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Planning Lisbon at the metropolitan scale: elements for an historical analysis of
urban planning programs (1950-2010)
J oão Martins, Patrícia Pereira, Pedro Almeida, Paulo Machado, Domingos Vaz and Luís V. Baptista
(CESNOVA – Sociology Research Center of the New University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal)

The Lisbon metropolis concentrates more than 1/4 of the population in the Portuguese territory,
a large share of the economic activities and occupies a middle position in the European cities
ranking (Brenner, 2006). Like any other metropolis of the XXI century, Lisbon aspires to
reinforce its position among the constellation of global cities and faces the conflicting dynamics
of globalization (Sassen, 1994). The first manifestations of metropolization occurred around the
1950’s and in the 1960’s Lisbon and its surrounding municipalities grew beyond the mark of
one million inhabitants.
The intensification of the metropolization phenomena and the resulting changes in the shape of
the city and surroundings and on the lives of city dwellers require public policy makers to
rethink the modalities of territorial management, which becomes increasingly complex. A 1948
plan sought to plan outside the administrative limits of the city, the 1959 plan was a first
initiative to control the suburbs and the one issued in 1964 programmed for an enlarged
structure, defining a set of public investments and a growth model based on the existing
transportation corridors. These were some of the first symptoms that public powers started to
conceive Lisbon as an enlarged and socially diverse territorial entity, transcending municipal
boundaries. These plans were followed by others and by the creation of public institutions and
territorial divisions meant to create urban order at a metropolitan scale. However, the
institutional action in this direction seems to have been falling behind in relation to the social,
economic and territorial reality. Although the governance system is evolving to incorporate a
wide range of state and non-state actors cooperating across different sectors and scales, it stays
characterized by the predominance of two spatial levels: the central and the local, with little
coordination between the two (Silva and Syrett, 2006).
This paper is part of an in-progress collective research aimed at clarifying the role of public
intervention in the ordering of urban space at the metropolitan scale in Lisbon, especially
concerning the challenge of urban segregation. We will present a critical historical analysis of
all “metropolitan scaled” planning programs issued since 1948.

1. Introduction
Literature review on urban issues shows that, in the current demographic, economic and
social contexts of the urbanized world, the Metropolis and the processes of
metropolization have the main role – replacing the city and urbanization processes – in
the conceptual models used by sociologists, economists, geographers and other social
scientists to read today’s urban reality (Sassen, 2001; Bassand, 1997; Brenner and Keil,
2006). Like researchers, urban planners also have been acknowledging the importance
of this broader process of urban change and of planning accordingly. This shift in focus
is generally gradual and it’s effects on urban form and dynamics is slow.
In the Lisbon case, most authors identify the first manifestations of metropolization
around the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the area grew beyond the mark of one million
inhabitants (Nunes, 2007). Today, the Lisbon metropolis concentrates more than 1/4 of
the population in the Portuguese territory, a large share of the economic activities and
occupies a middle position in the European cities ranking (Brenner and Keil, 2006). The
Lisbon's metropolitan area presents a centralizing effect, simultaneously reflecting and
causing the lack of medium cities in the rest of the country that could mobilize
innovative sectors, creative employment, allowing the establishment of other
competitive urban areas. Besides Lisbon, only Porto presents a similar, yet less intense,
metropolization pattern: according to Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE), in 2001,
about de 37 % of Portugal’s 10 million inhabitants resided in the two metropolitan areas
(Nunes, 2007).
If it is a fact that as far as 1948, city planners produced plans that dealt with some
regional issues, in 2010, the metropolis of Lisbon still lacks the proper institutional
frame to define and manage an integrated and coordinated development of all the
territories involved. The institutional accomplishments seem to have been falling behind

