Unhappy with the lack of places to sit (without compulsory consumption) in Penha de França's main square, Marta and Francisco got down to work and replaced the 32 chairs that had been removed during the pandemic. But the new seats didn't last long.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic led to several media exaggerations by municipalities. In Penha de França, the parish council has decided to uproot the tables and chairs in Paiva Couceiro Squareto avoid crowds of people. While it's true that other, lighter measures could have been taken in that situation - such as fencing off the space and putting up signs, something done in so many other parts of the city and the world - at the time the most extreme solution seems to have been understood and accepted by the population.
Three years later, the chairs and tables removed have not been fully replaced. According to the newspaper Message from LisbonAs a result, of the 48 seats that existed at Paiva Couceiro before the pandemic, only 16 have since been returned to the square. Faced with this situation, two young residents of the parish decided to replace the missing seats. They collected chairs that they found in the trash, on the street or that were given to them by friends and acquaintances, Marta and Francisco placed 32 chairs in Paiva Couceiro Square on the morning of Wednesday, September 13. They decorated the space with "festival flags". And, to put the action into context, they also put up a panel between two of them with the following message: "For the right to sit."
On an Instagram page they created for this initiative - @infraestruturapublica -, Marta and Francisco said they were "demand that they give us back what they took from us"and invited people to take advantage of the new chairs in Paiva Couceiro Square, placed in the spaces occupied by the previous ones:
Sit here. We have the right to sit. To sit in spaces that are not for consumption. We want to sit down to talk, rest, play, eat, read. We use public space as a place to pass through when it is also a place to be. The city is designed to maximize income and mobility. A bank can change this. Public banks are a structural object for the city. They maintain communities.
Over time, our benches are silently replaced by restaurant chairs. The public space that is ours, if not reclaimed and occupied, continues to be privatized every day. Our squares and streets are "privately owned public space" because they are occupied by restaurant terraces, advertising billboards and cars.
Of the new benches installed by the parishes, many are becoming backless, many are turning into individual chairs that are spaced apart, many now have armrests that are not for resting our arms on, but so that we don't lie down on them. The benches they give us, and the ones they don't, are hostile to people with children, homeless people, the elderly, pregnant women, all of us.@infraestruturapublica/Instagram
The makeshift seats were in the square throughout Wednesday morning, but were removed around lunchtime by the Penha de França council's cleaning team, accompanied by PSP officers, for having been placed there without authorization.
To Mensagem de Lisboa, the Junta explained that reinforcing the public space is one of its objectives, that it has replaced some of the chairs and that it proposed, in December 2021, a new distribution of the remaining street furniture to the Lisbon City Council, awaiting a positive opinion from the latter to proceed with the installation. Until then, Praça Paiva Couceiro will remain bare, with just 16 chairs and four tables, and a large terrace where you can only sit down if you consume something at the adjacent kiosk.