The Lisbon experience

The Lisbon experience

The visit

During the stay in Lisbon we got to know better the relation between the port and city and what both have been doing in order to improve it. We were able to meet with the responsible for this relation in the APL (Lisbon Port Authority), Arch. Rui Alexandre, who has been working in the organization since the early 1990´s. In order to get a more impartial vision we tried to meet, without success, with somebody from the Municipality. Since the final stop of the trip is also Lisbon we will try once again then.

Lisbon Waterfront
Lisbon Waterfront

Another interesting point was  the visit to the accessible parts of the waterfront and the photographical survey of these spaces, mainly the ones that have an unclear future or could be conflict points. A selection of these pictures is available in this gallery.

Finally we also visited the museums that could contain information about the port and its role in the city throughout time. Hence two mandatory visits were the City Museum and the Navy Museum.

In order to have an initial idea of the state of the port-city relation we consulted several APL documents besides the ones already pointed out in the previous post. The main ones were the sustainability reports from the years 2007 and 2008. These are the most recent documents that could be found, in them there is also a reference to the port plan for 2025. These reports contain relevant information regarding the main concerns and several important figures, such as the percentage of free accessible area for the citizens and the general public perception of the port.

Lessons learned

The port and the cities

One of the most important aspects that we have learned during the visit was that although called the “port of Lisbon” the port territories actually limits 11 municipalities (Alcochete, Almada, Barreiro, Benavente, Lisboa, Loures, Moita, Montijo, Oeiras, Seixal e Vila Franca de Xira) distributed across both sides of the river. Such complex distribution makes every decision remarkably difficult when compared with cases where the port is placed or belongs to one single city. This complexity hindered the decision making process for the new container terminal. The port is a national asset and it is directly under national government control. However in this territory there are several authorities with decision making capacities regarding territorial planning. Besides the APL and the 11 municipalities, we also find the AML (Metropolitan Area of Lisbon) and the CCDR (Regional governments). Besides these different authorities we find also the environmental protection agency which is concerned about the possible consequences of large infrastructural developments.

In the sustainability report of 2008 it was mentioned that 76% of the Tagus estuary waterfront (the area where the APL has jurisdiction) was accessible to the citizens, this value is the average from the 11 mentioned cities. In Lisbon only 41% of the riverfront was accessible in 2007, but in 2008 there was another important area released for the city in the east part of town, between the “Parque das Nações” and the Sta Apolonia Container Terminal. This area was supposed to be the new Oriental riverfront park, a new green area for the city. Although the APL released the territory in this year, the design competition for the park was only held in 2015. A national Landscape architecture office won the competition, but in July it was cancelled due to several irregularities in the process.

The port and the waterfront of Lisbon

When we analyze the evolution of the port waterfront area we can see that there has been a clear change in the way it occupies the territory. From a more extensive territorial model that used a considerable part of the riverfront, to a port that works with several cores along the river, freeing up the area between them for the city. As it was mentioned in previous posts, in the early 1990s the POZOR plan brought the first change in the waterfront since the 1940s. After that, in order to host the EXPO, more territory in the east part of town was released.

Nowadays we see that the heavy port activities in the north side of the river are concentrated mainly between Sta. Apolonia and Poço do Bispo, and between Santos and Alcântara. We define as heavy activities the container terminals, the silos, mixed cargo, shipyards and the current cruise terminals, which allow a reduced access to the water. Along the Tagus river we can also find several marinas, but since they do not required a significant space and do not constitute visual barrier for the city these could be considered soft activities, without significant consequences for Lisbon.

