Aleixo Memorabilia

Multiple pressures have always weighed upon Aleixo, a neighbourhood in Porto (Portugal), designed in the late 1960s, built in the early 1970s and demolished between 2012 and 2019. These pressures constitute a paradigmatic illustration of the kind of transformations we have been witnessing in the past decades: Aleixo is located in a prime location for real estate standards, and therefore its destiny was sealed for a long time. This neighbourhood’s erasure allows for reflection on the phenomena of segregation and social exclusion provoked by neoliberal policies of urban development, but a full discussion of this subject would exceed the purpose of this assignment.

Aleixo is gone. Its entire population was displaced and spread in various places within the city. The question here is: how to respond to the challenge to create an artifact embodying the essence of this form of conflict? A ‘memorabilia’ seemed to be a meaningful way to address the struggle of this neighbourhood. Setting in motion collaborations with local people and community associations which still operate on the ground, we created a piece from a collection of objects belonging to Aleixo’s former residents. In this way, we hope to bring a dimension that has been largely neglected in this controversial case – a human dimension.

‘Aleixo Memorabilia’ shows fragments of everyday life, anonymous memories and remnants of the neighbourhood’s construction and inhabitation. Some of these objects may be merely random choices (things that people kindly picked up at home), but most are symbolic and representative of the integrity and pride which prevails in Aleixo’s collective memory. This piece brings us silent voices affected by a complex case and challenges the short-sightedness that usually characterises urban conflicts. It allows for alternative interpretations of what a ‘good city’ may be: a diverse, fractious, generous, probably slightly unhealthy and unsafe. A city unable to resist the progressive domination by the culture of consumption fetishising financial services, leisure and luxury housing.

The participatory method employed here was in itself a compromise between sociability and conflict. My empirical experiences in Aleixo (ongoing since 2013) confirmed a set of institutional and spatial conflicting relations at work between the neighbourhood and the city, as well as within the local constituents themselves. ‘Aleixo Memorabilia’ does not hide the spectrum of negotiations and tensions that covered life in Aleixo. Like in any other neighbourhood, here ‘conflict’ was a natural outcome of urban life. Indeed, the city in which everyone collaborates and friction is absent exists only in utopias and architects’ renders. Living ‘in conflict’, therefore, is a fundamental condition of being human.