Culture-led urban regeneration and local expectations of urban void renewal in eastern Lisbon

A critical perspective on the social and spatial accomplishments of ROCK Pilot Projects in Marvila


  • Joao Carlos Martins Instituto de Ciências Sociais



This article will analyze the ongoing culture-led regeneration processes of abandoned, informal and vacant areas, often considered by residents, local associations, and public officials to be urban voids. Our territorial framework is in Marvila, a semi-peripheral riverside area in Lisbon, strongly affected by informal activities, high levels of youth unemployment, an elderly population, and the existence of urban spaces with non-planned uses, seen as undesirable by the local ecosystem of stakeholders and particularly by residents.

Our analysis will be centered around a social and spatial understanding of Lisbon’s municipal urban policy (funded by the 3.5.6. program of the European Union on Cultural Heritage), which has supported the reoccupation of some these so-called urban voids. We will focus on the use of a Pilot Project methodology, its exploratory and prototype nature, the local bureaucratic planning system, and the soft Planning techniques implemented as new ways of addressing long-term decayed and informal urban spaces.

We will examine the regeneration results of two EU-H2020 funded pilot projects, under the ROCK project, which supports this research. The first pilot project “Loja Com Vida” (“store with life” or “store invites”), supports the municipal objective of creating a new urban centrality in Marvila, encouraging a diversification of its users, operationalizing the reuse of municipal ground floor spaces. The second project, “Jardim para Todos” (‘Garden for all’), corroborates a municipal urban policy on environmental sustainability goals, promoting, with the help of local agents, a learning and sharing process centered around green knowledge and the creation of a future agriculture hub and leisure area.

The acknowledgment of these pilot project results will constitute an interesting case study for other urban areas with similar conditions, incorporating a better understanding of participative urban regeneration processes, outside the traditional and formal planning perspectives and achievements.


Andre, Isabel, Estevens, Ana & Leandro Gabriel (2016) “Urban Living Labs: cultural scenes, the Arts, and artists as levers of new urbanities”, Canadian Journal of Regional Science / Revue Canadienne des sciences regionals, 40:1, 43-52.

Baptista, Luís & Melaneo, Paula. (2018): “Lisboa Oriental. Epicentros pos-industriais. Um futuro a Oriente”, Jornal Arquitectos, 257.

Borghi, Vando, Falanga, Roberto, Olori, Davide & Pusseti, Chiara. (2018) “Practices of Citizenship and Real Estate Dynamics: Roberto Falanga and Chiara Pussetti in conversation with Vando Borghi and Davide Olori”. European Journal of creative Practices in Cities and Landscapes, 1, 103-113. DOI: 10.6092/issn.2612-0496/8860.

Breitbart, Myrna (2013) Creative Economies in Post-Industrial Cities, Manufacturing a (Different) Scene, London, Routledge, DOI: 10.4324/9781315574677.

Buuren, Arwin & Loorbach, Derk (2009) “Policy innovation in isolation?” Public Management Review, 11:3, 375-392. DOI: 10.1080/14719030902798289.

Carmon, Naomi (1999) “Three generations of urban renewal policies: analysis and policy implications”, Geoforum, 30: 2, 145-158. DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7185(99)00012-3.

CML, Camara Municipal de Lisboa (2020) Plano Estrategico para o Turismo da regiao de Lisboa 2020-2024, accessed in

Costa, Ines & Ferrao, Paulo (2010) “A case study of industrial symbiosis development using a middle-out approach”, Journal of Cleaner Production, 18, 984-992. DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.03.007.

Couch, Chris; Sykes, Oliver; Borstinghaus, Wolfgang. (2011) “Thirty years of urban regeneration in Britain, Germany and France: the importance of context and path dependency”, Progress in Planning, 75, 1-52.

Engelsman, Udi & Rowe, Mike (2017) “The tyranny of research? Urban regeneration, ethnography, and the problem of unintended consequences,” Community Development, 48:4, 582-596. DOI: 10.1080/15575330.2017.1321557.

Evans, Graeme (2005) “Measure for Measure: Evaluating the Evidence of Culture’s Contribution to Regeneration”, Urban Studies, 42, 1–25. DOI: 10.1080=00420980500107102.

Garcia, Beatriz (2016) “Cultural Policy and Urban Regeneration in Western European Cities. Lessons from Experience, Prospects for the Future”, Local Economy, 19, 312–326.

Gennari, Carlotta (2018) “Regeneração urbana, cidade criativa e gentrificacao: Estudo do caso de Marvila em Lisboa”. Sociabilidades Urbanas – Revista de Antropologia e Sociologia, 2, 113-123.

Graham, Hugh (2019) “I spy a hipster: the coolest neighbourhoods in the world”, The Times, 16 May, (accessed 01/07/2019).

Gravereau, Sophie (2012) “LX Factory dans le quartier d’Alcantara à Lisbonne : un ilot artistique et culturel provisoire dans un territoire en pleine transformation,” Lucchini, Françoise (ed.) : De la friche industrielle au lieu culturel, Rouen, Université de Rouen, 67-74.

Guimaraes, Pedro (2017) “An evaluation of urban regeneration: the effectiveness of a retail-led project in Lisbon”, Urban Research & Practice, 10:3, 350-366, DOI: 10.1080/17535069.2016.1224375.

Heckert, Megan & Mennis, Jeremy (2012) “The economic impact of greening urban vacant land: a spatial difference-in-differences analysis”, Environment and Planning, 44, 3010 – 3027. DOI: 10.1068/a4595.

