Mayor says the end of “grandiose politics” is over

 In AmCham, Municipal councils, News

Lisbon’s new mayor, Carlos Moedas, says the days of grandiose and self-important politicians and politics in Portugal is over.

Instead, people want a return to the days when their politicians, whether at central or local government level, were public servants, accountable, and dealing with people’s everyday concerns and problems.
The former property consultant, investment manager and EU commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science told a packed room of business leaders at a lunch organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal (AmCham) in Lisbon on Thursday the nature of “politics has changed and no-one expected this at all”.
The engineer, who says he owes the beginnings of his career in part to the Harvard Business School who lent him the US$100,000 money he needed to pursue his MBA degree, highlighted three essential messages that will define his management style and term in charge of Portugal’s largest and most important municipal council.
“My content will not just be physical and traditional, but radical and digital; there is no room for intermediaries in this new political world (meaning the wall of aides separating or rather blocking pubic servants from the electorate), but rather up close, local and on the ground involvement and interaction with ordinary people who want to be heard, and have their issues addressed,” said the Lisbon centre-right PSD mayor who has a large contingent of socialists to work with, or potentially work against him, at city hall.

Humble and transparent

“People want their politicians to be humble and transparent. They want their elected public servants to admit when they don’t know the answer to something. We have to include ordinary people in our vision, which is why I have created a Citizens’ Assembly which has already been signed up to by 900 people,” he added.
The Citizens Assembly would be a broad panel of citizens within the Lisbon Municipality, chose through a sampling process and comprising up to 200 ordinary invited citizens, rather than those who typically take an initiative to work in politics because of party or lobby affiliation.
The difference is that these invited citizens provide their time for free, and will be involved in a collective decision making process on important matters under the guidance of specialists with different perspectives, listening to the opinions of different political parties and different groups in civil society from which proposals would be drawn up.
Carlos Moedas said that people would have to “get used to these new times for politics and different ways of drawing up policies”.
The mayor said the reason why so many people were being drawn to the extreme left and right parties throughout Europe, including Portugal whose Chega party is now the third political force, is that they felt their voices were not being heard, that their elected representatives weren’t serving them, (rather serving themselves or other lobbies and business interests), which is why the assembly was so important.
Carlos Moedas then outlined his vision for the city which would be a clear departure from the post war 1950s/1960s modernist model in which architects, more interested in giving expression to their creative talents, decided what was good for citizens, rather than putting their needs in the centre.
He also said there was a global vision in which Lisbon was competing for investment, companies and talent with cities all around the world, from New York to Shanghai, and Lisbon needed to create the attractive conditions to also be able to do so. This is a clear departure from past ideas expounded by Invest Lisboa since the 1990s which argued Lisbon was too small, regional and peripheral in Europe to be able to compete with large urban centres like Paris, London or Berlin, or elsewhere.
“The first function of a city is to deal with the smaller everyday problems that concern ordinary people, to balance the macro with micro, dealing with these smaller problems is what makes a great city,” Moedas said. “We have to convey messages to people in the city in a way that they understand”, he added.

Housing and planning

In fact, according to the mayor, 90% of ordinary citizens’ problems relate to housing issues, an election pledge the previous mayor Fernando Medina had been unable to really tackle.
“In the first 100 days we looked at how many apartments were empty in the city and we counted 2,000. We will receive €30 million from the RRP to build and refurbish housing stock”, he explained.
But apart from housing, there are other dynamic policies too covering localised sanitation and water treatment resources closer to people’s homes, caring for the homeless, proving free public transport for the elderly and students, replacing street lighting with LED systems, running power on public buildings and housing from solar energy, and an overall sustainability in all areas of the municipal council.
The mayor would also ensure that planning processes were accelerated and made more efficient through digital platforms that did not require scores of different people working on different applications at different times, resulting in some projects taking up to five years to get a decision on planning permission.
According to Lisbon City Council’s officer for Urban Panning, Joana Almeida, there are over 3,100 projects waiting for planning permission and she freely admits “we haven’t got enough staff to deal with all the processes”.
It was also pointed out to the mayor that there had been no new public amenities in Lisbon for large international congresses since Expo 98. Carlos Moedas said the focus would be on the micro. “We have work neighbourhood by neighbourhood, but we do have to find a lager space for expos and events”, while a “simple and dignified solution” needed to be found for Lisbon’s theatre land area Parque Mayer off Avenida da Liberdade.
“No one (meaning companies, organisations, as well as tourists) visits a city because it has the best centre for innovation, they go because it has the best amenities and facilities”, he said.

Almirante Reis

The Lisbon mayor said he wanted to finally improve and widen one of Lisbon’s main thoroughfares Almirante Reis, which extends from Alameda to Martim Moniz, and had been during the late 19th and early 20th centuries one of the city’s most emblematic and upmarket avenues, but had fallen into degradation and disrepute in by the end of the 20th century.
Carlos Moedas said he would widen the street, put in two new lanes either side and two cycle paths, sprucing it up in much the same way as had been done with Avenida da República.
“Since the beginning of my election campaign it has long been my dream to do something about the cycle paths along this avenue, looking into alternatives into the existing ones which was done without any kind of preparation”, he said adding that the road’s main problem was getting the traffic trying to get out of Lisbon to flow.
“We need to rethink Almirante Reis and have two lanes and two cycle ways on each side. That would be a dream to accomplish this by the end of my term”, he said.
Summing up, Carlos Moedas, the new Mayor of Lisbon, looked to US urban studies theorist Richard Florida, famous for his concept of the creative class and its implications for urban regeneration and talent migration in his books ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ and ‘Cities and the Creative Class’. “When our cities treat our people well, then our society will work better”.
After the event, Carlos Moedas made to clear to the press that he would not put himself forward for the main opposition PSD party leadership, but instead will focus on being the mayor of Lisbon.