In this article I discuss a range of socio-spatial practices that worked/works at a self-produced neighbourhood south of Lisbon, Terras da Costa, aimed at supporting a process to fight social and spatial injustice and to improve dwellers agency in the decision making processes related to the place, through emancipatory education pedagogies, the creation of common space integrating a community kitchen, the guarantee of access to common infrastructures such as running water and legal electricity, the support of collective forms of organization, and the opening up of a space of communication between dwellers and local authorities.
Terras da Costa dwellers live under unsuitable housing and urban conditions, being denied the access to infrastructural common goods as tap water, sewage, electricity and qualified public space. Due to shortage of public housing policies, people with low income are unable to find response regarding accommodation, enduring involuntary clustering, in other words, experiencing structural spatial segregation. Moreover, their specific position within Portuguese society―as members of a Roma community and emigrants from Cape Vert, a country formerly colonized by Portugal―render them target to an instituted pattern of housing discrimination, associated with a concealed structural racism rooted on the persistence of colonial forms of organizing spatial and social relations.
These set of practices operating in collaboration with Terras da Costa dwellers were able to open up a communication space between the community and local authorities allowing it to have a political voice; to undermine the biased representations of the place contributing to diminish its marginalization; to ameliorate living conditions at the neighbourhood through the construction of a common space and the legal provision of tap water and electric power; to support some residents political empowerment. Moreover, the possibility of a participatory rehousing process in the near future is on the table.
Nevertheless, all these are small achievements that won’t overturn the structural inequalities imposed upon the residents. Such a change would require to alter the mechanisms through which society contains and supports the institutional conditions that produce and reproduce social inequlity, namely “the social division of labor; relative power to decide institutional actions, or to change the incentives faced by large numbers of people; the establishment and enforcement of hegemonic norms” (Young (2005) 2009, 275).