The time to discuss the future of cities is now urbanism

Digitization, decarbonization and re-industrialization are bad words that have entered the political and media discourse given the large investments that are expected with the arrival of new European funds. But what country is preparing for large sums that are guaranteed to catapult its development?

The digitization of the economy and society “is absolutely inevitable,” says Paulo Tormenta Pinto, “but that is not all.” “We have to think about essential issues, we need the right to the city, we have to think about an economy that is related to the area in which the economy is applied.”

The professor of architecture and town planning and researcher at the Center for Studies on Socio-Economic Change and Territory of the ISCTE (Dinâmia’Cet) is the coordinator of a congress who wants to initiate the discussion. There was “too much focus on the transformations of Industry 4.0 in the way that decarbonization is viewed”, but one can see the “awareness of the territory, of the geographical location, of the assets that are located here, do not lose sight of the concrete location, with these possibilities, under these conditions they can bring us to different sectors, ”confirms Tormenta Pinto.

The Grand Projects – Urban Legacies of the late 20th Century Congress, which will take place between February 17th and 19th, will reflect on how the megaprojects that arrive there can be used to make effective changes in territory, cities and people to evoke lives. “We haven’t found a great speech for what is expected in the near future,” says the professor.

The premise of the meeting is that it is convenient to study the past in order to think about the future. With the preparation for Expo-98, the 1990s paved the way for a great movement that swept the country. “The end of the 20th century was one of the last, one of the few moments when cities were discussed so fiercely, their transformation, when there were urban requalification projects at the national level,” says Tormenta Pinto. His team has studied the impact of the Expo and Polis program on urban thinking in Portugal and in the cities where work has been carried out. It was not a flawless process, “but in general there is an interesting record.”

“With this congress we want to show this urban culture that came into being at the end of the 20th century and deal with today’s problems,” he explains. This model needs to be discussed taking into account what went well, what did not go well and the new problems arising from the pandemic and environmental crisis. Will telework stay here? What characteristics should the new houses have? How will people and goods move? How will the public space adapt?

“It is widespread that the implementation of European funds can only be carried out if the processes and the economy at their base change. In this context, digitization appears to be a kind of inevitability. In the middle, however, there is a discourse about the territory and about the lost cities, ”says Paulo Tormenta Pinto. “We needed a bigger discourse based on the economy, we needed a territorial base that was also strong.”

On February 17th, the first day of the congress, the President of the Architectural Order, Gonçalo Byrne, will be moderated by the architect Nuno Grande with the economist Ricardo Paes Mamede and the Environment Minister Matos Fernandes on the future of Portuguese cities. Over the next two days, the focus will be on more specific contexts in Portugal and abroad. Sociologist and urban planner Claire Colomb will talk about the changes in urban thinking in Berlin and Barcelona over the past 30 years, and architect Josep Acebillo, who coordinated the construction of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, ​​will talk to Lisbon architect and former city councilor Manuel Salgado discuss the transformation of public space. Interventions by the geographer Christian Schmid, who specializes in urban planning, and the architectural historian Jean-Louis Cohen are also planned.

Portugal, and Lisbon in particular, came too late to the discussions and urban changes that central Europe had begun immediately after the war. That is not necessarily a bad thing, defends Paulo Tormenta Pinto. “The delay can lead to an opportunity to do things well.”

“Lisbon acquired a status of great centrality that practically occupied the whole country. Before the pandemic, it had the ability to attract and generate wealth that is completely unparalleled to the rest of the country. However, this led the municipality to separate from its metropolitan area, ”he analyzes, emphasizing the importance of thinking about the whole area.

And he illustrates: “We could not find a European capital that is related to these natural areas, as Lisbon still has in the Tejo estuary. And it is very impressive how it is not possible to develop an idea of ​​urban development from this. Sometimes this has been tried, but much more could be done in the research field even in some industries. “