Faced with flooding, a declining population and outdated infrastructure, a mayor could be forgiven for not knowing which way to turn. But Lisbon’s Mayor Fernando Medina saw an opportunity to reinvent his city for the twenty-first century and he knew where to go to get the finance he needed.

Frequent flooding and outdated infrastructure meant that the population of Lisbon had been declining since the 1960s. People left the city in search of a better environment for families and businesses.  Renovation was undoubtedly necessary. But the city’s mayor Fernando Medina had a vision that went beyond solving individual problems piecemeal.  His aim: to “change the way people live in the city,” he says. Medina believed Lisbon could once again become a place where people choose to live and work. He wanted to build on a recent upswing in tourism to attract even more visitors.

The Municipality of Lisbon’s urban renewal strategy, based on Medina’s original vision for the city, focuses on giving the Portuguese capital all the attributes of a dynamic 21st century capital with improvements to:

  • The ability to cope with climate change
  • Long-term competitiveness delivered through infrastructure supporting entrepreneurship, innovation, and the digital economy
  • Employment
  • Tourism
  • Social housing
  • Healthcare
  • Schools
  • Innovative urban mobility and car parking facilities
  • Cultural facilities
  • Civil protection facilities
  • Green space

The plan also includes a strong element of social inclusion to help migrants, as well as vulnerable local residents.  That’s one important reason why the European Investment Bank supported it with a 30-year EUR 250 million loan.

But it’s not the only reason.  Following the financial crisis, Portuguese banks have been unable to provide lending which is sufficiently long-term to support major infrastructure projects.  This market gap in long-term lending meant that the EIB was also able to use the EU budget guarantee and its own funds behind the Investment Plan for Europe’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), making Lisbon the first EU municipality to receive direct support from the Plan.

urban climate change is a big part of the Lisbon renewal
Urban climate change is a big part of the Lisbon renewal

Climate first

Urban climate change lies at the heart of the renewal scheme.  Certain neighbourhoods of Lisbon, including parts of the historic city centre, have become prone to regular flooding. In 2014, two major floods within weeks highlighted the need for the city to adapt to the effects of climate change.  The EIB-backed project will renovate the sewerage system and build two new drainage tunnels.  In future, the intense rainstorms to which Lisbon has become accustomed are unlikely to cause serious flooding.  That’s because the new tunnels will remove excess water from the upstream sections of the drainage system.

The municipal authority is keen to reverse a trend which has seen the population of Lisbon fall from around 800 000 in the 1960s to 513 000 today.  Under the urban renewal scheme, EIB funds will finance the renovation of existing social housing and the construction of new accommodation, all of which will benefit from energy efficiency measures to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Fernando Medina set out to change the way people live in the city. The changes he set in motion will benefit Lisbon’s residents and visitors for generations to come.