by Ares Kalandides
Sidewalk cafés are generally a delight. They liven up public space, they become meeting places and places of exchange – indeed, they seem the quintessence of urbanity. Nevertheless, the anarchic invasion of public spaces by tables and chairs can be the exact opposite: they may be taking much needed space from pedestrians, reducing pavements into narrow strips where a person on foot (let alone a wheel-chair or a pram) can hardly pass through. How do we reconcile the two, then? Lisbon may be showing the way.
I visited Lisbon (for the first time, I’m ashamed to say) at the end of April this year. There are so many things to be said about the city, but I just wanted to focus on one thing that particularly stroke me: public squares and kiosks.
Visitors to the the city cannot fail to notice that the squares in the old town are of extremely high quality. Well designed and well maintained, lively yet rather orderly. And the structure that probably mostly strikes the eye are the kiosks. They follow the same design principle, integrate themselves perfectly into the place, offer drinks and snacks and are entitled to a limited number of tables.
Originally, kiosks appeared in Lisbon in the late nineteenth century as small shops that sold tobacco, newspapers, lotteries, refreshments and snacks. In the 1980s the Lisbon City Council decided to link to that tradition, restored the old ones and created new spaces with open air terraces. There are more than 40 of them today operating as small cafés in various squares of the city. These kiosks are assigned by public tender, while both use and design are strictly controlled by the City Council.
This seems like a very good compromise to avoid full commercialization of public space, yet offer some controlled leisure use to ensure vitality. Well done, Lisbon.