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"The conflict over public space is also a dispute over the imaginary"

For many months, historians Luísa Sousa and Diego Cavalcanti, economist Patrícia Melo and researchers from other fields looked into the past of mobility in Lisbon, in particular the use and invisibility of the bicycle. In this interview, they share some of their ideas with us.

From left to right: Patrícia Melo, Luísa Sousa and Diego Cavalcanti, researchers from the Hi-BicLab project (LPP photo)

Over time, mobility has changed. There were times when the bicycle was popular in Lisbon. The preference for this fast and timetable-independent means of transportation is not a new trend, it has had other golden moments. Over time, car use rose significantly in a country that started out with one of the lowest rates of motorization - a growth that was not exclusively organic. And the use of public transport has decreased. These are some of the ideas discussed at Hi-BicLab, a research project led by the Inter-University Center for the History of Science and Technology (CIUHCT), of FCT NOVA and FCUL, with the participation of UECE (ISEG-UL), CIAUD (FAUL) and GOVCOPP (U. Aveiro).

For several months, historians and academics from various fields of knowledge have been searching the past for answers that stimulate our collective imagination and help us to think about the present and future of our cities. This work was not done within academia; various activities were carried out for society, such as a historical walk, a photographic exhibition, gatherings to discuss documents, and workshops to co-construct ideas. People's contributions and curiosity were essential to the success of this project, the results of which will soon be published in a book, written in an accessible way. It is this publication that we anticipate in this interview with three members of the Hi-BicLab team: historians Luísa Sousa and Diego Cavalcanti and economist Patrícia Melo.

Do you think we look too little to the past when designing public policies?

LUÍSA SOUSA (L.S.): Sometimes we run the risk of instrumentalizing aspects of the past to serve present agendas. In any case, the treatment of the past must be done with care. Context is important.

People may even have the sensitivity to look at what has been done before, but they often do so without a broader historiographical framework. And sometimes our choices, as a society, are legitimized by agendas of economic knowledge, scientific and technical knowledge, which are embedded in the society in which we live at a given time and in the values of that time. And if this isn't understood and deconstructed, we could be reproducing solutions that needed to have been criticized in the past, and weren't, and losing our critical and creative capacity in the present to think of solutions for a fairer city that includes a series of other visions for the city.

This article is part of LPP's print edition. It can be read with a subscription LPP 6 or LPP 12. If you are already a subscriber, do log in.
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