We’re not worried about the historic centre. There, the issue of ground floor use is something else altogether. It works, whether we like that global brands and souvenir shops have overtaken the touristic streets of most European cities, or not. As soon as one moves away from the old Baixa, it’s impossible to remain indifferent to the vast succession of empty shop windows of closed businesses, walled and boarded up and for sale signs. Soon, one reaches the conclusion that this is not a local problem or due to poor location, street importance and building typology. The problem doesn’t seem to be any of those factors, but rather ourselves. We, as citizens and consumers, are the problem and the reason why ground floors everywhere remain empty, underused and waiting.
It seems society values a lifestyle where the car takes a central role. The convenience of abundant parking under a periphery shopping mall and the habit of concentrating the week’s shopping in one single day have become part of our routines, in a seemingly perfect solution that manages to reconcile working hours and domestic life organization. Too bad if neighbourhood life is found wanting: the bakery below, the butcher in the corner, the zero Km fruit vendors, the car repair shops that are nowhere to be found… it doesn’t seem, unfortunately, credible to imagine that this sort of life will make its comeback any time soon. What to do, then, with all these closed ground floor spaces, where no one seems to be willing to bet their life savings?