Mayor of Porto
Currently halfway through his third term in office, Rui Fernando da Silva Rio has spent the best part of the past decade spearheading ambitious urban development schemes in Porto, which only a few years ago suffered from poor infrastructure, drug crime and chronic economic inactivity. The mayor’s tenure, with the help of EU financing, has seen gradually improving living conditions in the city; he has helped push for a new metro system that has inspired the local retail sector to emerge with renewed optimism. The city’s revitalised downtown area means the historic port has a choice of destinations to feel proud of.
How have you managed to improve Porto’s business appeal?
We have a lot of talent here – we are often known for port wine, but there is a lot more to Porto, as seen by the growing number of tourists coming to discover it. European clothing brands are sending their designs to our textile factories, we have top universities and research centres working internationally, and the rehabilitation of Baixa, downtown, is signalling new commercial life in spite of the crisis.
Why redevelop downtown Porto?
Baixa was an abandoned ghetto in 2001. In 2002 we negotiated innovative legislation to create urban rehabilitation societies, which oversaw private investment into publicly controlled works and the restructuring of 38 blocks – 913 buildings in total. Better social cohesion is a core ideal of the project, so Prohabita [the housing access funding programme] is a big part of it. As well as making the centre inhabitable and accessible again, we want more restaurants, bars, arts venues and discos to open downtown. The nightlife now is like nothing we have ever had before.
Will you be able to keep up the good work, considering Portugal’s economic climate?
It will take time to achieve. Our agenda has often met with problems but it has to be said that it has always been pushed forward within a tight framework of sound municipal finances and balanced management of resources. It is something I am still very committed to.
What makes Porto such a great city?
Porto has a very distinctive character, like its people. We have a Unesco-listed historical centre, beautiful gardens, striking bridges, an enchanting coastline and a very proud history. It is important to us to honour that history.