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Its historical center was dotted with decrepit and semi-abandoned buildings. Some downtown squares were the domain of prostitutes and drug dealers. Today the city is booming. Tourists stream off cruise ships to fill its squares and ride tuk-tuks up and down the hills. Historical buildings now gleam. New bars and restaurants throb with life. Unemployment has been halved.
Exports are booming. Foreign investors have flooded Lisbon. Market liberalization, combined with a huge influx of foreign money , has helped raise property prices in central Lisbon 30 percent in two years.
The revival of Lisbon feels to many less privileged residents who are being displaced like an abrupt swing from one extreme to the other. On some streets both extremes live side by side. In the medieval neighborhood of Mouraria, a luxury condominium is being built a few yards away from a renovated building that has become a second home for French and other foreign investors.
At the end of the block, an aged building with narrow balconies has turned into a symbol for Portuguese activists fighting housing evictions, a new phenomenon here. Opposite the house, residents who won a lengthy legal battle to stay have hung a Santa Claus, surrounded by signs showing their Christmas wish-list: affordable housing and social equality.
Portugal had a long history of antagonism toward landowners, dating back to the revolution that ended the monarchy. Then, during a long military dictatorship, rents were frozen in Lisbon and the northern city of Porto. Fixed rents for new contracts were abolished more than a decade after another revolution, which overthrew the dictatorship in but not for existing contracts, and downtown Lisbon remained a partly derelict area shunned by locals.