in relation to the social, economic and territorial reality. Although the governance
system of the Lisbon area is evolving to incorporate a wide range of state and non-state
actors cooperating across different sectors and scales, it stays characterized by the
predominance of two spatial levels: the central and the local, with no coordination
between the two (Silva and Syrett, 2006).
This paper is part of an ongoing collective research project entitled “The Construction
of the Metropolis: Urban Segregation and Public Intervention in Lisbon (1950-2011)”.
In this research project, the team seeks to clarify how the public intervention has, since
the 1950’s, contributed to order urban space at the metropolitan scale in Lisbon,
especially concerning the challenge of urban segregation. So, the project’s objectives
are: to identify and analyze the public intervention tools of territorial ordering conceived
for and applied to the Lisbon metropolitan space in this period; to identify and analyze,
within those tools, how urban segregation issues are addressed and finally, to clarify
how those planning tools affect the patterns of urban segregation. To frame the analysis,
we propose to portray the metropolization process of Lisbon since its first moments and
describe the construction process of the still incipient intermediate public level of
management in Lisbon.
In this paper, one of the fist results of this research, the team aims to reconstitute the
process that lead to the current situation. In order to achieve this objective, we present a
critical reading of the most significant “metropolitan scaled” planning programs and
legislative documents regarding the Lisbon area, issued since 1948.

2. Some concerns about Urban and Metropolitan planning
The analysis of urban planning programs commonly entails a strong connection with
physical Geography, because the morphology of spaces guides urban interventions

(Silva, 1994: 7). Physical Geography’s approach generally seeks to understand how
urban space has been configured by the creation of urban development plans. In this
paper, however we intent to abandon that physicality dimension in order to reveal an
analysis of social relations in connection with space.
Until the 1960´s, the purely technical, non political and objective nature of Urban
Planning was rarely questioned (Silva, 1994: 7). Urban planners and technicians
admitted that public interest could be determined objectively and the following step
consisted in choosing the most appropriate means to achieve it. In other words, they
could materialize the objectives they defined, using “neutral” methods. Thus, conflict
was avoided. From the 1960’ onwards, several criticisms to these positions arose. One
of the most important was the criticism to the supposed “neutrality” of planning
processes and the affirmation that urban planning is in fact an activity configured by
political and economical contexts (Castells, 1972). The effects of the economic context
in territorial development often materialize as unplanned growth and functional
American Sociologist Herbert Gans establishes a strong connection between, on the one
hand urban and poverty research fields and on the other hand urban planning and
technical work in American suburbs. Gans’s perspective, adopted by the group, is that
planning is an important tool to organize the territory that it can prevent or develop
segregation dynamics, but also that it must be seen as a human process, strongly
connected with: communitarian history, migration processes, concentration of job
opportunities and construction of spatial representations by urban dwellers. According
to the author:

Planners try to build rationalist and functionalist urban territories that are contrary
to peoples´ wishes: My change-is-slow assumption has a policy sequel: planners
should not assume that people will do what planners and their plans expect them to
do. By all means make plans for drastic change if you are sure it is in nearly
everyone's best interest, but prepare a backup plan for what most people think is in
their best interest. (Gans, 2009: 4)

3. Urban planning in Lisbon: first steps
This paper focuses mainly in urban planning history since 1948, when the Master Plan
of the City of Lisbon and the General Plan of Urbanization and Expansion of Lisbon
were concluded. However, to contextualize the analysis, it is important to go back a few
According to Silva, in Portugal, from 1926 to 1974, the production and transformation
of urban space were determined by economical factors. But the municipal planning’s
response was conditioned by the power structure, the relations between organizations
and their officials and also by decision makers’ ideological positioning (Silva, 1994: 7).
We must emphasize the relations between the economic sector and the political options
of Estado Novo (1926-1974). The plans produced during this period reflected the effect
of the centralist, interventionist and vigilant State in urban planning and spatial
organization of cities, as in other aspects of citizens’ lives. The options taken in urban
planning reflected the regime’s ideology: they materialized the attempt to delay urban
migration and the State’s representation of Portugal as a rural, catholic and colonial

The plans analyzed in this paper that were issued until 1974 were produced by Lisbon
municipal planners and were never centrally approved. Nonetheless, the urban planning
strategies produced for Lisbon in this period were relevant. They configured the city’s
expansion, outlined the roads network and, to a certain extent, the distribution of
workplaces and housing. It was during this period, despite the informal transformation
of spaces, that the plans settled the structure of the city and the metropolis by
reinforcing the old medieval city as a radial center, connected to its administrative
borders by large avenues.

