I was shocked to discover that approximately a fifth (perhaps more now) of Porto’s buildings are abandoned.
At face value and with my little knowledge, the neglect appears to be indiscriminate and we saw mansions, old and modern buildings either left abandoned or pretty much disused.
Naturally, this fascinated us. So much so that we withdrew from visiting the frequented tourist spots of Porto in favour of learning about some of the realities of the city today with the guidance of Pedro from Worst Tours. Pedro describes himself as;
“Alfacinha (born in Lisbon, in 75) who fell in love with Porto and never got to leave. Bald. Unorganized and absent minded. Unable to memorize names. Gets lost on purpose anytime he can, through shortcuts and narrow passages, and loves the city center. Expert on the town history. Activist. Jaywalker. ”
We walked. We listened, asked questions and learned. We walked some more. 5 hours of walking.
looking in, is difficult to elucidate on with real grounding. Migration to Brazil in search of new opportunities, a fading economy are just a few of the reasons we have heard. Also, local authorities played their part by seeking profits over people. A tale we see played out over and over again the globe over.
Porto’s residents have moved further and further away from the centre leaving swathes of emptiness to crumble in their wake.
Yet, the evolving tale of Porto is not a hopeless one. Porto has one formidable card up its well-worn sleeve and that is its people. Strong-willed, resilient and admirably resourceful they are making the most and more of their neglected spaces.
The rather stunning Art Deco Coliseu do Porto was once a theatre before it’s fate came into debate in 1990’s and sadly it was ravaged by fire in 1996. Today it houses artists studios and serves as a cultural venue and creative space.
Hidden behind humble doors and beyond the remnants of houses, secret gardens are cultivated by dedicated citizens of Porto.
Porto may be a lot of things to a lot of people that have visited the city. To us though, it is a place at the junction of so many exciting possibilities. A place with steadfast people who don’t give up even when it may look hopeless. People who don’t shout about their achievements but keep going, working hard to make something out of what they can. Quietly, diligently, unwaveringly.
We like that.
London should take note of this shift. As fewer and fewer Londoners can continue to afford the rising rents and home prices we too are having to move outwards. Unlike Porto however, London is a massive super-magnet for foreign investors and they swoop in and buy the overpriced homes. The prices stay high and sadder still the homes they buy are left uninhabited. So ultimately we too have a ghost town waiting to happen in the wings. It may well be smarter, shinier and less obvious….but a ghost town it could be nonetheless.