Huang, Lu, Wu, Jianguo & Yan, Lijiao (2015) “Defining and measuring urban sustainability: a review of indicators”, Landscape Ecology, 30, 1175-1193. DOI: 10.1007/s10980-015-0208-2.

Hughes, Sara., Yordi, Samer, & Besco, Laurel (2018). “The Role of Pilot Projects in Urban Climate Change Policy Innovation.” Policy Studies Journal. 48:2, 271-297. DOI:10.1111/psj.12288.

Karvonen, Andrew & van Heur, Bas (2013). “Urban Laboratories: Experiments in Reworking Cities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38, 379–392. DOI:10.1111/1468-2427.12075.

Laundry, Charles (2000) The Creative City: a toolkit for urban innovators, London Earthscan.

Lee, Seog, Hwang, Soewon & Lee, Dongha (2015) “Urban Voids: As a Chance for Sustainable Urban Design”, Proceedings of the 8th Conf. Int. Forum Urban. DOI:10.3390/ifou-D007.

Lestegas, Iago; Seixas, João, Lois-González, Ruben (2019) “Commodifying Lisbon, A Study on the Spatial Concentration of Short-Term Rentals”, Soc. Sci., 8, 33. DOI:10.3390/socsci8020033.

Loures, Luis (2015) “Post-industrial landscapes as drivers for urban redevelopment: Public versus expert perspectives towards the benefits and barriers of the reuse of post-industrial sites in urban areas”, Habitat International, 45, 72-81, DOI: 10.1016/j.habitatint.2014.06.028.

Miles, Steven & Paddison, Ronan (2005) “Introduction: The Rise and Rise of Culture-led Urban Regeneration”, Urban Studies, 42, 833–839. DOI: 10.1080=00420980500107508.

Morgan, George. & Ren, Xuefei (2016) “The Creative Underclass: Culture, Subculture, and Urban Renewal”, Journal of Urban Affairs, 34:2, 127-130. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9906.2012.00606.x.

Mendes, Luis (2018) “Requiem for Neil Smith: A retrospective of the author's thought on gentrification from the lens of critical geography”. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 17:3, 618-633.

Murovec, Nika & Kavas, Damjan (2018) “Revitalizing cultural heritage buildings through cultural and creative industries: The Forget Heritage project” Urbani izziv, 126-128.

Nevado, Ana (2015) “The Eastern waterfront area of Lisbon: progress, decline and regeneration”, Joelho, Revista de Cultura Arquitectónica. DOI: 10.14195/1647-8681_6_14.

Oliveira, Ana & Paulino, Fernando (2017): “European Creativity and Urban Regeneration”. The Journal of Public Space, 2, 127-140. DOI: 10.5204/jps.v2i2.98.

Pereira, Patricia. (2015). “Production of public space and everyday life in a gentrified area of Lisbon.” Portuguese Journal of Social Science, 14:2, 157-175. DOI: 10.1386/pjss.14.2.157_1.

Pincha, João (2018) “Já sabemos para que serve uma biblioteca em Marvila”, Publico, 9 November 2018: (accessed 23/11/21)

Popering-Verkerk, Jistske & Buuren, Arwin, (2017) “Developing collaborative capacity in pilot projects Lessons from three Dutch flood risk management experiments”, Journal of Cleaner Production, DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.04.141.

Pratt, Andy (2018) “Gentrification, Artists and the cultural economy”, in Loretta Lees & Phillips, Martin (eds) Handbook of Gentrification Studies, Edward Elgar Publishing, 347- 362, DOI:10.4337/9781785361746.

Pratt, Andy (2008): “Creative cities. The cultural industries and the creative class.” Human Geography 90, 107–117. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0467.2008.00281.x.

Schuiling, Dick (1996) “Key Projects for Urban Regeneration: The Dutch experience”, Planning Practice & Research, 11:3, 279-290, DOI: 10.1080/02697459616852.

Santos, João Rafael (2019) "Public Space, Tourism and Mobility." The Journal of Public Space, 4:2, 29-56.

Scott, Allen (2000) The Cultural Economy of Cities. Essays on the Geography of Image-Producing Industries, London, Sage. DOI: 10.4135/9781446217481.

Tallon, Andrew (2013) Urban Regeneration in the UK, London, Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780203802847.

Torres, J. A. (2019). “Riverbank regeneration and the creation of open-air spaces shared by tourists and residents in Lisbon, Portugal.” Journal of Urban Regeneration & Renewal, 12:4, 324-335.

Tulumello, Simone (2016) “Reconsidering neoliberal urban planning in times of crisis: urban regeneration policy in a “dense” space in Lisbon”, Urban Geography, Vol. 37, pp. 117-140. DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2015.1056605.

Verheij, Jessica & Nunes, Mafalda. (2020) "Justice and power relations in urban greening: can Lisbon’s urban greening strategies lead to more environmental justice?" Local Environment, 1-18.

Voytenko, Yuliya, McCormick, Kes, Evans. James & Schliwa, Gabriele (2016) “Urban living labs for sustainability and low carbon cities in Europe: towards a research agenda”, Journal of Cleaner Production, 123, 1, 45-54, DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.08.053.

Vreugdenhil, Helen (2010) Pilot Projects in water management: practising change and changing practise, Delft: TU Delft.

Worm, Carlos & Costa, Maria (1996) D.C.H, DL, Lisbon, Departamento de Construcao de Habitacao.

Xie, Philip (2015) “A life cycle model of industrial heritage development”, Annals of Tourism Research, 55, 141-154. DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2015.09.012.