Urban Black Holes – informal grower communities and new ways of living and producing the city.

Project Title:
Urban Black Holes – informal grower communities and new ways of living and producing the city

Start and End of Project
August 2013 - December 2018

Chief Investigator
Prof. Paula Mota Santos

Research Team

Researcher Name Institutional Afiliation
Paula Mota Santos CAPP/ULisboa/Univ. Fernando Pessoa
Daniela Peña-Corvillon Univ California at Berkeley


Country  Partner
Portugal Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, Universidade de Lisboa
Portugal Universidade Fernando Pessoa
USA Universidade California at Berkeley
UK Univ College London


Institutional Filiation
Matt Kondolf Univ California at Berkeley
Sandra Wallman Univ College London



This project takes an anthropologically informed approach to urban form and to a particular space and its social world: the so called hortas (vegetable patches) in Porto, Northern Portugal. These hortas are small sections of land located along a water corridor that are cultivated outside any legal frame by local neighbours, thus producing informal grower communities. Since the traditional narrative on city growth is one of the urban form expanding while agricultural practices are relegated to other spatial realms, the ‘rural’ is not expected to be an element of the ‘urban’. As such this project deals with what could be thought of as ‘urban black holes’: ‘the rural in the urban’. Building a city depends on how people combine the traditional economic factors of land, labour, and capital with the look and feel of cities reflecting concepts of order and disorder. We thus bring into traditional morphology analysis the social agents related to the specific forms of living the city that the hortas are. Through an ethnographically informed analysis we argue that these hortas are not mere ‘survivals’ of past stages of the city’s evolution and growth, but an essential element of change in today’s city where city dwellers take power into the urban landscape starting a new paradigm of urban community life.