Patterns and Processes of Urban Growth
by Luís Loures

Post-industrial Landscape on East Bank of Arade River in Algarve, Portugal 

Introducing New Urban Growth Paradigms 

Driving the sustainable urban development agenda is a shared concern for the future of the planet. However, while the need to change is generally accepted, sustainability is hard to define and still more difficult to apply. We live in a period in which the environmental situation, despite all the well-being indications, is truly terrifying. Increasing urbanization, coupled with the global issues of climate change, lack of water, environmental degradation, economic restructuring, and social segregation, all demand a deeper look at spatial planning—one of the most important tools in the management of urban growth and of the future of our cities. With this backdrop, it becomes truly important to define the causes of unmeasured growth, and the potential of emerging land use planning tools to address it.

Until the 1970’s, planning in Portugal was mainly driven by economic growth principles. After the April 1974 Revolution, planning legislation started to expand, on national, regional, and local planning levels (Botequilha-Leitão, 2009). However, the proposed mechanisms to control land use (a regional land use plan, and local land use master plan), were somewhat ineffective to answer the new challenges that emerged in land use planning. In this regard it became increasingly recognized that:

(1) new frameworks were needed,
(2) the reconciliation of social, cultural, economic, and environmental objectives should be the primary goal of new urban policies, and
(3) the transformation of post-industrial derelict landscapes may function as a redevelopment opportunity to promote the reconciliation of heritage conservation with social progress and sustainable economic development.

Additionally, recognizing the reuse of derelict landscapes within urban settlements of all sizes constitutes a proactive strategy to address continuous urban growth and the loss of public and private open space. This strategy can promote the development of more humane, safe, attractive, and competitive cities, and constitutes an important step towards landscape sustainability.

The Case of the Post-Industrial Landscape of the Arade River East Bank

The Algarve region in Portugal faces the ocean, and its resources have always been connected to the sea (Brito, 2005). This reality favored urban development near waterfronts, both coastal and riverside. Therefore, urban growth in Algarve took place preferentially in littoral areas: first for fishing resources and small trading markets, and then for the fish and canning industry that flourished in the region from the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1970s. In fact, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the fish and canning industry was the most important industry in Algarve. Before the World War I, Portugal was the world’s main producer of canned sardines, and over 50 percent of national production came from Algarve, and the primary ports of Lagoa-Portimão, Olhão, and Vila Real de Santo António.

Within this framework, the municipality of Lagoa, Algarve, inside a polycentric urban system formed by the cities of Lagoa, Lagos, Portimão, and Silves, grew unprecedently, and assumed great relevance both locally and regionally. The growth process was one of great dynamisms that would completely transform the existing landscape.  At this time, almost two thirds of the population worked in the fish and canning industry (Martins, 1990).

Nonetheless, during the late 1960s, the industrial activity collapsed and numerous industrial structures were left abandoned. Within this scenario, Lagoa, as well as several other municipalities that were devoted primarily to the canning industry, suffered a process of urban shrinkage. However, with a new economic direction (tourism) that started about 1970, urban growth returned in most of coastal cities, including Lagoa. Still, the former industrial activity left a deep impact on this region, which needed to be protected and considered in future urban redevelopment processes. Image 1, which represents a panoramic view of the left margin to the Arade River, demonstrates this reality and shows the unity of the landscape. The impact of any un-thoughtful  interventions would be devastating.

(Loures) Arade Sky Line
Panoramic view to the left bank of the Arade River. Each number is located above a chimney that is associated with the canning industry. Image courtesy Luís Loures ©, all rights reserved.

In a period when the rehabilitation and regeneration of derelict industrial landscapes is increasingly recognized as a proficient tool for urban development, post-industrial areas have became true protagonists in the transformation of cities by synthesising cultural values with economic opportunities. Some of the adopted land management instruments in the Algarve region were designed to regulate urban growth in coastal settlements, foster a more compact urban growth, and promote the development of the region’s inner areas (CCDR, 2007). Despite these efforts, coastal areas continued to grow in disorderly and dispersed patterns. 
This situation shows the need for the redevelopment of underused landscapes to become a key part of land use planning. Planners must minimize the consumption of natural resources, especially non-renewable and slowly renewable ones such as soil, and reconcile the need for accessibility, economic development, and protection of the environment.

How Can Land Use Planning Address the Arade River Scenario?

Sustainable urban management should challenge the problems both caused and experienced by cities, recognizing that cities themselves might provide many potential solutions, instead of shifting problems to other spatial levels or to future generations (European Commission, 1996). In this sense, the organizational patterns and administrative systems of municipalities should adopt the holistic approach about ecosystems. Integration, cooperation, homeostasis, and synergy are key concepts needed to achieve urban sustainability. Existing tools developed for land use planning need to be extended to address the environmental, economic, and social dimensions of sustainability.

Additionally, in a demanding society like ours, land use planning should reconcile the need for future growth, which generally consumes green areas, with redevelopment of previously developed land that is unused or underutilized. Such an approach will reinforce landscape character and promote the creation of multi-functional resilient landscapes, capable of incorporating change and enhancing life’s quality.

In this regard, land use planning efforts should identify the right balance and timing between pro-active policies and re-active regeneration projects, and among legislative, administrative, and educational policies, and engage citizens, authorities, and markets in the reinvention of urban living. If these considerations about post-industrial landscapes are integrated properly in the planning process, the process may become a driving force for urban growth, and foster a positive image that will attract investors as well as tourists.

The development of an increasingly multi-cultural urban society requires use of new planning tools and frameworks. The rehabilitation of previously developed urban areas must be an essential consideration in land use planning, and consider the creation of a shared local identity that results in the cohesion and sustainability of the urban society.

Luís Lores is an instructor in the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Polytechnic Institute of Portalegre – ESAE, is working on his PhD. at the University of Algarve, Faro, Portugal. He can be contacted at:


Botequilha-Leitão, 2009. Land Use Planning in Portugal: Brief History and Emergent Challenges. The case of Faro, Algarve Region, Portugal. In: Panagopoulos, T. (Ed.). New Models for Innovative Management and Urban Dynamics. University of Algarve, Faro.

Brito, C., 2005. 25 Anos que mudaram o Algarve. CCDR Algarve, Faro.

European Commission, 1996. European Sustainable Cities. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Brussels.

Martins, J., 1990. Estudo histórico-monográfico da freguesia de Ferragudo do concelho de Lagoa. Algarve em Foco Editora, Faro.

Comissão de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional (CCDR) do Algarve, 2007. Plano Regional de Ordenamento do Território do Algarve (PROTAL). CCDR Algarve, Faro.

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