3.1. The need for a “General Plan”
The process of urban planning in Lisbon during the 1930´s was marked by austerity in
financial policy, by the absence of effective municipal power and by a clear connection
with the private sector.
Soon after the 1926 military coup, the Lisbon municipality assumed the necessity of a
“general plan” for the city (Silva, 1994: 10). In order to achieve that goal, in 1927, the
municipality called architect J . C. Forestier .This technician was responsible for
previous plans of Havana and Buenos Aires, repeating the Haussmannian model of
Paris in these cities. This model show tremendous concern with street traffic and
aesthetic embellishments, but to be successful in the Lisbon context lacks a fundamental
dimension: the concern with housing for the poor, the lower quality of the existing one
and situations of overcrowding. Forrestier’s studies of Lisbon were never implemented,
however, by analyzing posterior plans of the city, we acknowledged that his ideas
weren’t totally dismissed by his successors.


Images 1 & 2: Praça Marques de Pombal in the 1930´s

Source: Arquivo Fotográfico de Lisboa.

3.2. Duarte Pacheco: Minister, Mayor, Engineer and Urban Planner.
Starting in 1938, the Minister of Obras Públicas (MOP / Ministry Public Works),
Duarte Pacheco
By means of the Decree 28797 of 1938, one third of the Lisbon territory was
expropriated. Even in a tenuous way this law is the state´s first attempt to rule Lisbon’s
urban space and to be responsible for and own part of it. A commission was created to
deal with unemployment and this manpower was absorbed by public works. With this
process it was possible to reduce urban production costs and increase land property
, accumulated ministerial functions and activities as Mayor of Lisbon.
As Mayor, he focuses on two fundamental aspects: the elimination of the private
monopoly of urban land through simplified expropriation proceedings and the
promotion of public works.

Marques do Pombal square was built in order to be the radial centre of the city of Lisbon, where all main
streets should be connected. It was inaugurated in 1934.

prices. Thus the Câmara Municipal de Lisboa (CML / Lisbon City Council) became
one of the biggest urban land owners in Lisbon, (Silva, 1994: 12). This was also a
response to the demands of two very important sectors: the colonial and the industrial,
for both asked for better port accommodations, roads, urban infrastructures, telephone
and electricity to make their business grow.

3.3. De Gröer’s Plans
It was also in 1938 that Urban Architect Etienne De Gröer was hired to develop the
Master Plan of the City of Lisbon. This plan was thought of to deal only with the city’s
growth, but de Gröer introduced the need of an “expansion” dynamic, aiming at dealing
with the metropolitan changes. Thus, in 1948, two plans were approved by the city
council, but not approved by the Assembleia Nacional (National Assembly): the Master
Plan of the City of Lisbon and the General Plan of Urbanization and Expansion of
Lisbon. It was the first time in Portugal that a regional view of the territory was
presented. This was, however, a “false start”, because this regional awareness was not
materialized in practical actions. These plans never met the central State’s approval,
they nevertheless oriented to some extent the development and configuration of the city.
It is important to highlight that, at this point, the municipal powers failed completely in
setting off the expansion dynamic implied in the General Plan of Urbanization and
Expansion of Lisbon.
The Master Plan of the City of Lisbon tended to create a radiocentric structure,
organizing the city according to population densities, which decreased gradually from

According to Ferreira (1987) and Silva (1994) this minister became a “political myth” because he was
connected with the first forms of communication (telephone), electrification and infrastructures,

the centre to the periphery; planning for an industrial hub in the eastern part of the city;
a bridge over the Tagus River; the airport and a forest park, named Monsanto. All of
these achievements were only possible due to the above mentioned expropriation

Images 3 & 4: Plants representing the MPCL 1948 and sectors of expansion

Source: Silva, 1994: 21

It is important to highlight that, in this plan, overcoming physical and economical
determinisms seems far more important than responding to social needs. The model
suggested is characterized by an organic rationality promoting the city’s zoning by
functional areas that organize and divide the city. This type of spatial organization tends
to foment socio-economic homogenization processes of urban space, such as locating
working class neighbourhoods near the recently created industrial poles. Regarding
housing and land use, De Gröer’s vision materializes the centralised political system.

canalizing funds directly from the government office to Lisbon council.

