Theses defended

Cidades líquidas - Paisagens urbanas do Mondego-Coimbra

Bruno Franco Alves

Public Defence date
June 13, 2022
Doctoral Programme
Cities and Urban Cultures
Carlos Fortuna e Paulo Peixoto
In the last fifty years the landscapes of several cities have been altered through the transformation of urban rivers and their waterfronts. In the case of the Mondego River, the construction of the dam system and the weir in Coimbra allowed its flow to be stabilized in the urban perimeter, which resulted in a water mirror along the city and boosted a series of urban interventions for the requalification of the riverfront. The research whose results are synthesized in this thesis took the Mondego River and its relationship with the city of Coimbra as the object of sociological analysis. Assuming as premise that the history of rivers also reveals the history of cities and their ways of life, we start from the generic question about the role of the Mondego River in the constitution of the urban landscape of Coimbra. The research addresses the influence of rivers in the emergence of cities, in their urban development and morphology, as well as their role in the conformation of urbanities as a way of life in the city. The socionatural character is suggested as the ontological status of urban rivers and, analytically, the concepts of socionatural arrangements and social practices are handled to reinforce an alternative to the dichotomy between culture and nature as a way through which the production of river space is often seen. In order to provide a general framework for the theme, the processes of reconversion and requalification of riverfronts that post-industrial cities have been undergoing are presented based on concrete experiences of transformation of these spaces in various cities around the globe, and water sociability is discussed as a specific form of social interaction in these spaces. As a case study, the Mondego River is analysed, its uses, the urban interventions and the sociabilities that manifest themselves in the river space from the turn of the twentieth century, the period before the stabilization of its flow, and the recent transformations that this urban river undergoes nowadays. The empirical research is based on a qualitative approach and combines field presence for direct observation by means of walks and interviews, questionnaire surveys, documentary, journalistic and imagistic analysis, through which we aim to extract information and data on how the social uses of the river, its socio-economic role, its symbolic dimension and its space in the urban landscape were altered in this period. The regressive-progressive method proposed by Henri Lefebvre is mobilized to understand the socio-spatial production of the river. The past moments of flood and drought of the river (water and sand river) are approached in order to understand how the river was experienced in the city and the type of sociability to which it was related. Then we return to the present time and elucidate the mirror river, that is, how it became a space of playfulness used to reflect the image of a contemporary Coimbra that is modern, flexible, and dynamic: a liquid city. The physical presence of the elements water and sand concretizes the argument of the agency of non-human elements and space in social life by showing how floods, droughts and the subsequent stabilization of the river implied the rhythm and daily life of the city and helped to shape various forms of sociability and to convert a landscape strongly marked by rurality into an urban landscape that is interwoven with the global models proposed for the requalification of cities.

Keywords: urban rivers, waterfront, Mondego, Coimbra, sociability