We, the city and mobility opinion

With the inauguration of the first public underground car park in 1973 on Praça dos Restauradores, a mobility policy for the Lisbon City Council based on the creation of underground car parks began. The parks were built, but the problem was not solved. More parks have further encouraged the car, exacerbated congestion and required more parking spaces. 50 years have passed and we are still mistakenly convinced that cities without parking have no future. Geographers say that there are no more cities, only urbanization. While it is true that we live in an urban world without cities, the idea of ​​a city resists the Greek polis: a political space in which private and collective life is built.

The quality of urban life is largely determined by the accessibility of its transport system. In Lisbon and Porto, as in other cities, the organization of urban life relied on the mobility system of the car, which in turn normalized the perception that the space allocated to the car is a moral right. On my street, which was designed in the late 19th century, there is only about 4 meters of a sidewalk versus 14 meters for the car. The situation repeats itself in the streets next door. All of them are streets on the street, and as geographer Álvaro Domingues describes in one of his books, “the street on the street is a bad thing”. I suggest that the reader do this exercise for their street.

Approximately 80% of the street area is reserved for traffic and parking. In Lisbon and Porto, the space allotted for legal surface parking corresponds to 5% of the total area of ​​each municipality. A reduction of only 10% would enable ten Praça do Comércio in Lisbon and six Botanical Gardens in Porto to be reclaimed. If our ambition continued to allow us to reduce the area of ​​the road network by 10%, we would have at least another 21 trading centers in Lisbon and five botanical gardens in Porto. The reclaimed space would make it possible to lengthen sidewalks, improve the speed and competitiveness of public transport and cycling, and reduce traffic accidents. These measures would not only improve our health and quality of life, but also bring economic benefits by making local businesses more attractive. Contrary to what many shopkeepers think, reducing parking is often a success factor. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of trade and contact services, a trend that may become more widespread in the post-pandemic period when teleworking becomes more common.

To reverse the use of public space, we need to deconstruct the idea that the mobility of cars results from some kind of universal law that governs urban life. Is not true. This system is a socio-technical construction, as studies on the history of mobility in Portugal show. Engineering, geography, and urban planning have always been integral to building this system. The economy too. Economists have a lot to contribute to the paradigm shift. I’m not just referring to the contribution of technical solutions, some of which I have already mentioned here, here and here, but rather to the contribution of ideas. The economy is a very diverse field of knowledge that is not limited to neoclassical approaches with more or less liberal prejudices that dominate.

In the context of the management of urban public space, namely the space occupied by the park, examples of community practices emerge in some European cities that our mayors should take into account

Even neoclassical economists, especially those studying urban and transport economics, advocate public intervention in the provision of transport infrastructure and services. The intervention is justified by the theory of “market failure”, in particular because transport infrastructures have characteristics of the public good and generate external effects (positive in public transport and negative in the case of cars). The theory of the “tragedy of common goods” is also used by these economists to demonstrate the impossibility of collective action and thus to justify state intervention. In these circumstances the “market” is inefficient and government intervention through the direct or indirect provision of transport services is recommended. However, this does not mean that public intervention is consistent with economic theory. The subsidization of parking spaces, which exacerbates the problem of congestion and the negative external effects of the car, as well as subsidies for public transport are pure “economic schizophrenia”. On the other hand, some public choice school economists argue that even if there are reasons for intervention, they need to be assessed because the cost of “state failure” may be higher than the cost of market failure and just in case it is on best to trust the market.

These two economic approaches represent the predominant philosophy of public policy in the transport sector in Portugal and the solutions they propose are organized in the binomial state market, which is often seen as a competitor. Both ignore the importance of formal and informal history and institutions to individual behavior, dimensions essential to other theories, such as institutional economy and political economy. The latter propose solutions for managing shared resources based on community management practices. Some of these governance models have gained weight among the most orthodox economists through the work of political economist Elinor Ostrom (one of only two women to win the Nobel Prize in Economics) in areas as diverse as agroforestry management, irrigation, and fisheries, and others . In connection with the management of urban public space, namely the space occupied by the park, examples of community practices emerge in some European cities that our mayors should take into account. By including “citizens”, “states” and “private individuals” in the physical and symbolic design of the use of public space, these approaches not only contribute to technical solutions to the problem of urban mobility, but above all to political solutions .

The author writes according to the new orthographic convention

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