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Outcomes of Urban Requalification Under Neoliberalism: A Critical Appraisal of the SRU Model

Abstract

The context of crisis and austerity has provided a legitimate alibi for the inscription of neoliberal narratives grounded in the virtues of the market in Portugal. In 2004 the state enacted a new model of ‘urban requalification’, enabling the creation of Urban Requalification Societies (SRU in the Portuguese acronym) that initiated entrepreneurial and discretionary models of decision and delivery beyond existing state bureaucracies. Based on both quantitative and qualitative evidence from the cases of Lisbon and Porto, this paper offers a critical appraisal of the efficacy of these organizations to secure the provision of affordable rental housing in situ and to maintain less resourceful families in the city centres. Results show that the SRU model, combined with restrictive funding schemes and neoliberal politics, which have promoted the gradual liberalization of rent controls and real estate speculation, have reinforced processes of social and spatial inequality.

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Fig. 8.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In this paper we use the terms ‘renewal’, ‘requalification’, and ‘rehabilitation’ interchangeably, to describe actions that aim to improve the physical condition of buildings and infrastructures in order to adapt them to contemporary requirements or new uses. For the sake of clarity, in Portugal, whereas the concept of renewal (renovação) has been used to designate operations that involve partial or significant demolition of existing structures, requalification and rehabilitation (requalificação, reabilitação) refer to operations that do not involve the demolition of existing buildings, aiming at the maintenance of heritage buildings and landscapes.

  2. 2.

    Instituto da Habitação e da Reabilitação Urbana (IHRU, Institut for Housing and Urban Rehabilitation).

  3. 3.

    Ownership could be exclusively by the local municipality (as was the case in Lisbon), or through a partnership between the municipality and central state via the Institute of Housing and Urban Rehabilitation (the model adopted by Porto Vivo SRU).

  4. 4.

    For a critique of this approach, see Alves and Burgess (2018).

  5. 5.

    Between the first trimester of 2016 and the second trimester of 2018 the added variation in the median value per m2 of dwellings sales (€) was 34% in Porto and 47% in Lisbon (source: Estatisticas de preços da habitação ao nível local, Quarterly, available at www.ine.pt).

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Acknowledgement

Within the framework of a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship, Sónia Alves has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 747257. We also acknowledge financial support from FCT—Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., under the project Sustainable urban requalification and vulnerable populations in the historical centre of Lisbon (PTDC/GES-URB/28853/2017).

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Correspondence to Rosa Branco .

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Appendices

Annex 1: List of interviewees

Institution Position Roles
Porto Vivo SRU Senior officer Project implementation
Management
Porto Vivo SRU Technical staff Project implementation
Porto Vivo SRU Administration Policy making
Management
Porto Municipality Political staff Policy making
IHRU (Central office) Administration Policy making
Management
IHRU (Porto delegation) Senior officer Management
Lisboa Ocidental SRU Technical staff Project implementation
Management
Lisboa Ocidental SRU Administration Policy making
Management
Lisbon Municipality Senior officer Project implementation
Management

Annex 2: Statements from interviewees according to practical argumentation premises

Goals There are companies dedicated to those tasks: social housing, social inclusion, dynamization programs. Not us: our goal is to rehabilitate. Rehabilitate the public space and rehabilitate the buildings” (Lisboa Ocidental SRU—Administration)
Those who are dedicated to make urban rehabilitation are the municipalities and it starts as a basic work which is [to rehabilitate] public space (…) cities are condominiums, and the municipality is their administration” (Porto Municipality—Political staff)
Circumstances At this moment, a notable blockage is shortage of funding.” (IHRU—Central office)
[the main blockages to urban rehabiliation are] the financial deficit of the country, if there was money available to push forward, to help, to make partnerships with private actors, all of this would move. There is no money.” (Porto Vivo SRU—Senior officer)
There was a conscience of the need to change. It was important to promote rehabilitation, to mobilize the owners, involve investors and even include international investors and, therefore, all that need for a change in strategy” (Porto Vivo SRU—Technical staff)
Means-goal the attraction of new residents is very important, because it rehabilitates patrimony and is an incentive to rehabilitate other occupied [buildings]” (Porto Vivo SRU—Technical staff)
Private actores are in command, firstly because they are more in number and secondly because they have more means to do it that public actors.” (Porto Vivo SRU—Senior officer)
There is a change in our strategic alignement. We no longer have the financial means (…) there is a very importante role to be played by the SRU which is almost an investment agency. I am not talking about large projects, but small projects by small national or foreign investors” (Porto Vivo SRU—Administration)
Claim for action Public space is the priority, because public space is what we do alone, private actors don’t rehabilitate public space. It is up to the state to have a rehabilitated and well-maintained public space […] building rehabilitation should be residual and limited to what private actors don’t do.” (Lisboa Ocidental SRU—Administration)
Incentivating urban rehabilitation is an absolutely fundamental strategy (…) this happens in a moment were financial means are scarce, municipalities are much more indebt and the central state has less means to support these operations” (IHRU central office—Administration)

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Branco, R., Alves, S. (2020). Outcomes of Urban Requalification Under Neoliberalism: A Critical Appraisal of the SRU Model. In: Smagacz-Poziemska, M., Gómez, M., Pereira, P., Guarino, L., Kurtenbach, S., Villalón, J. (eds) Inequality and Uncertainty. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-32-9162-1_8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-32-9162-1_8

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