A few observations after one week in Lisbon

I spent a whole week in Lisbon, Portugal last month. I was with Mathilde and both our kids -we celebrated their 5 and 3 year-old birthdays over there- they were psyched. We stayed with very close friends who live in Lisbon for many, many years. We have a special connection with the city. We visited for the first time in 2016 and fell in love right away. We then decided to move permanently and settled during the summer of 2018. We finally left a bit more than 3 years later, at the end of 2021. Both our kids are born in the city. Our oldest used to go to a local kindergarten, his first words were in portuguese. We came back to Lisbon during the summer of 2022 and both our kids went to this kindergarten for 2 months. We enjoyed a unique relationship with our neighbours -local teachers and actors- and got lucky enough to call our neighborhood -Penha de França- home for a little while.

I've been a vocal advocate for Lisbon for a while. I remember enthusiastically attracting many people to the city. Unfortunately I grew disappointed. What I saw last month confirmed my fears. So in the spirit of my post following my latest US trip, below are a few observations in no particular order. Needless to add: all of the below is heavily biased, non-complete and subjective.

🚗 while the weather is perfect -especially in April- and the city itself objectively beautiful, still, urbanism is plainly awful and flaneuring across the streets feel hostile. I think I've never experienced this paradox so vivid elsewhere; this is infuriating. Cars destroy so many parts of the city. I still can't understand why they are allowed in so many neighborhoods. It's not unusual to feel trapped between cars driving too fast, cobblestones, tramway railways and non-existent sidewalks -kinda perfect combo to not enjoy your time on foot or bike. Even worse: car drivers behavior itself. They don't stop entirely because you're crossing the street, nope, they just slow down but continue to move and would just pass right behind you while you're still in the middle of the road. I've experienced such behavior in Vietnam or Cambodia but (a) most vehicles back then were mostly little motorbikes -not huge cars and (b) speed was not the same. Ultimately, I thought Lisbon's urbanism should be more ambitious.

👦👧 this is directly related to my point above -and the #1 reason why we left the city 2 years ago now- such urbanism seal the kids off the streets. It is way too hostile for them to wander outside. I did cross some blocks with 3 kids between 3 and 5 y/o all on bikes and frankly, I think I've never been so tense in my life -I might have thrown on average an insult every minute -I'm usually a very calm person. And don't get me started on the stroller -the city is just impracticable for them. What happen when you ban kids from the streets? You're killing life. When you're adults with no kids, sure, you can accommodate but when you're a family, forget about it. You'll end up in a car -producing always more of this vicious cycle for the city.

💰 the gap is widening between local people working and building a life locally and the others enjoying the always-newer fancy restaurants and beaches but making their money and spending half their time elsewhere. I felt so many parts of the city so disconnected. It's becoming Disneyland. And exactly like the resort itself, people just come, consume and leave. They never stop to invest and build long-term locally. This creates a very dangerous gap between different classes of people. And money wise, it makes life harder and more challenging for anyone making money locally.

From Tyler Cowen's A portrait of Portugal:

…at least half of a population of ten million depend on the state in some way—35% are retirees, 10% government workers, and another 5% receive either unemployment benefits or integration benefits. They would see a country with less youth than they once saw; they would see what is in fact, after Italy, the second-oldest country in Europe, with 23% of the population being older than 65. And they would further see that like so many other democratic and less democratic countries, Portugal is having elections and that this election will, once again, pit the country’s aging population against its young people.

So-called “seniors” are reliable voters, while young people aren’t, and so this perverse incentive ensures that seniors vote, effectively, to extract rent for themselves from young people through the state.

One in three people ages 15-39 has left for overseas. Here is more from Vasco Queirós.

This makes me utterly sad. You can 'feel' this stat while walking in Lisbon. You don't see the young locals, the long-term builders incentivised to build a better future. You see the tourists, the digital nomads, the elders. All our local friends are either contemplating leaving the city for elsewhere in the country because they struggle to make ends meet [their rent has been multiplied by 1.5 for instance] or they're building businesses targeting other markets -Brasil and/ or UK being the most popular and ambitious I've seen. Why? Because the local market is close to non-existant.

'One in three people ages 15-39 has left for overseas.' I can't wrap my head around this. It makes me speechless. How do you build any desirable future when youth have just left?