Localism Lisbon-style / part 2

This is apart of the Learning From Lisbon Report, to read more click here.

Globally and locally 2008 was a landmark year for Lisbon. The onset of the global financial crisis precipitated a sharp recession, which brought a downturn in private investment and severe austerity policies which in turn led to drastic cuts in public investment and a reduction in the resources available to local municipalities. This resulted in high levels of unemployment, especially for young people, and cuts in welfare support, that had a major impact on many citizens, particularly within lower income groups.  The dramatically changed conditions raised major questions about the prospects for Portugal’s hitherto status as a prosperous and dynamic capital city.

In the previous year, 2007, the local elections brought a new administration to power, whose strong leadership was armed with a vision of moving towards a more participatory form of urban governance – Lisbon’s conception of ‘localism’. The administration’s strategic approach to strengthening citizen participation in the governance of the city has since been a defining feature of Lisbon’s development under conditions of stringent austerity. It has underpinned a series of administrative reforms, policy innovations and action programmes driven by the application of new tools. These innovations constitute a transformative process of modernising urban governance, a process which is rapidly evolving and has had an increased impact through action on the ground.

This process has charted the city’s path through a period of unprecedented austerity. Leading politicians and policy makers act in the belief that driving this local transformation reform agenda can both help to mitigate the impact of austerity and establish the basis for taking advantage of the eventual improvement in the city’s economy.

The new Lisbon Master Plan was prepared in the context of this programme of reform and is a significant component of the rapidly evolving governance of the city. Its policies and innovative tools came into force in September 2012. The Plan provides the ‘top-down’ spatial development framework for the evolution of the city’s new generation of innovative policies and programmes.

The three major components of Lisbon’s ‘bottom-up’ citizen participation strategy consists of a:

  • Newly configured network of 23 freguesias (urban parishes) to enable the decentralisation of significant budgeting and decision making to a local level.
  • Participatory budgeting  – a system which enables community groups and other NGOs to annually promote urban projects, a range of which are then selected by popular vote for inclusion in the city’s  budget the following year – to the value of 5% of the city’s total investment budget.
  • Strategic approach to integrated, community-led neighbourhood regeneration which targets resources to poor neighbourhoods, particularly in the historic city, but in ways which minimise gentrification.

These innovations are the drivers of localism in Lisbon.

2.1       Lisbon Master Plan 2012

Branded as aiming to deliver “a city for the future, a city for its people”, the Lisbon Master Plan is:

  • The outcome of a participatory process which generated contributions from thousands of citizens (nearly 36,000 people have voted for the 2013 PB projects).
  • Clearly structured around seven  primary goals, each with policies and implementation targets.
  • Sets out policies and regulations in an accessible format (mainly web-based – see below).
  • Has a 10 year time horizon, with provision for continuous monitoring and a review and after 5 years.  

The Plan is much more than a traditional land-use plan. New policies to achieve strategic objectives are accompanied by the introduction of new tools to stimulate delivery. This ‘new policy-new tools’ approach is the hall-mark characteristic of the new Master Plan. An overview of this approach is presented below with reference to the seven strategic goal and key themes are amplified in subsequent sections of this report.

Reversing the decline of the city’s population

Since the late 1980s the city’s population has declined by 300,000 to 550,000 whilst the population of the Greater Lisbon Metropolitan Area has increased rapidly to nearly 3 million. This was the outcome of a combination of weak regulation of private housing development and the construction of large public sector housing estates to re-house families displaced by the large-scale slum clearance programme of the 1990s and early 2000s. But there was very little investment in jobs and public transport. Hence some 600,000 people a day commute from the sprawling suburbs into city by car. Traffic congestion and associated pollution is a chronic problem. Some of the public housing estates are presenting problems which are similar to those being faced in similar situations in many European cities.

The Plan aims to create conditions in the city which will make it more attractive to residents through investment in jobs and community infrastructure – health centres, primary schools and nursing homes – together with the provision of more affordable housing and particularly through the rehabilitation of older dwellings.

Promoting economic regeneration

The Plan designates eleven strategic investment areas – ‘job clusters’ – in central Lisbon locations where regeneration projects,  at a variety of scales,  are both promoting innovative job creation and supporting existing industry and commerce. This is complemented by new policies restricting the creation of large shopping malls and new procedures for legalising traditional informal economic activity.

The new Plan also introduces enhanced transferable development rights, as an innovative tool to stimulate the implementation of the ‘job cluster’ approach. The key features of this system are as follows:

  • The Municipality awards  development ‘credits’ of upto a 20% increase in development rights, which can be transferred from the original permitted location to a different location, providing the new location is within one of the eleven priority investment areas identified in the Master Plan.
  • Businesses and developers who perform consistently well (in line with the prescribed Key Performance Indicators) are ‘rewarded’ by the municipality with an increase in the transferable value of their development credits from 1.2 to 1.5 credits i.e. a 20% uplift.
  • Building owners and developers are permitted to sell their development credits to third parties, thus creating a new tradable commodity in the city’s real estate market.

