Rent-a-soul in Lisbon

Alfama tram

Since I moved to Rua dos Remédios last week, I’ve been questioning my right to stay here. The right for me to live wherever I want as long as I have an economic licence to do so.

My first impressions of Lisbon’s Alfama have been bittersweet in that respect. The melancholy lanes and decrepit beauty of the hilltop souk make it a wonderful place to draw. The city’s serene and crumbling tiled facades are magical in almost every shade of light.

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Climbing up the dilapidated streets, listening to Fado singers and rickety custard trams, is like being in Paris and Havana simultaneously. There are cranes and scaffolding in certain places, but Lisbon is not a global finance metropolis. There is no return on your investment here.

My AirBnB apartment has been a shambles from the day I moved in. The shower is like a scene from Psycho, the hallway doorknob fell off on arrival, and there’s precious little hot water in the kitchen. In many ways it’s like a horror Tinder date, where your date’s photos were taken ten years ago, but you’re too polite and sensitive to cut it short.

Like many visitors to the Alfama, I’ve been using AirBnB as a lifestyle experience without thinking of the consequences. In that my presence could do more harm than good? Of course, I spend money that goes to local businesses, but I’m not even remotely rich, so my economic impact is minimal at best. Otherwise I contribute nothing to Lisbon if I am being honest.

I decided to move to Lisbon for a couple of months because it’s a popular place with freelancers. Technology has made it easy for me to move cities as my current job can be done remotely online. With my Hoxton possessions stored in a East London warehouse, my loves, jobs and experiences are rented just like my homes.

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Watching old Portuguese ladies pick up their groceries alongside tourists with cameras, I’ve come to realise that I am part of an invasion. One that’s taking place in historic cities all over the world. Individually and collectively we contribute little to the local community apart from money.

Co-existence brings great benefits, but its an uneasy experience at times. The world’s population and technology is accelerating faster than local people can adapt to change.

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My consumption is welcomed by restaurants, cafes, shops and sub-letters, who reap the rewards of my wanderlust. But hidden amongst the decay, I uncovered graffiti calling out tourists as thieves and pricing locals out of their homes.

As a tall northern creature with urban headphones, it made me feel like a Starbucks chain taking over an independent tea shop. Am I destroying what I came looking for? The graffiti led me to question the morality of sub-letting in places such as the Alfama.

I don’t have any answers, other than it’s for governments and communities to regulate and protect their citizens from excessive rent rises, especially in culturally sensitive areas.

If there are better rules in place, the letting companies and property owners will have to respect local resident’s rights first. As a consequence, I won’t be able to sub-let so easily either, but as you’ve already deducted that’s hardly a tragedy.

In light of my ramshackle apartment and cultural awkwardness, I’m now moving to another part of the city. One that’s less culturally significant than the Alfama. It feels like the right thing to do in the circumstances. I hopefully won’t feel like a white settler with headphones when I move to Santa Catarina. I will hopefully will be able to have a proper shower there too.

All because I’m free to choose.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Rent-a-soul in Lisbon

  1. I am from Lisbon and your article is very interesting! What happened is that in the last 3/4 years Lizbon had a huge boom on tourism and because of it the rents went from 300/400 euros an apartment to more than the double… I dont think we should blame the tourists for this situation, in fact I believe the city has won more than loose with this tourism boom… But now we’re verifying people can not afford to pay those rents and leaving the city center and typical neighboorhoods, and in fact they are becoming uncharactetized… It’s not a easy situation! Enjoy Lisbon. PedroL

    1. Hi Pedrol!

      I think you nailed it with ‘uncharacterised’ as that’s exactly what happens when people such as myself stay in the Alfama on a short-let basis. Another example, would be going to the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona FC and there’s no longer an atmosphere because its full of tourists.

      I think respective governments need to interfere in the market to protect local people’s rents. That’s the only way you can preserve a community from being swallowed up. Otherwise, if you’re not careful the Alfama becomes a beautiful Disneyland like Venice.

      If you interfere and try control the market through rent controls, then that will mean less money for private home owners and restaurants, who make good money out of tourists like me. Some residents will lose out if less tourists were to use AirBnB’s services, but some one always loses in that situation.

      Otherwise, thanks for the insight in your comment 🙂

      Daniel

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