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Neighbourhood update

Creative solutions

Marvila [LISBON]

For many years Marvila, a working-class riverside neighbourhood to the east of Lisbon’s centre, was largely forgotten. The manufacturing that had been its heart – everything from weapons to wine – had long gone and its warehouses lay empty. But in the past two years a regeneration process has gathered pace that is being driven primarily by cultural – rather than municipal – imperatives. Four contemporary-art galleries have based themselves here and design studios, tech start-ups and architects are colonising the area, making the most of its post-industrial architecture and river views. The story of this change begins in 2007 when philosophy lecturer Nuno Nabais recognised the potential of former armaments factory Fábrica Braço de Prata and established a creative hub supporting Portuguese artists, writers and musicians. For several years it stood alone in the dilapidated streets but people slowly began to recognise the area’s potential. Among the first was gallerist Andréa Baginski Champalimaud, who opened Galeria Baginski in 2009. “Marvila was our choice because the warehouses are aesthetically very interesting and it seemed the area would be a target for intervention in the future,” she says.

Champalimaud’s optimism seems to have been confirmed. Alongside the creative buzz, the city council has announced plans to revitalise the riverfront in the area and foreign buyers are snapping up loft-style spaces to convert into homes. However, Marvila is split into two distinct areas by a high ridge. At the base of the ridge gentrification is gathering pace but the benefits have so far failed to transmit to the blue-collar communities living in housing estates above. Bridging the geological and social gap will be a challenge.

Route with a view

Auckland [TRANSPORT]

Part of Auckland’s Nelson Street cycleway snakes along an elegant black bridge over the city’s central motorway junction before delivering cyclists into the city. The bridge glows during the day thanks to a bright pink surface and by night it shines thanks to an led display. “Because the cycleway is so long it needed to be like a piece of public art,” says architect Dean Mackenzie of Monk Mackenzie, who worked with a consortium of engineering firms on the nz$11m (€7m)project. “It’s raised the profile of cycling as a mode of transport in the city.”

Park life

Beirut [PUBLIC SPACE]

Beirut is blessed with many things but green space is not one of them. But four years of campaigning led by NGO Nahnoo finally forced the municipality to reopen Horsh Beirut, a pine forest. For two decades it had been closed to locals – but not, controversially, to western foreigners – due to concerns about vandalism.

After centuries of being plundered for its wood it’s no longer much of a forest. But it is the only large park in the city where people can stroll, read and get away from traffic. For now the park is only open on Saturdays but Nahnoo director Mohammad Ayoub says he hopes it becomes a meeting point for people of all backgrounds; just the sort of place any city needs.

Q&A- Jennifer Keesmaat

Chief planner, Toronto

Jennifer Keesmaat has an unusually high profile for an unelected municipal official. Through her personal blog, new podcast series Invisible City and public consultations, she’s made it a priority to stimulate an informed discussion around the issues confronting fast-growing Toronto. It’s got Keesmaat into a bit of trouble: last year she raised eyebrows for going against the mayor’s position on a major infrastructure project.

What’s the philosophy behind giving your job a more public profile?
My approach has been to provide an insight into the planning process because this helps people participate in a more meaningful way. It’s about teaching the population about some of the nuances and tensions that go into negotiating the outcomes you see in the landscape of this city.

When you take a more proactive role publicly, do you risk annoying the mayor or the city council?
I’m always conscious that the things I’m talking about are reinforcing what’s already in the city’s official plan for growth. I’ve talked a lot about focusing on creating a walkable city, a multimodal city, where cycling is a true transport choice. Of course, there are some councillors who don’t support that but it’s already there in our official plan. So I can use policy as my crutch or my fallback; it’s my safe zone to get around some of those tensions.

Why do you make podcasts?
As a medium it gives an opportunity to have a much more sophisticated exploration of an idea than you can in an op-ed piece, staff report or short article. Invisible City is about peeling back some of the layers and exposing the people, the policies and the economics that are part of creating great cities.

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