of the State assets became private, it was a moment of great revelations about the future of the area and one could already “smell” how things will be in 3 years. This year, we feel that we must continue to talk about these issues, but in a different way. Cultural Heritage. The dialog between the memory and the projection. How things used to be, the people, the stories, the houses, the photographs. There will also be a lot of stuff dedicated to what [Intendente] still is, the cultures, emigration, and will also be a space dedicated to what this will be. Sustainability. Ecological, economic, social. How can we organize ourselves to sustain all these changes?”, says Marta Silva.
If it’s necessary to stress the importance of memory, then we must highlight one of the projects submitted to Largo by one of the partner entities, As Oficinas. If you search Intendente on Google, everything that is part of the past is almost neglected. Only the gentrified Intendente appears. The proposal of As Oficinas is doing a wonderful job of invading Wikipedia to register what this area was and is, during this process of change.
Also within this same record-focused logic, 5 sound documentaries were done about the human landscape of Intendente, which will be aired on a radio that, this year, will be part of the festival. Several things are expected, such as music, news in the several languages representative of the communities, debate coverage, etc.
The promise of drafting a document with the conclusions of the last year and this year’s debates is also being considered. The goal is to “do work” and contribute to making sure that these processes are not forgotten down the road. That is the only way one can learn with them and apply this knowledge in an attempt not to repeat the same mistakes.
Bairro Intendente em Festa runs from 5 to 22 July at Largo do Intendente. Three weekends, from Thursday to Sunday. The first names of the line-up will be announced soon.