Like Forestier’s, De Gröer’s plans do not acknowledge the emergence of slums and the
increasing illegal construction of housing.
After 1943, with Duarte Pacheco’s death, the pressure of landowners on the National
Assembly and on the Government introduces changes in the legal process of
expropriation of urban land in Lisbon. The 2018 law of 1946 modifies the legal
expropriation process, with the consequence of delaying urban reconfiguration
processes. The end of Second World War caused some changes in the Portuguese
political regime’s economic policies. The state could no longer be as centralist as it was.
This position was materialized by the entry of commercial and landowner’s elite in the
governance structure, “liberalizing” to some extent the country’s economy. Hoping for a
rapid reproduction of financial capital through production taxes, the State started to
invest directly in public works infrastructures to support the industrial input. Regarding
urban and regional planning, this option determined that roads and electrification were
highly prioritized over social housing and other social needs.

3.4. Population Growth in Lisbon and the Lisbon region: the industrial appeal in the
In the early twentieth century, the city of Lisbon concentrated the majority of the
population in the Lisbon region, but after the 50´s the situation became less clear.
According to geographer Teresa Barata Salgueiro (1992: 87), in 1950, Lisbon had
67.52% of that population. That percentage dropped to 58.76% in 1960, to 48.76% in
1970 and to 35.6% in 1981. This suburban growth took place essentially in the northern
bank of the Tagus River.

In his doctoral thesis, J oão Pedro Nunes (2007) presents an analysis of Lisbon’s
population growth since 1920. The figures show a strong population increase after
1950’s. Tables 1 and 2 also show how Lisbon’s population growth starts to decline
when compared with it’s suburbs, indicating the intensification of suburbanization.
This increase reflects a strong migration movement from other regions of Portugal,
especially from rural areas, towards the Lisbon region. These migrants came to the
capital looking for jobs in the industries recently promoted by the political regime, but
they also start working in the service sector.

Tables 1 & 2: Population growth rate of Lisbon Metropolitan Area

Source: adapted from Nunes, 2007: 70

According to the Câmara Corporativa (Corporative Board), Lisbon’s urbanization and
metropolization are reflections of what was happening in other countries. This Board
clarifies the importance of the Lisbon region regarding fiscal contributions: it represents
45% of the industrial payments, 48% of port traffic, 49% of all companies and 51% of
the property taxes. The growth of urban consumers from 1950 to 1958 demonstrates a

In 1979 Amadora will leave the administrative territory of Oeiras. Till this time it stays as a freguesia,
the smallest administrative power in Portugal. In 1981 Amadora becomes a Concelho, a city council.
40-50 50-60 60-70 70-81
Alcochete 18,1 17,9 12,3 8,0
Almada 48,1 62,1 51,6 37,3
Barreiro 13,8 18,1 68,3 49,1
Moita 57,2 49,6 33,1 37,4
Montijo 46,4 16,7 39,6 12,6
Seixal 23,2 28,4 86,1 134,1
40-50 50-60 60-70 70-81
Lisbon 12,8 2,4 -5,2 6,3
Cascais 42,3 41,3 55,4 52,8
Loures 43,9 102,5 63,1 66,0
40,8 77,0 91,2 17,1
Sintra 33,8 32,3 55,6 82,0
Amadora 92,5 152 137 46
V. F. Xira 15,7 24,0 34,2 61,9

clear process of urban concentration: an increase on 40% of electricity consumers, 63%
on butane and 22% of public transportation users
The growth of unhealthy living conditions, overcrowding and illegal construction are
direct effects of the migration towards Lisbon and of the total absence of a concrete
housing policy. Instead we saw the State supporting the private sector, allowing the
artificial increase of housing construction. These effects help us acknowledge the
importance of residential analysis as a major issue to think the segregation processes in
the city, the social homogenization of territories and the differences between them. This
stratification will be reproduced on market segmentation according to different
(Lopes, 1959: 56).
After explaining the urban migration process, we need to analyze how public
institutions responded. In this period, throughout Europe, and particularly in France,
concerns about urban growth were already regarded as metropolitan or regional,
strongly connected with the economic models of development of an entire region
(Lopes, 1959). In Portugal, however, this awareness, but especially the action in this
field began later. During the 1960´s, three documents were issued that addressed these
issues the 42.454 and 2099 Laws of 1959, and the Regional Master Plan of Lisbon, this
last one approved by Lisbon City Council only in 1964.

