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Joana Castro e Almeida
Councilor for Urbanism and for Transparency and Anti-Corruption
Lisbon City Council

07 February 2022

What is the vision you bring in your fresh appointment at Lisbon’s City Council, including in light of your impressive academic background?

I begin by highlighting my public service and service-to-others oriented nature. Being sensible, empathetic, well-disposed with a significant capacity to understand different points of view helps. It also helps that I am an expert in conflict management and mediation. From a technical point of view, I started my career in an architecture and urbanism studio, which provided me experience in the area of urban planning and design. Then I worked in the public administration sector, in the appraisal of subdivision projects, allowing me to acquire experience in urban permits.

I have been a professor at Instituto Superior Tecnico for 20 years, teaching subjects focused on intervention in the city from both the private and public perspective, looking at urban planning and real estate alike. I participated in projects and services that focus on the elaboration of execution and financing models of detailed plans, the influence of the growth of tourism and short-term rental in the transformation of historic neighborhoods; and the elaboration of a model for the valuation of real estate assets.

I am focused on contributing to the improvement of people's quality of life and simultaneously on making CML's mission, services and staff more effective, organized and motivated, thus ensuring they better serve Lisbon’s citizens and the city.

Lisbon has had an incredible transformation over the past decade thanks to the rehabilitation projects and new investments – what is your vision for the city for the next decade?

For the coming years we will have a new cycle of growth for Lisbon, with the construction of a more humanized, sustainable and innovative city, with more transparency and efficiency.

 

Urban rehabilitation and new investments continue to be our priority, but I would like them to be based on three fundamental aspects: proximity, diversity, and balance. Proximity is about building the city with the people and for the people, and here new investors have a very important role because they can get involved in advance with local communities and create high value projects.

 

Our goal is to strengthen the life of the neighborhoods, integrating in the residential areas commerce, cultural and educational element. We want to have liveable areas with a diverse housing offer that is affordable. We encourage investments that promote balance in the city, particularly in its neglected corners and disadvantaged communities. We must create integrated solutions for the development of consolidated areas through the instrument of “unidades de execucao”. To accompany all this investment that can be brought to Lisbon, we need to guarantee greater agility, clarity and speed in urban licensing. 

Investors are wary of market challenges such as high taxation (particularly the 23% VAT rate) or a perceived lack of transparency and consistency in planning, thus far – can they expect any changes in these respects?

The first thing I did when I started as City Councillor in Lisbon was to listen to my whole team, from managers to technicians - they know the structure and can advise on the most ardent changes needed. I also went through the Attendance Division to understand the main difficulties felt by citizens and investors in their contact with our urbanism department. This allowed me to make a good diagnosis and to create a team that will focus exclusively on organizational innovation in urbanism. Our work will focus a lot on promoting:

  • A reduction in urban permits response times.
  • Information about the phase of the permit process.
  • Greater certainty in the duration of the project appraisal deadlines by Lisboa Municipality.
  • Clearer information on how to properly instruct a permit process.
  • Greater transparency in clarifying the criteria for assessing the processes.
  • Clarification of the norms of the Urban Plans and Regulations.

Taxation combined with rising construction costs are making it difficult to develop the much needed affordable housing – how is the Council planning to support this segment?

The increase in construction costs poses additional challenges to the already existing context costs and to the income capacity of families in the city of Lisbon. We are aware of these challenges, which we share with other European cities, and are very committed to the creation of public-private and cooperative programs that may generate differentiated offers. We are already working on the framework for reinforcing supply, through the built area credits and mandatory land transfer for housing purposes.

What are the key priority objectives you are pursuing in your position at the City Council for the next 2-3 years?

Our top priorities are to guarantee a good service and here we must be able to speed up urban licensing, clarify rules and procedures, improve internal and external communication, and create procedure manuals. In terms of planning and city developments we have as goals:

  • Ensure that new public and private projects take into account the living experiences and the place’s identity.
  • Increase the supply of affordable housing.
  • Invest in forgotten areas of the city. There is a high percentage of areas to be consolidated in Lisbon and others with unqualified public and private spaces.

 

Do you have a final message for local and international real estate companies already present in or considering coming to beautiful Portugal?

Present projects with real value for the city. For this, it is key to have prior knowledge of the communities where the projects are located, to get to know the people, their experiences and dynamics. Present projects that reconcile the history with the future. Lisbon has many neighborhoods, stories, and overall opportunities for value creation.

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