Sta. Apolónia container terminal
Sta. Apolónia container terminal

The APL has the power to decide which are the areas that are going to be given to the city and to stablish the border line. It is also relevant to say that once one sector has been freed up it is relatively complicated to bring it back under port control. This could only happen if there was a central government decision and it involves a complex negotiation with the appropriate municipal authorities. For this reason the process of releasing waterfront areas is quite ponderous, since the port must be sure that in this territory there will be no more port activities and that it will not be needed for expansion or other uses. The dialogue with the municipality for the urban planning process is focused in the Masterplan level (PDM). For example for access to the port, and for joint applications for EU funds for the development of important infrastructure for both. For the nearer urban planning scale (Planos de Pormenor, Planos de Urbanização), once the port has released an area, the planning, management and maintenance is total responsibility of the municipality, the APL still remains with the jurisdiction of the water areas.

Regarding the areas that the port occupies we found out that there are some zones that have a mixed management between the APL and the municipality. More specifically three of them: the Docapesca in Algés/Pedroucos ,where the future “Marina do Tejo” should be built; the area in Santos, which the port has not released for the city yet because it must be decided if it would be necessary for future port activities -although it seems improvable-, and the future cruise terminal in Sta. Apolonia.

Docapesca in Algés
Docapesca in Algés

These joint managed areas have a common characteristic and it is the fact that for several years we have not assisted to any kind of changes, although some of them  might have pending projects. The area in Santos has several abandoned warehouses and urban voids that do not add any value to the city. This happens because they are not used for alternative activities as it happens to similar ones near Cais do Sodré, Sta Apolonia or Alcantara. In the Docapesca we have seen different events, like the Volvo Ocean Race, but when we visit it we encounter a fenced partly abandoned space with no porous relation between the river and the land.

As we have seen there are available spaces for urban projects in the riverfront but the stand-by status is clearly affecting the way the people see the port, since there is a more immediate mental connection of these areas with the port. Hence it creates a negative image and the perpetuation of the idea that the port is not allowing the access to the water.

The Cruise Terminal

In the previous paragraph we pointed out that the joint management areas are even more complex for the planning process, therefore creating delays in the implementation of the planned projects, this also happens in the new cruise terminal project. In this particular case the process is even more complex since it implies a concession to a conglomerate of 5 companies, that will be responsible for the construction of the building. As pointed by Arch. Rui Alexandre, the construction of the terminal should start in short time, and the conclusion of the works is expected for the end of 2016. The main reason for the delay was the negotiation for the concession of the terminal operation that was very complex. The APL had the commitment to guarantee a quality service not just for the customers but also for the citizens. We can observe that in one of the main features of the terminal, the elevated public space that will allow a new view point over Lisbon, the river and the port. He also explained that the APL already made an initial investment, around 30 mill. €, in order to fulfill its obligations as landlord port, to give the concessionaries the base infrastructure for the construction of the terminal.

Site for the future cruise terminal
Site for the future cruise terminal

Image of the port

The port of Lisbon still holds a slightly negative image among the citizens of the city. Although, as we have seen, there is a reasonable free area to get in contact with the water, the port is not seen as a friendly element in the waterfront. We have seen very few specific actions focused on improving this relation, despite what was explained in the consulted documents.

We expect to meet with the responsible for public relations of the APL during the next stop in Lisbon, but from the authors point of view it would perhaps make sense that the person in charge for the port-city relation could also have the duty of coordinating the physical and non-physical interaction. For this matter we have seen many initiatives, even in other Portuguese ports, that could be taken into action. As pointed out by several researchers the soft values are crucial for a healthy relation with the city, particularly in the ones with an active industrial port in the urban tissue.

Also it could be said that there is a certain lack of self-criticism, especially regarding the negative externalities produced port territories that affect the life quality in nearby areas. The relation with the city should not only be managed by  releasing waterfront areas for the citizens to use, but also by acting in the social image of the port, otherwise there will be a constant pressure over the port authorities to free more waterfront territories.

New Barreiro Terminal

One of the main issues for the future of the port and the cities in the region is the new container terminal. When we asked Arch. Rui Alexandre whether this expansion project meant new free areas in the waterfront of Lisbon the answer was very clear, this new terminal is necessary for the expected growth of the port traffic in future decades, therefore the existing terminals in the north side of the river should remain under port control.

