On March 18, 2020, the entirety of Portugal was placed under an official State of Emergency in response to the continuing spread of COVID-19 throughout her municipalities. At present, there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the pandemic, so it makes no real sense to prognosticate what exactly will happen to Portugal’s economic recovery. Instead, this post focuses on several of the positive developments around Porto initiated prior to the arrival of the virus. Portugal’s future, as the rest of the world during this time, is yet unwritten.
Porto has had big plans for 2020. In fact, in the past few years, the Câmara Municipal do Porto has channelled significant investment not only into the complete overhaul of the city’s main market, the Mercado do Bolhão, but also into infrastructure and transportation projects throughout the city, with special attention to improved water and sewer lines. Further, in some cases, these infrastructure projects have been accompanied by private investments, leading to an increase of supermarkets (with parking) in some locations. This is a big, big plus.
This increase of investment has also led to an increase in 5-star hotels throughout the city. Previously, The Yeatman Hotel and The Intercontinental stood as the primary hotels of note; however, with the addition of Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace in 2019 and PortoBay Flores in 2020, luxury brands are staking a claim within the city. For example, in March 2020, Burberry opened a shop in the centre of the Aliados area. At present, Aliados still hosts a good number of buildings that remain under refurbishment, and it is extremely likely that more luxury brands will settle there in the near future.
Another proposed change to the city is the refurbishment of Campanhã Station, the main train station receiving travellers into Porto, otherwise known as the New Intermodal Station of Campanhã Project. Official communication notes that it is underway, but this major project is still developing. Further, one of the more controversial projects is the Time Out Market Porto, slated to be located behind the city’s São Bento Station. Both projects are still reliant upon the political will of the city, and consequently, remain topics for the future.
Has the development of Porto really changed the face of the city? One of the most charming elements of the city’s overall atmosphere is due to a differing number of architectural façades, the overwhelming number of which date to the late 1800s/early 1900s. However, the 1970s/1980s saw new investments in local properties with façades that failed to correspond to the historical ‘vibe’ of the city. One can see these eyesores peppered throughout the city. Fortunately, the Porto municipality has created strict rules concerning new developments, preferring that all new façades conform to the atmosphere of the neighbourhood. This rule encourages development that ‘fits’ the neighbourhoods, thereby adding to the continuity and overall beauty of the city. Eyesores be damned!
As a result, developers and architectural firms face a choice in designing their refurbishment projects. In many circumstances, the choice comes down to choosing to refurbish using tile (and thereby maintaining Porto’s historical connection to azulejos), or opting to eschew tiles in the finished product, a much cheaper option. Several developers have chosen this cheaper option, and the results are unspectacular. If the city is receiving significant investment, and beautification is underway in all the nooks and crannies that make this city such an artistic and architectural wonderland, why not include tiles as part of all architectural projects? Doing so stays true to the historical heritage of the city, no? But I digress…
Speaking of tiles, it turns out that some of our Porto citizens have engaged in the theft of tiles from historical buildings around the city. For shame. A local artist, Joana de Abreu, has created a public intervention to ‘replace’ stolen tiles, and to draw attention to this issue. We stand with local artists seeking to engage in the beautification and preservation of Porto traditions.
Prior to all the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, Porto has been in a consistent and continual state of redevelopment. For now, we must bear in mind that some activities are likely to be put on hold while authorities adapt to a state of pandemic; however, the changes are good changes, and will likely return in force once some form of ‘normalcy’ has returned. We certainly believe that Porto’s 21st Century will still continue to see improvement and attention to the same Invictus spirit that has held her in good stead since the founding of Portus Cale in 136 BC. We remain in a time of transition.