Venture With Impact made a great time in Lisbon possible. Ann and Tai, the local experience directors, made sure that the others in the Lisbon June program were set up in comfortable apartments, with local organizations, and in the city. Before and throughout the month they were there for us, checking in, arranging dinners, Fado night, a Portuguese lesson, and a field trip across the river to fishing villages for an electric bike tour. They really know the town and helped us integrate. Really it was concierge service.
I had two gigs in Lisbon. I worked with a group called Res do Chao to figure out how to increase citizen participation in the city budget process. There are some real challenges with an indifferent administration and after a 48 year dictatorship (which ended in 1974 but still colors peoples’ relationship to the state). We were able to translate some of my American experience to the Lisbon context. As expected, most (um, all) of our work together was over coffee or wine.
My other project was more independent - researching the similarities and differences in how San Francisco and Lisbon deal with the challenges of boom times - skyrocketing housing costs, a feeling that the cities are “losing their soul”, and waves of newcomers and visitors. So I came to spend the month of June to see how this city governed by the Socialist Party deals with these issues and to see what the juxtaposition of the cities could teach me about San Francisco. I set up some meetings with local experts, Venture with Impact set some up, and Res do Chao opened a lot of doors. I was amazed at not only the rapidity of change in Lisbon, but also the role that Portugal played in bringing on the problems (of Airbnb for example).
I learned some surprising things:
Lisbon’s boom didn’t just happen. Measures were put in place to crawl out of financial crisis.
Lisbon changed dramatically in an astonishingly short time. Ten – even – five – years ago it was a very different place.
Lisbon itself has little control over matters that American cities would determine.These are national matters, governed by Portugal and in some cases by Europe.
“Socialism” doesn’t mean much. San Francisco is far to the left of Lisbon.
Culture is as important as politics.
What’s happening here isn’t only gentrification. They call it “touristification” and “financialization”and both the causes and effects are very different.
Lisbon is inexpensive – unless you’re Portuguese.
Even the nature of nostalgia, or saudade in Portuguese, is different.
I wrote up my findings in more detail on my blog www.davidprowler.blog. After my experience in Lisbon, I have been invited back to give some talks as the guest of the University of Lisbon this winter.
My month in Lisbon was a terrific experience and Venture with Impact was there every step of the way. I was blown away by not just the professionalism but also the passion, the caring, and the encouragement that Venture with Impact provided.