How to squat a river

After the XX century trend of squatting houses, we bring to the XXI a new necessity: squatting rivers. By using unsustainable economic models, urban communities have been losing their rivers as a common good. It is urgent to rescue the ancient relationship between both. How to squat a river is a R&D comprehensive learning tool that aims to show how can a community redeem a river for the common good.



The river-city relationship is essential for urban development. The availability of water was always one of the decisive factors for the definitive establishment of populations.

With the industrial advance, river-city relationships have changed. There is a functional separation, caused by great works of correction perpetrated to urban rivers, aggravated by the strong levels of pollution of streams and banks. If the larger rivers are now used almost exclusively for economic purposes, the smaller ones, usually extremely polluted, constitute, in the cities, areas to avoid, coming often to be buried. In both cases, urban communities are no longer able to relate to the rivers as a common.

With Jamor the same has occurred. In the 80s the river was already polluted, having suffered some correction works. For decades Jamor is a dirty stream, smelly, and its banks are full of garbage and untreated bush. Communities turn their backs to Jamor.

Nevertheless, today things are starting to change. The authorities are starting to be worried about the river’s pollution and taking some actions to eliminate it. At the same time, people are occupying the riverbanks, by building (although very informal) urban gardens and leisure parks. People are gaining back the Jamor as commons.

The urgency of fighting hunger in the cities (due to governmental austerity), along with crucial work to improve and build more green spaces in urban context, make this an innovative and groundbreaking cross-sectoral idea – building bridges between art, ecology, citizenship, agriculture, sociology and new platforms, which approach to investigation opens to innovative partnerships and methods of work. Also the general society will be more aware about this issue. Accomplishing this project is one more step in the construction of a more cohesive and resilient society, with greater solidarity and equity, and a stronger sense of justice.


Squating a River takes a few steps:

1.Think about a river whose relation with the community is in jeopardy
We’ll use the case of Jamor, in the Lisbon metropolitan area. This is the most densely populated region of Portugal.

2. Look for active squatters
We’ll work on the case-study of Jamor. We want to learn how squatting activities enhance a sustainable relation between the river and the communities, economic,
social and environmentally.

3. Research - Participate - Act
We will use participatory action research. This research method emphasizes participation and action. Through this methodology, we will also contribute to the river squatting, by providing the squatters empowerment tools - e.g. collective mapping, networking (off and online), partnerships (promotion of solidarity and equity),

4. Systematize all the knowledge and share it among others
Every activity will be documented and with the collected data we will produce an educational tool, a film entitled How to Squat a River. This tool will be
elaborated at the final of the one year project and it will provide continuity to the river squatting movement. It will bring sustainability to the project,
allowing its replication, and extending its impact in the long term; will be available for free or through a donation, to everybody with the uncomfortable
feeling that lost a river and wants it back.

SQUAT A RIVER will bring awareness and give value to the rivers as common goods in the urban context, promoting also a more cohesive and inclusive society.



Our target group is the population that develops squatting activities in Jamor. A big part of that population uses its banks to cultivate food. With a very low income, or even none, they use urban gardening as a means to subsist. They are mostly immigrants who suffer from low education, unemployment or labor precarity and social exclusion. There are other people who also squat Jamor: they use the river banks to do leisure activities, such as, walks, sports or just sitting in the middle of a green area, reading or enjoying nature. There is even a citizens movement, Vamos Salvar o Jamor, that wants to stop the building of a mega construction enterprise in one of the banks.

We will use participatory research methods to involve the target groups, such as, focus group, storytelling, collective mapping, among others. In participatory research, they have control over the research agenda, the process and actions. Most importantly, people themselves are the ones who analyse and reflect on the information generated, in order to obtain the findings and conclusions of the research process. Participatory research involves inquiry, but also action. With this methodology, we intend not only to collect information about how to rehabilitate a river, but also to empower our target groups, incrementing and augmenting the impact of their practices.

Futurely we want to involve new target groups, namely people that can access the project’s product, that is, anyone who has the uncomfortable feeling that lost a river and wants it back.

How to squat a river is a project promoted by the Citizenship Academy.

The research undertaken to develop this idea is supported by the European Cultural Foundation.


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