3.5. The 42454 law and the “grand ensembles”
In response to urban migration, specially related to the industrial input, in the 1960’s
Estado Novo had to introduce changes in it’s public housing policies, which, by

Between 1940 and 1950 the growth was 114%.

building houses to those who politically supported the regime, reaffirmed the regime´s
ideology. The regime supported single-family houses as a role model, with a garden in
front of the house that could support a rural way of life in urban context. The huge
increase on migration showed that this policy was totally inappropriate. In the 1960’s,
for the first time the “grand ensemble” model, a functionalist way of developing urban
space, was used for collective housing. It was now possible to build large
neighborhoods, which transformed Estado Novo’s model of public housing.
According to Nunes (2007), true “housing machines” were created, in order to
concentrate a large number of people in the same place, using industrial techniques,
planning 11000 new houses in Olivais and 16000 in Chelas (Silva, 1986: 451). These
were the locations, within the administrative borders of Lisbon, where space was
available for these housing projects of considerable dimension. According to the Master
Plan of the City of Lisbon (1948), this eastern part of the city was characterized by its
industrial functions, so it was important to create working class neighborhoods in the

3.6. The 2099 law (year 1959) and the Region of Lisbon
This law materializes the need felt by public powers to create instruments to organize
the urban and suburban phenomena in Lisbon and its outskirts. For the first time, the
Portuguese state legislates about the “Region of Lisbon” defined as the area from
Setúbal in the South to Mafra in the North and from Cascais in the West to Loures in
the East. This legislation demanded the creation of a territorial plan to organize all these
municipalities. The plan should recognize some metropolitan effects in fields like

transportation networks, functional zoning (agriculture, industry consolidation, tourism
and leisure activities), water supply services, sanitation or electricity.
This law also demanded the articulation between local and regional plans, the
constitution of the different taskforces responsible for the projects and the coordination
between all public institutions involved, creating a structure that should be effective.

3.7. Regional Master Plan of Lisbon 1964
In his book Urban Planning and Regional Planning, Peter Hall (2002) presents the
1920’s Edinburgh, New York and London, as examples of cities where urban planners
tried to deal with early forms of regional government, and elaborated "Regional Plans”.
The Portuguese delay in regard to industrialization and urbanization dynamics
determined the late start of the metropolization process in Lisbon. Consequently, the
first urban and metropolitan instruments of management for Lisbon would also be
conceived later, when the phenomena began to change the resident’s, traveller’s and
user’s life and was seen as relevant by public powers.
The Regional Master Plan of Lisbon (1964) was conceived in order to respond to the
2099 law. It tries to have a regional and national logic, intended to show the rest of the
country the development models approved and supported by the government. A first
problem addressed in this plan was clearly the installation of industrial and residential
spaces in neighboring municipalities of Lisbon in an extended form. These
municipalities did not have forms of urban planning, the space was not effectively
controlled, or the municipal laws were flexible. In this period, the new urbanized areas
outside the city of Lisbon were established under a semi-legal cover, so it was very hard

to those municipalities to intervene in their territories in order to observe the plan’s

Image 5: Regular transportation vehicles traffic in 1964

Source: Nunes, 2007: 138

According to Nunes (2007) and Baptista (1999), the 1964 plan presented an innovation;
it introduced an enlarged scale on Lisbon’s urban planning. The territory was analyzed
according to agglomeration logics, and acknowledged the need to conceive these
territories as integrated and sharing challenges. The plan determined that this vision
should be shared by all municipal governments in order to organize the complex
regional system.
This plan was not really fulfilled because of the country´s territorial organization and
administrative form. Its own particularities transcended the power of single government
offices like the Public Works, Economy or Finances. The plan was approved by
Lisbon´s Council but never by the National Assembly. Once more we witness a strong

rhetorical approach and minimum achievements. Like in 1948 with the Master Plan of
the City of Lisbon, we perceive that an effort to consolidate planning programs is made,
that the need for coordinate action is acknowledged, but that the results are minimal,
due to the lack of funding and the strong oppression by private interests.

