More than tiles, hills and trams…
Today we want to invite you to join us on a journey to discover one of the oldest cities in Western Europe: Lisbon. Cynthia is from Guayaquil in Ecuador, and one of our UFGC19 Young Leaders who moved to the Portuguese capital about a year ago. Since then, she hasn’t stopped being amazed by and enchanted with what Lisbon has to offer. She describes Lisbon as a very warm city “not only because of the weather but also because of the people!” filled with a rich history and cultural heritage.
The secret ingredients of the 2020 European Green Capital
“Lisbon is a very traditional city. Every European capital has their own charm, but I would say that Lisbon takes care a lot about keeping their identity and about their music (Fado), so that once you arrive in the city, you feel immediately emerged in the Portuguese identity and culture in the streets! It’s very powerful.”
Here people are very proud of their identity, and it surely shows in the city. What is very fascinating and enjoyable in Lisbon is its deep-rooted sense of community. It is lovely to see the locals so involved with the conservation of their city. For instance, taking care of their buildings and public spaces is very important for the Portuguese people. Cynthia assures that, in terms of urban development, the commitment and engagement of the citizens is real. What strikes Cynthia the most is the feeling of comfort and well-being in the capital. And feeling so comfortable in a city is essential, both for its residents and visitors.
More obvious reasons to love Lisbon
Lisbon is a city of hills. It is as if it was made for both beach and mountains lovers! The ultimate experience, according to Cynthia, is to walk up the hills to take pleasure in the 360° panoramic views offered by the “miradouros” (viewpoints). The plus of this activity: you get your daily dose of physical exercise!
An even more obvious reason to love the city is something that’s an integrated part of the Portuguese identity, and impossible to miss when you walk through Lisbon: Yes, we’re talking about the tiles or “azulejos” as the Portuguese call them! You cannot picture the city without them, and they are a very strong Portuguese characteristic: they decorate houses, churches, city walls… These dominantly blue ceramic squares convey a magical atmosphere to the capital city and that is something you definitely want to experience!
The Tagus River (“Rio Tejo”) is THE central and most important spot in Lisbon. It is a mesmerizing place with an exceptional atmosphere. It is Cynthia’s favourite area in the city: she enjoys the beauty of the riverside and she loves that everyone gathers there. Tourists, locals, the Portuguese, foreigners… a melting-pot gets together around Rio Tejo.
Some might think they belong in a museum… but Lisbon vintage yellow trams are still well-functioning! First and foremost, they are an inherent element of life in Lisbon. Cynthia labels them “very particular”, and she is convinced they provide you with a different experience from other trams in Europe. Getting on them is a guarantee that adventure awaits: You will come across a multicultural mix of tourists on their way to the Belem Tower (“Torre de Belém”), and students or locals on their daily commute.
Mobility in Lisbon
Talking about transportation: public transport is a crucial aspect of the development of tourism in Lisbon. It is a concern that the city treats seriously, and the municipality strives to participate actively in the improvement of its transport system. In the interests of making it easier and more affordable for people living on the outskirts of Lisbon and intending to promote a more sustainable way to get around the capital, the city recently cut down the price of the monthly pass for public transport*. Moreover, the municipality started to acquire new environment-friendly buses: most of them running on natural gas, while the others will be electric.**
“I mean, if I am getting a reduction on the monthly cost for public transportation, well I better use it. I won’t use the car. I won’t use a motorcycle. I will use the sustainable new buses.”
About Cynthia, Young Leader 2019
Cynthia Zurita Véliz is an economist with master’s degrees in climate change and natural resource management. She moved from Ecuador to Portugal about a year ago. Cynthia has a particular interest in environmental and social change and recently attended a summer school in Oslo. She took part in the Urban Future Global Conference 2019 as a Young Leader and loved it.
“I think one of the most interesting and important opportunities I experienced this year was to attend the conference.”
She is currently doing research on how social backgrounds can define and influence people’s behaviour regarding their environment and natural resources. Cynthia is stressing the importance of the socio-cultural context within discussions about the urban future. As an example, she highlights the issue of safety in mobility, which is such a critical issue in Latin America but rather not addressed at all in Europe. What works for one city might not work for another. Initiatives and technologies have to be incorporated into the narrative of the community of a city in order to be accepted by the citizens. It’s important to realize that it’s all about contextualizing solutions for unique urban futures.
Thriving cities… share their experience with others that are still on their way, even if it means to adapt solutions to different contexts.
It is worth it to try new things… not because something just works, means it cannot be improved. Efficiency must be a constant aim!