Stimulating urban rehabilitation

The slum clearance programme effectively removed the worst housing. The new Plan heralds a shift to rehabilitation by designating 80% of the built up area of the city as a Historical Zone. Here a ‘carrot and stick’ range of policies and tools are now targeted to encourage investment in the older and deteriorating areas of private housing which accounts for 90% of the stock in the zone. These include:

  • A move from strict zoning to a more flexible system of development management which encourages the development of mixed use neighbourhoods.
  • A presumption in favour of approving rehabilitation focussed development complemented by a commitment to reducing timescales for building renovation permits.
  • The reduction of VAT from 26% to 6% for rehabilitation work.
  • The corollary, an enforceable system of promptly fining building owners who fail to comply with notices to secure or progress approved plans for investment in dilapidated buildings.

Intervention to stimulate investment by private owners is one component of a dual approach to rehabilitating older housing. On its own this will inevitably produce a ‘pepper pot’ pattern of renovation. But it is being implemented in the context of a strategy of community-led neighbourhood regeneration. This defines priority areas for neighbourhood regeneration which includes property rehabilitation as one of a wide range of economic, social and environmental interventions.

(insert photos of old, deteriorating housing)

Improving the public realm

The Plan gives a high priority to the improvement of the public realm, by a combination of upgrading and new provision, especially in association with regeneration projects and transport improvements. The provision of a high quality public realm is seen as a key policy for improving the attractiveness of the city to both residents and businesses. The Plan establishes a spatial strategy for public realm investment which concentrates the limited available resources in key locations. Some are of a very high visibility, and used by both residents and tourists, such as the waterfront. But this investment also supports other strategic objectives such as regeneration projects in the ‘job clusters’.

Giving the riverfront back to the people

The 19th century development of the port of Lisbon demanded large-scale landfill and the construction of massive port facilties. This denied the people of Lisbon access to the banks of the River Tagus. The 1994 Master Plan simply designated virtually the whole of the 200km of waterfront as Port Area of Special Uses, despite the fact that  much of it was no longer operational land.  The exceptions to this blanket designation  were a handful of small ‘green leisure zones’ and the area designated for the 1998 Expo. The decision to develop the Expo site as the new (and now almost completed), mixed use Parque das Nações bairro was a turning point in the development of the city’s regeneration policies and processes. It initiated multi-agency partnership working, initially through a special purpose agency leading the Parque project, but more recently focussed on close collaboration between the Muncipality and the Port Authority.

This innovation made it possible for the Master Plan to establish the goal of ‘giving the waterfront back to the people’ and  to  define a four-fold classification of the city’s waterfront land:

  • Areas without any current or foreseen port activity.
  • Areas without any acknowledged harbour use.
  • Areas worthy of further study and investigationas to their future uses.
  • Reduced and consolidated area of Port Area of Special Uses.

This policy has established a strategic framework for the collaborative development of a programme of waterfront redevelopment projects, focussing on recreation, leisure and tourism. All projects are required to provide access to the River Tagus for both residents and visitors.

Promoting sustainable mobility

The chronic congestion problems and the growing influence of the environmental agenda have prompted the development of complementary policies to reduce car usage in the city. The new tools for promoting sustainable mobility include:

  • Systematic improvement of a restructured pedestrian network.
  • Thee creation of a 161 km network of cycleways.
  • 75 km of new busways.

Encouraging environmental efficiency

The Plan promotes the provision of green spaces through its various regeneration policies. This is supplemented by policies to:

  • Reduce energy consumption by 9.4%, by promoting more energy efficient construction and micro-generation through solar panels and to reduce construction waste by 10%.
  • Reduce water consumption by 10% ,by increasing the use of recycled water to 3.1m3 per resident per year) and reducing construction waste by 10%.
  • Achieve a target of increasing selective garbage collection.

The new Lisbon Master Plan is now the basis for guiding the development of the city in an age of globally driven austerity.  But the implementation of its policies and the application of its new tools will be in the context of the further development of the city’s version of localism.

2.2       Power to urban parishes

In November 2012 the Mayor of Lisbon, announced the publication of Law 56/2012 Lisbon Administrative Reorganization, which established the principles and geography of the city’s new structure of formal government.

This law was the culmination of a participatory reform process set in train in 2008, in which the existing parishes and community groups and NGOs have played significant roles. It radically changes the governance of the city by decentralising significant powers, responsibilities and resources to the parish level. The aim is to strengthen democratic urban governance by localising the delivery of a range of urban services.

This major innovation includes the following key features:

  • The reduction of the number of existing parishes from 43 to 23 (and the creation of a new one for Parque das Nações), with an average population of 23,000.
  • The transfer of responsibilities for a significant range of municipality services from the city council to the parish councils,  including the maintenance of green spaces, pedestrian pavements and  public playgrounds; social, cultural and sporting events; schools; community intervention projects; together with a range of social action  programmes and projects.
  • The transfer of municipal staff to deliver these services, together with funding which will increase the total budgets of the parishes from 23 to 68 million euros per annum, some 3m euros per parish, approximately 130 euros per capita.