4. Building intermediate levels of public administration
4.1. The issue of Regionalization
The constitution of shared decision-making policies, about urban and metropolitan
areas, between central and local government was implemented with the Portuguese
integration in EEC in 1986. Commissions for the Coordination of Regional
Development were created (CCDR). These mid-level institutions served as “regional
governments” in order to distribute the European funds among the Portuguese territory.
The administrative organization of the Portuguese state according to the 1976
Constitution should be taken into account when analyzing the regional division of the
Portuguese territory. The new Constitution sets out the model of Representative
Parliament Democracy announcing three levels of administration: the central
government, the local power under the Câmaras Municipais (city councils) with higher
budgets and responsibilities and the administrative regions, specific forms of
intermediate management allowing the direct election of those political agents, thus
deeply connected with regional electors and their concerns.
Despite the fact that the creation of Administrative Regions is a constitutional objective
since 1976, they were never created. , After the Constitutional revision of 1997,
Regionalization became an issue necessarily voted in a referendum. This deeply

complex matter was brought to the political agenda, and the referendum was organized,
asking voters to decide if they agreed with the process of creating these new forms of
government and also if they agreed with the territory of their region. Regionalização
was rejected and once more state centralism remained and was consolidated.

4.2. Institutionalizing the Lisbon Metropolitan Area as an intermediate level of
The Regional Master Plan for the Lisbon Metropolitan Area was the first plan of
metropolitan range approved by the Portuguese state in 1989, revised in 2002. This plan
demands the construction of a metropolitan political structure integrating all city
councils. This organization should promote the installation of residential parks
combined with mobility policies, the elaboration of plans to develop territories
particularly marked by a suburban dynamic, the organizing of forms of shared
governance, the definition of functional vocations for each municipality, as well as the
consolidation of a financial structure that would allow the organization to apply the
purposes of the plan. As a consequence of this plan, Área Metropolitana de Lisboa
(AML / Lisbon Metropolitan Area) was created as a public organization, in 1991 (Law
44/91). It is composed of 19 councils - almost the same mentioned in the 1964 Regional
Master Plan of Lisbon. Since 1991, new legal frameworks were elaborated that
contributed mostly to better define AML’s competencies (Law 10/2003 and Law
45/2008). The changes introduced did not fundamentally transform the nature of the
organisation, nor its action range.

5. Final remarks

The current legislative context (Law 45/2008) determines an increase of responsibilities
for the Área Metropolitana de Lisboa (AML). However, despite the attempts to
consolidate this form of metropolitan governance since 1991, we believe that there are
limitations that inhibit its effectiveness.
One of the most important is the fact that Área Metropolitana de Lisboa (AML) is not a
deliberative institution. It is an association of city councils that promotes the debate, but
doesn’t have a real decision power over metropolitan issues. Thus, we believe that the
powers of Área Metropolitana de Lisboa (AML) are considerably fragile. The
institution does not have the mandatory power to force city councils to take action
according to its decisions.
An other one is the fact that this institution, in the way it is organized, does not solve the
serious disconnection problem between local and central government. This
disconnection can even be aggravated, resulting in conflicts between city councils,
Comissões de Coordenação para o Desenvolvimento Regional (CCDR / Coordination
Commissions for Regional Development) and the AML. This model allows the
continuation of centralism, creating more complex and bureaucratic processes and
delaying an effective metropolitan development.
The analysis of the legislation the Area Metropolitana de Lisboa is based on, of the
scientific publications elaborated by it’s technicians about Lisbon’s territory as well as
of the relations between political leaders and administration levels, brings up some
questions concerning the organization model and action of this organization: Is it
nothing more than an association of adjacent municipalities, failing to advocate for the
Metropolitan Area as a whole and to seek solutions to shared problems? Is it the
institutionalization of Lisbon’s influence over its neighboring cities?

Answering these questions is one of the research team’s objectives, our perspective is
that the organization responsible for promoting strategies for the metropolitan territory
should, in order to be effective, have a metropolitan scale and not be this attached to
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