Steps for Sustainability: First, get some spraypaint

The streets of Lisbon are covered in art, at least according to advocates of the cultural iconography sprayed, stenciled, and sculpted across os bairros, the neighborhoods, of Lisbon. Others, in blinding contrast, view street art as unsolicited social commentary indulged by wasted resources and unrealized potential. If they only knew…

Images courtesy of Bordalo II,



When I first came across this article from Good Magazine about Lisbon street artist Bordalo II, I was more mesmerized by the art than the message. Though that’s still the case, especially after viewing more of his artworks here and here, the line between the two disappeared and, in the grand Archimedean tradition, that Eureka! moment happened: the art is the message.


Bordalo II

Consider the following: these prodigious representations, mostly of the animal kingdom, are constructed of scavenged materials scattered among refuse piles in the cities where Bordalo II creates his mural-sculptures. His canvas is often some discarded segment of the city—an abandoned lot, a derelict building, a façade or alleyway that time has long since forgotten. The works inspire a sense of life through the emoting gaze from his owl, the intimate socialization of his meerkats, and the exhaustion (or is it exasperation?) of his rabbit, yet never obscuring the fact that the perception of life is built by that which has been lost.


Recycled materials, repurposed space, the potential for resurrection, the acceptance of loss, a call for societal reflection, AND endearing characters capable of competing with the most confounding 21st-century social movement—cute internet cats: Bordalo II has realized a Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagnerian proportions, quite literally. But what he has also done is provided an opportunity for us to reimagine urban spaces by working with(in) them.


In Lisbon you don’t have to rummage through junkyards, teeter atop ladders, or prowl about in the dark of night to gain street art cred. The Galeria de Arte Urbana (GAU), supported by the Lisbon city council, is one of the area’s biggest boosters of street art. GAU’s support takes the legal limbo out of many mural projects and activities curated and produced by artists and affiliate organizations. Perhaps best of all, GAU established a YouTube channel to encourage and inspire emerging street artists as well as all citizens of Lisbon to merge their creativity with the city to create a more culturally expressive environment.


Image and video courtesy of LATA 65 / Rui Gaiola_1
Images and video courtesy of LATA 65 / Rui Gaiola

There’s one group of citizens getting into the street art groove that is especially inspiring, as this Guardian article reports. LATA 65 was developed by Lara Seixo Rodrigues, an architect and co-founder of the urban art festival WOOL, when she noticed the unexpected enthusiasm of one particular demographic in street art workshops she was leading—seniors. Seeing an avó, a grandmother, with eyes focused, spray can in hand, ready to show the world how she feels is empowering, not just for the individual, but for the community.



For more videos and photos of the amazing work they are doing, visit their Facebook page. The initiative has been so successful that the group recently brought the workshop to São Paulo. Brace yourself, world: avós with spray cans are coming to a blank wall near you.


Bordalo II is also finding that his work is not restricted to the Lisbon city limits. His depictions of the natural world have become part of the built environments in countries such as Norway, Spain, Italy, and the UK. His meerkats, for example, were created in Las Vegas, another one of our POCACITO cities—which brings me to one of the reasons for this post.

Sustainable urban development is not only about integrated public transport networks, public awareness programs for reducing energy use, and placing a half dozen separate waste containers in courtyards—though all of these can help. Building the cities of tomorrow, cities that are able to make the transition to a post-carbon future, requires the willingness to look at the spaces and resources around us and see their potential, to reimagine what’s possible, and then share that vision with the world.


Street art might just be the way to start. As Bordalo II said in this interview: “It’s all about trying, experiment, fail, learn, let it fall, fix it again, and get addicted to the technique. It’s a work of freestyle, you just get the know how doing it.”