An octopus called ateliermob – Tentacle 2
In this second part of the narrative about the activities of ateliermob, we talk about the work developed in the neighborhood Terras da Costa, and the issues that people face in Lisbon on a daily basis – from gentrification to gender-based violence. (First part here.)
Terras da Costa
Right at the gates of Costa da Caparica, there are several lots which, at first sight, appear to be barren land, but, in reality, they are occupied by a series of precarious houses that shelter approximately 40 families, mostly gypsies and Cape Verdean. It is estimated that there are approximately 500 people, with 100 of them being children.
In 2012, when ateliermob visited the neighborhood (which has been there for about 30 years) for the first time, there was no piped water or sanitation and electricity was sourced in an industrial agreement, the only option that the operator EDP offered to the site. There was only one meter with very high outputs for the entire neighborhood (which lend electricity to several houses) and its maintenance depended on the willingness of the residents to pay their share in due time. If one failed to meet the deadline, that would be enough to have the power cut to the whole neighborhood. Ateliermob helped to expose the situation to EDP and the government, and a formulation was legislated that allows every house to have their own meter and families can apply to the social tariff.
Abiding by a suggestion of the residents, a community kitchen was also built (elected as the building of the year in 2016 by Archdaily), which serves as a meeting point of the neighborhood. Again developed alongside the Collective Warehouse, with the support of Human Development Plan of Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, of the City Council of Almada and other public and private partners, this project ended up as a pretext to have piped water in the neighborhood and bring public authorities and citizens together with the aim of, little by little, solve the fundamental issues of those families. “We always ask if it’s time for resistance and struggle, or if it’s time to build. We prefer the time to build, because a struggle in those territories is a miserable one [for the inhabitants themselves, meaning a burdensome extra effort for those who already have several difficulties]. We’ll always help in the process of struggle and resistance, but if we can be the bridges to entities that do not communicate with each other, then we will have more to gain. We try to approach the issues with a strategy and with the intention of solving them. Our struggle is to have gains, is to achieve victories,” Tiago Mota Saraiva explains. “Just having electricity regularized allows these people to have more quality of life on a daily basis. The last houses couldn’t get electricity form the meter anymore and, since they are very precarious dwellings, people had to endure extremely cold temperatures,” he concludes.
In the beginning of this year, a book will be released that registers all the work developed in Terras da Costa. However, this does not mean that the mission has ended. “We believe that the work will only be completed on the day when those who live there are resettled in a neighborhood made with and for them,” Tiago Mota Saraiva says. This was the commitment established by the City Council of Almada – a resettlement that respects the sense of community and the population’s right to have their own spot, keeping the system of vegetable and agricultural production, which currently exists in the neighborhood. In other words, the new houses will have to be built near Terras da Costa, to allow these habits to continue, since they have an important role in the livelihoods of the inhabitants.
In a first stage, some people have already been temporarily resettled in several counties of the municipality, with the promise that they would be integrated into the future resettlement, hence returning to Costa da Caparica and to their routines.
In a conversation that is based on housing as a right as basic as health and education, it would be inevitable to dwell on the scenario currently lived in Lisbon. Particularly when one takes into account that ateliermob has a very active work in “problematic” areas of the city, providing, among many other things, informal assistance to many of those who face eviction orders and other consequences of the gentrification process.
This is not an issue with simplistic or fast solutions, but Tiago Mota Saraiva points out some of the issues that would be important to solve. Starting with the repeal of the current law of rent that stresses the naturally unbalanced relationship between the landlord and the tenant, giving (almost) total power to the former, withdrawing the status of the mediator role. The harmful effect of this law increases in proportion to the number of owners who want to reclaim their houses for guest accommodation, the main issue today between the landlord and the tenant, or for those who want to rent a house in downtown Lisbon. However, Tiago Mota Saraiva emphasizes that the sudden suppression of Airbnb will also not be the ideal solution, since this can cause many social problems – as a consequence of the crisis, this is the main income of many people who became unemployed or an extra, but fundamental, income for those who started to have less work.
As a parallel alternative, he mentions the suspension of licenses for hotel units in the center of the city, followed by an expansion of tourist areas. In other words, to invigorate other areas of Lisbon to make sure that Baixa, Chiado or Belém cease to cater most visitors. And this may imply looking to the other bank and see the river as a space of navigation and communication (as it was in the past, hence building a large urban structure. Going to Cacilhas or Barreiro as to be as natural as to catch the subway to Entrecampos.
“Portugal needs a Ministry of Housing and a Super Cabinet of Housing, which can talk to the Minister of Finance on the same level. We are facing a very serious problem that has been neglected for a very long time and now is about to burst open. The State must assume again its role of being a central actor in urban planning policies. It must start by throwing out all the concepts of the 80s and 90s, whose believes that the market can regulate itself, that there is a need for a liberal planning. No, the State has to be an actor, it has to exercise the right of preference on certain buildings where they find it important to have non-speculative housing, and renting a State-owned house at affordable prices, prices compatible with what we earn, has to become natural”, he explains.
But the gentrification and tourism are not the only problems of the city or of its inhabitants. Ateliermob has been looking, for about three years, for funding to build a manual of good urban measures for the safety of women in the public space. The appeals were finally heard by the City Council, which will support the project to be developed throughout 2018. “It’s a much debated issued outside of Portugal [gender-based violence in the public space] but that one that is not discussed here with great consistency,” says Tiago Mota Saraiva.
Picking the example of a Lisbon, which has been enduring permanent construction works in recent years, it has to present solutions as simple as thinking in art projects to transform the scaffolding, so common these days, into places of safeness and not of fear. Any woman, when she sees a scaffold, usually opts to cross to the other side road, instead of walking under the structure – the passage is dark, without visibility to the other side and you never know who can find halfway through, or behind us.
But the issue, of course, does not stop here. In addition to similar examples, there are also other less visible, and present in the conscience of all of us. Such is the case of attacks, rapes and dangers suffered by women who do the cleaning of the Colombo Shopping Center, after its closure. They leave work at around 2 or 3 am, in a poorly lit area, with not much around, and with a great scarcity of public transport, especially after dark. “We are interested in exploring these sorts of situations, fighting for these cases that are less visible in the media. The solution can be based on many things, such as, for instance, improve the network of public transportation,” Tiago Mota Saraiva says.