And then 3 months into Lisbon, it dawned on me — I’ve lived all this before. I’m back in California — a European one, and Lisbon is San Francisco. Or at least it’s getting there.
1) The Tech Boom
San Francisco may be the jewel of Silicon Valley, but a new player has emerged on the European scene after Web Summit, the most important tech event in the world, moved from Dublin to Lisbon in 2016. Now corporate giants and small tech startups alike are flocking to Lisbon to take advantage of local talent and low overhead costs. Google has broken ground on a new campus in Oveias while co-working spaces hosting bold new startups are popping up from the city center to far-flung suburbs.
2) Lesbon Portugay
While San Francisco is widely considered the epicenter of modern queer identity, history, and culture, Portugal has outpaced the United States by many years in legalizing same-sex marriage and enacting non-discrimination measures. Today Portuguese society is among the most accepting of sexual minorities in the world. As Portugal’s LGBT population (and increasingly Brazil’s) disproportionately concentrates in Lisbon, the city has become one of the premiere gay capitals of the world easily on par with cities like New York or San Francisco.
3) Skyrocketing Rent
Years of breakneck growth on the San Francisco housing market have left the city with the highest mean rent in the world ($3,690). Lisbon is growing at a similar rate but from a much lower starting point. Rent in some of Lisbon’s most neighborhoods has increased more than twelve-fold over what a decade ago. Landlords will get rich off this red hot housing market, but Portuguese tenants are up against a market that slower local wages simply cannot support.
4) Mass Gentrification
Aren’t all beautiful cities destined to lose their housing stock to tourists, techies, tycoons, and oligarchs? According to some sources, hundreds of thousands of Portuguese have been priced out of their own homes since 2014. Much of the Lisbon housing stock has been converted into AirBnb dwellings while many historic properties sit empty as money-laundering vehicles for rich foreigners.
5) Geographic Twins
The “Bay Area” could easily refer to either the San Francisco metropolitan area or the Lisbon metropolitan area. Both are built on on peninsular straits opening onto a bay where much of the population lives. Both are also considered West Coast cities of their respective continents.
6) Hills on Top of Hills
Lisbon was the “City of Seven Hills” since before San Fransisco even existed. San Francisco, too, was founded upon seven hills but has since expanded to incorporate forty-eight more. Both cities today are known for being vertically inclined with steeps ascents that will have any pedestrian gasping for breath.
7) Antique Streetcars
While much of the US and Europe retired their streetcar fleets with the advent of faster options, these charming vintage vehicles survived in Lisbon for the same reason they survived in San Francisco; people couldn’t be bothered to walk up the steep hills where buses could not reach. Today the majority of passengers on both cities’ trolley systems are formed by tourist crowds eager to experience a mode on transport that was once ubiquitous (and still should be).
8) Rapid Inflation
Rent is not the only thing that is rising. As in San Francisco, prices across the board in Lisbon have grown markedly in the past few years. Portugal was once considered among the cheapest corners of Europe. Those days are now firmly in the past as Berlin-style transformation sets in and the world discovers Lisbon. I, for one, do not appreciate prices climbing ten percent week on week in the stores and restaurants I frequent. Make it stop!
9) Mediterranean Weather & Wine
San Francisco may not be situated on the Mediterranean but it does shares the same mild Mediterranean climate zone as Lisbon. Both regions hosts similar vegetation as a result, and wine vineyards have flourished.
Both San Francisco and Lisbon are home to a colorful mosaic of ethnic enclaves, including, famously, Chinatown. Lisbon’s Chinatown is centered around Martim Muniz, the city’s epicenter for clandestine restaurants and cheap knockoff goods. As in San Francisco, immigrants were attracted to the neighborhood by low rents.
11) The Big Orange Bridge
Lisbon boasts an enormous orange suspension bridge with an undeniable resemblance to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was commissioned in the 1960s by Salazar, the dictator at the time, to connect Lisbon to Almada. In case there were any doubts of the structure original inspiration, the contract was awarded to an American firm from the Bay Area. How eerily prescient! Who would have known that six decades later Lisbon would fulfill this promise of becoming San Francisco?
In Reflection, San Francisco and Lisbon were destined to grow alike from the get-go. That both are situated on a bay surrounded by steep hills explains why they took to suspension bridges and streetcars. The hilly topography of either city also made large-scale redevelopment uneconomic for many decades allowing much of their historic cores to survive into the 21st century only to be gentrified by AirBnb during an extended tourist boom. Their mediterranean climate, meanwhile, fostered wine culture, a laidback atmosphere, and a tech boom (as tech talent is highly mobile and thus capable of reassembling where the climate is most pleasant). The tourism and tech sectors combined transformed both into global cities with international populations, rallying rents, rapid inflation, and mass displacement. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.