Commercial change in a context of tourism and privileged migrations
  • Alongside the increasing numbers of tourist arrivals to the city, Lisbon and the Portuguese government created a number of schemes and incentives attracting privileged migrants, foreign real estate investors and retirees, international students, and digital nomads, often by providing them tax benefits.
  • The city rapidly became a hub for relatively wealthier, younger and temporary populations, whose consumption patterns contributed to reshaping the local commercial landscape.


Our case study in Lisbon looks at how urban tourism and privileged forms of migration have reshaped the commercial infrastructure and neighbourhood dynamics in the inner-city district of Misericórdia.

Our research involved:

  • Identifying the main patterns of such commercial transformation (What kinds of products are being sold? What prices are being practiced? Who are the clients of recently-established businesses?)
  • Understanding how the neighbourhood’s residents (in particular longer-term ones) perceive such change.
  • Ethnographic fieldwork in the district, talking to neighbourhood residents, local workers and passersby, while also attending local shops and retailers and observing the micro-level commercial dynamics.


  • Interviews: 43 people (27 women, 16 men): residents, shop owners, representatives of the neighbourhood’ associations, civil parish officials, etc.
  • Commercial survey: categorisation of all existing spaces on the ground floor of 4 selected areas (accounting for 25% of the district’s area), whether commercial or not commercial (e.g., residential use, derelict building, vacant store, schools, offices, etc.). We categorised the commercial units based on Lisbon’s last municipal commercial survey (2007) in order to allow for comparison and to grasp the main transformation patterns. In total, we surveyed 1562 ground floor units, of which 540 were of commercial purposes.


  • Food retail (grocery shops, supermarkets, butcher, fish mongers, etc.) -35,2%
  • Personal/domestic goods (clothes, shoe shops, furniture, decoration, etc.) -55%
  • Restaurants, cafés, bars +44,9%


  • Process of commercial restructuring of the district – practical, cheap, and everyday resident-oriented commerce partially replaced by nightlife leisure venues, niche markets (e.g. organic products, artisanal beer, natural wine, etc.), and hybrid spaces – specialty coffee shops, where customers often eat/drink while working remotely from their laptops.
  • The district of Misericórdia has the highest concentration of specialty coffee bars in Lisbon – a key infrastructure facilitating the mobile lifestyles of digital nomads.


Whenever there’s a new license, it’s for a restaurant. The bookshop turns into a restaurant, the grocery shop turns into a restaurant

President of the Misericórdia Residents’ Association, man

“It’s only bars and restaurants, bars and restaurants, bars and restaurants. There is nothing else. We still have 3 or 4 old-school grocery shops, but that’s it. The other grocery shops are not really grocery shops: they only sell tobacco and alcohol”

Long-term resident, woman

  • Clientele of newer, trendy shops (brunch eateries, artisanal breweries, specialty coffee shops, designer clothing boutiques, etc): mainly foreigners, short- or medium-term visitors to the city, whose purchase power and consumption habits seem to differ substantially from those of the longer-term resident population.

95% of the people who come here for coffee are foreigners, if not more. Some are tourists, but most are ‘expats’ – I don’t like this term – it’s the people who live here but work for foreign companies and earn way better than us

Specialty coffee shop owner, man

Sometimes I’d like to go out to have a ham-and-cheese toast, and not a fancy thing with seeds, a slice of avocado, and arugula leaves that costs 15 euros

Long-term resident, man

  • Recognition by some residents of the improvement of the general public infrastructure in the area (less abandoned shops, more public illumination, more trash collection, less petty crime, etc.)
  • Longer-term residents have voiced the existence of ‘parallel worlds’: while the district remains a central tourist destination with long lasting issues (overcrowding, noise, littering, drug trafficking, etc.) new transient populations seem to be encased into different spatialisations and modes of sociability marked by exclusivity and higher-priced consumption.
  • Some residents lament that such upgrade only took place because of the increasing touristic importance of the district rather than on the basis of residents’ long-time claims.
  • The feeling of exclusion from certain commercial premises is not only based on purchase capacity. Longer-term residents are usually elderly and with low levels of formal education, which further distances them from ‘trendy’ forms of consumption and lifestyle, which strengthens a feeling of symbolic and material dispossession among residents.

“I don’t feel comfortable in these places, I feel embarrassed. I don’t understand what the menu means, even with the pictures… People are always there with their tablets. I never got in”

Long-term resident, elderly woman

The Lisbon CityLab


The Lisbon City Lab aimed at:

1)bringing together individuals and stakeholders based in the Misericórdia district in order to collectively discuss the impact of an increasing presence of transient populations and the local transformations it entails

2) building strategies to tackle perceived issues affecting the neighbourhood

The Lisbon City Lab was a result of a partnership between the SMARTDEST research team and the Lisbon Urban Information Centre (CIUL-Municipality of Lisbon).



20 individuals participated in the 3 sessions of the CityLab

Participation criteria

  • place-based users and stakeholders
  • different lengths of presence in the district
  • diversity of sociodemographic profiles
  • Government officials
  • Neighbourhood associations
  • Local residents
  • Local shop-owners
  • Public library representative
  • Arts centre representative


Collective discussion and co-design of actions around the following questions:

  • How can we improve the neighbourhood’s public space?
  • How can we make commercial spaces more accessible/inclusive?
  • How can we strengthen neighbourhood ties in the neighbourhood?
  • How can we improve access and mobility within the neighbourhood?


  • World Café
  • Dot-voting
  • Design thinking
  • Prototyping


Brainstorming (July 5, 2022)

  • Collective debate about how to improve the neighbourhood
  • Proposal of 82 suggestions


Prototyping (July 26, 2022)

  • Voting the 3 best proposals
  • Co-design of prototypes
  • Presentation of prototypes

Testing (September 26, 2022)

  • Testing the prototypes out in the streets
  • Collecting feedback from end-users
  • Debate on how to improve prototypes


The 3 action strategies designed by City Lab participants were:

  • Discount card for residents
  • Guided tours with neighbourhood residents
  • Yard sales


The 3 proposals are ‘smart’ (in the sense that they may be easily implemented and run without much investment) and may potentially help mitigate the following collectively perceived issues: the increasingly high prices practiced in local commercial venues (the discount card); the lack of familiarity with the vicinity, including short- and long-term residents (the yard sale, the discount card, and the guided tours); the lack of use of public space by local residents (the yard sale and the guided tours).

Yet, these measures seem to only ‘scratch the surface’ of deeper structural issues that have been pointed out by participants in the lab’s first session, such as lack of commercial diversity, excessive number or short-term rentals, excessive presence of cars and scooters, and deficient public infrastructures (waste, lights, safer sidewalks)



  • Creation of a space for collective discussion around neighbourhood issues
  • Putting face-to-face residents and shop owners with Municipal and civil parish officials
  • Proposal of 3 relatively simple strategies to mitigate perceived issues
  • Meetings with the Misericórdia administration to envisage the implementation of the proposals
  • Pilot version of urban living lab developed with the Municipality


Knowledge sharing

Intellectually stimulating




Representative and balanced


Commitment of decision-makers


Efficient, practical, informed

Productive collaboration