The new terminal indicates that the port will continue in the Tagus estuary, although it will not grow much more in Lisbon. The project has several advantages, as it was pointed out during the interview. It has the full support of all the concerned authorities, it will be built in an existing brownfield, therefore reducing the environmental impact of it, and the connections to the main railway network is easier than in the other considered alternative, Trafaria.

Good news from the port

From the port side there are two main news that could mean a significant improvement for the port-city relation. In the first place there is a project for the creation of a documentation center for the port that should be built in the Alcântara Maritime terminal. This building nowadays is undergoing a renovation program. The facility will gain much attention in the near future since it will be also the headquarters of the APL, making it the most representative place of the port.

The other relevant news is the approach for the new container terminal. As it was mentioned before, this new project is crucial for the future of the port and it will be used to implement a new way of planning this infrastructure. The APL is in contact with the Portuguese Architectural Association in order to prepare a competition for new urban concepts for the port and city areas. The main goal is to have a real multidisciplinary approach to the project, in order to improve not only the efficiency of this sort of facility, but also to plan in order to create a better image from the outside, from the neighbors and from the other side of the river.

The city and the port

During the visit we were able to realize that Lisbon might have a strong maritime identity, but it has not invested in its port identity. The visited museum did not present so much information about the port, its history or the present. This issue is very relevant since the efforts for the coexistence of both realities in the urban tissue must be done by both. We could understand that the city might be reticent to invest in the cultural diffusion of the image of the port since it is an independent organism pending only from the central government, but its role in the evolution of Lisbon is very clear. This problem might be solved by the new documentation center project, if its prepared to be accessible to the general public, not just for researchers.

Navy Museum: Very nice collection of ships, but very little information about the port
Navy Museum: Very nice collection of ships, but very little information about the port

In the last two decades we have seen an increasing interest of the city to reach the river. This interest has been translated in different waterfront regeneration projects that were relatively successful, from the EXPO to the most recent ones, the “Ribeira das Naus”. Besides these good examples there are others that did not really improved the relation with the river. We could observe that in other parts of the waterfronts there are areas controlled by the municipality that have not been transformed to the noble use of giving a quality public space by the river to its citizens. For example in the east part of town, in the limit of the Parque das Nações interventions, what we find nowadays is a car dealer and a mechanical workshop, with the cars parked directly by the riverside. There are other examples of deficient maintenance in waterfront public spaces controlled by the municipality, like the areas around Belém fluvial station, where we can see caravans parked, or nearby in the “parque das missas” where we can find damaged pavement. It is contradictory to insist in the importance of the waterfront for the city and then not taking proper care of it.

The fact that we find several public spaces like the mentioned before raises other relevant point for the waterfront masterplan: is it reasonable to leave the waterfront just for public space or is it better to allow the urban tissue to arrive near the river? We will try to discuss this important question and the vision of the city for the waterfront it in the next visit to the city.

Public space between Alcantara and Belém, created with the POZOR plan. It is very used by the citizen,but should the complete waterfront be only public space?
Public space between Alcantara and Belém, created with the POZOR plan. It is very used by the citizen,but should the complete waterfront be only public space?


For what we were able to see the port-city relation in Lisbon has improved along time. One of the main improvements is the fact that nowadays there is a multiplicity of locations where one can reach the river. What for many years constituted a major issue for the citizens. In this aspect we have observed progresses from the city and the port. On one side, the port has released several areas, while the municipality has develop them into public spaces of high quality.

The main existing issue could be considered to be the public image of the port and the strategy to communicate with the citizens. The port has to make an effort to be recognized by the inhabitants as the important identity element that is. The city and the port should work together to improve the regeneration process, since the opportunities are greater than the threats. If the public sees that the process takes too long the disbelieve will be installed in the general mindset therefore insisting in a negative image of the port.

During the research trip we will visit several cities that have innovative strategies for the issues here presented. We will find which ones could be implemented in Lisbon, and how the new projects could bring the relation to the balanced coexistence model required.