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Design

Lisbon’s Beautiful, Dangerous Sidewalks

The artistic and slippery “Portuguese pavement” has become Lisbon’s calling card. City Hall wants to replace a few stretches of them with concrete—a seemingly sensible decision that has sparked outrage.
Made out of small cubes of limestone—worn in patches as slick as ice—the sidewalks are at once a clear safety hazard and also a source of immense pride for Lisboetas.
Made out of small cubes of limestone—worn in patches as slick as ice—the sidewalks are at once a clear safety hazard and also a source of immense pride for Lisboetas.Bosc d'Anjou/Wikimedia Commons

Joana Tavares was walking home from the post office when she slipped on the sidewalk just outside her Lisbon building and fell. It happened more than six years ago, but Tavares still can’t shake the memory of the loud crack that rang out as she hit the ground.

It was the sound of her tibia shattering—an injury that would require an emergency operation to patch the bone together with a 8-inch-long steel plate, held in place by a dozen screws. After the accident, Tavares, a graphic designer then in her late 20s, was put on strict bed rest for six months.