Director, PUiS-UA – Platform for Social Innovation, University of Aveiro
Aveiro, Portugal is a regional urban center with an evolving identity. A port city once known for its salt-flats and ceramics, Aveiro is now growing in prominence as Portugal’s tech hub. Aveiro’s new university – one of the most dynamic and innovative in Portugal – has attracted thousands of students. New residents now make up a fifth of the city’s population.
Team Aveiro sought a project that could bring students and longtime residents of Aveiro together to strengthen a sense of shared local identity. They chose collaboration on a project to make creative use of vacant space.
Vacant and abandoned spaces in cities convey a feel of decline. But they also present opportunities for reimagining urban space and re-knitting neighborhoods around them.
The site of Actors project VivaCidade, located on a street corner in Aveiro, Portugal had long been an urban void: a vacant expanse of concrete, abutting a stalled construction site and used mainly for parking cars. Through an extended participatory process with residents and stakeholders, Team Aveiro got neighbors and students involved with the regeneration of this street corner into a pedestrian plaza.
Longtime Aveiro residents remember the old days when they hung bedspreads from windows and balconies during festive events. This tradition of “façade dressing” inspired the look and feel of the intervention. Before the lot became vacant, a tavern had been located there. The inhabitants incorporated this history of social gathering into the reinvention of the space.
The work – from visioning to actual construction – was done by the residents themselves, developed through hands-on workshops organized with partners from various associations — who brought skills in areas like carpentry, gardening and mural painting. Together the participants turned the vacant lot into a plaza, building an open living room with outdoor wooden furniture, a community garden, two vertical garden walls, a painted tile mural and an interactive light panel. These activities invited participants to make something tangible with their hands, to take part in the transformation of their environment and to develop the determination to become good stewards of this public space.
“Observing the city and listening to citizens is the first step for an effective urban change: trust, commitment and awareness are the pillars to make the city together!”
At the outset, participants imagined a temporary intervention, but as the process unfolded and the energy built, community members became excited about the idea of commiting to a lasting transformation. Local shopkeepers and businesses donated materials and construction expertise, joining with the residents’ and students’ vision to make a significant transformation possible.
The project had a positive impact on the whole local community, including neighbors and small local shops; on the students, young professionals from different sectors, and local artist’s collective; and on the local municipality, whose skepticism gave way to more confidence in participatory processes.
“The initiative VivaCidade’s success motivates us to choose new nooks and crannies of the city of Aveiro for new executions, so we can have more enchantment in the city”
– José Ribau Esteves, Mayor of Aveiro