This is a unique reform in Portugal and was heralded by the Mayor as   ‘the most significant administrative reform in Portugal since 1976’ – the year when democratic government was re-established, after decades of dictatorship. This reformed structure is a major component of the Lisbon version of localism.

2.3       Participatory budgeting: principles, processes and outcomes

In parallel with reforming the structure of city government the city has developed its version of Participatory Budgeting (PB). This tool of urban governance has been pioneered since 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.Lisbon adopted PB in 2008 – the first European city to do so – and its experience is the UN as an outstanding example of this process of strengthening citizen engagement.

PB is a participatory decision-making process that enables citizens to vote directly to determine the use of 5% of the city’s Investment Budget.

Each year citizens submit proposals for projects to the Municipality, some of which are developed into costed projects by municipal officials. These costed projects are then put to the vote to determine which of them are taken into the city’s Budget and Business Plan, for delivery within 12 or 18 months, depending on their scale and complexity.

A review of this innovatory and evolving initiative, in terms of its principles, procedures and outcomes, explains why and how this tool is an important component of localism in Lisbon.

Why Participatory Budgeting?

The PB process was established by the City Council’s approval of the Charter of the Principles of Participation in 2008,which set out the goals of PB and the principles by which it is governed as follows.

The overall aim of participatory budgeting is to contribute to the development of informed, active and responsible citizens and civil society organisations so they can effectively participate in the local governance processes that determine the allocation of resources to implement local public policies. Thus the objectives of PB are to:

  • Encourage dialogue between elected municipal officers, citizens and civil society organizations, in the search for better solutions to problems, taking into account the resources available.
  • Contribute to civic education, allowing citizens to integrate their personal concerns with the common good, to understand the complexity of the city’s problems and to develop the attitudes, skills and practices necessary for participation.
  • Match municipal public policies to the needs and expectations of the people in order to improve the quality of life in the city.
  • Increase the transparency of the activities of the municipality, the level of accountability of elected officials and the municipal structure, and thus help to strengthen the quality of democracy.

How is participatory budgeting delivered?

These principles are put into practice through annually revised Participatory Budget Guidance which is published on the Lisbon Participation Portal.

The key provisions in the current guidelines include the following:

  • The Participatory Budget divided into two groups of projects: in accordance with costs.
  • Citizens are entitled to two votes, one for each set of projects.
  • Proposals must relate to the areas of competence of the Municipality and the Municipal Companies.
  • Proposals must fall within one of the following areas:
    – Social Action and Housing;

–  Culture;

–  Education, Youth and Sports;

–  Public Space and Green Space;

–  Road Infrastructure, Traffic and Mobility;

–  Administrative Modernization;

–  Environmental Protection and Energy;

–  Urban Planning, Urban Renewal and Rehabilitation;

–  Urban Sanitation and Hygiene;

–  Safety and Civil Protection;

–  Tourism, Trade and Economic Promotion.

The Guidance also sets out the Cycle of Participation and its timetable for the year, which includes the following stages.

Submission of proposals: mid-April to mid-June
Citizens over 18 years old – either as individual residents or workers or as representatives of NGOs – submit proposals on-line through the Lisbon Portal of Participation, on paper, or in person at open public meetings. A recent innovation has been to require proposals submitted at public meetings organised as an Ignite Event a form of presentation where speakers have only five minutes to talk with 20 slides that change automatically every 15 seconds.

Analysis and development of projects: mid-June to end of August.
The level of detail of the proposals submitted has to meet certain minimum requirements, but varies considerably. Municipal officers check eligibility and develop a selection of the submitted proposals into a provisional list of costed and timetabled projects. This process may include amalgamating projects which have a common theme (e.g. green spaces) or impact on a particular neighbourhood. The choice of which proposals are developed is governed by the criteria set out in the PB Guidelines. Thus, for example, projects will not be taken forward which are:

  • Contrary to or inconsistent with municipal plans or projects.
  • Already included in the Municipality’s Annual Plans.
  • Too general or too broad to be developed into a project.
  • Not technically feasible.

Citizen objections: early September.
This stage begins with the publication of the provisional list of projects Citizens can object to their proposal not being developed by municipal officers or having been inappropriately developed. Objections are lodged in the first week of September and decisions issued by the municipality by the end of the second week.

Voting on Projects: mid-September to end October.
All citizens over the age of 18 can vote for projects. Votes can be cast through the Participation Portal (which now has 50,000 registered voters – 10% of the city’s population) or at a small number of Polling Stations across the city. The projects which receive the most votes are integrated in the proposed Municipal Budget and Business Plan, up to the value of 2.5 million euros. The Budget and Plan is then formally approved by the Municipal Board and Assembly.

Presentation: November.
The winning projects are then presented at a public ceremony at City Hall.

Municipal officers lead an evaluation of the implementation of the previous year’s PB Projects. This evaluation is published on the Participation Portal and the conclusions are used to inform the detailed design of the next edition the PB Guidance.


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