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Shantyism, an urban phenomenon of the first magnitude in Barcelona extending from the beginning of the 20th century to almost the time of the 1992 Summer Olympics, created a veritable “informal city” beside the old urban nuclei, the Eixample district and the various forms of growth of the urban periphery. This informal city stretched across Montjuïc hill, the seafront, some interstitial spaces of the selfsame Eixample and the hills surrounding the city.

Montjuïc, Somorrostro, El Carmel, etc. became legendary names which are still alive in the city’s imaginary due to the harshness of their inhabitants’ living conditions and also because, in times of growth without democracy, they often became test benches of social and neighbourhood movements. These were movements which shifted, in the 1960s and 70s, to the large housing estates in the suburbs, where the majority of the inhabitants of the shantytowns were reaccommodated and where these people had to struggle again to obtain the facilities and services which continued to be lacking. In this long-lasting fight for the city and for the citizenry lies one of the keys to the notable significance of the urban movements in the transition to democracy in Barcelona.

Quite different was the environment of the last shantytowns, in the 1980s, which possessed a much more marginal character. There, many shanties were occupied by families from other previously evacuated shantytowns: the great social precariousness of these shantytowns’ inhabitants (and all the more so in times of economic crisis), obliged a difficult search for alternative solutions, which were not always satisfactory.

The historical study of this phenomenon acquires relief not only on considering the trajectory and on drawing up a balance of the 20th century in Barcelona, but also on studying the historical processes of informal urban growth around the world. Both aspects will be dealt with thoroughly in the programme of conferences and discussions linked to the exhibition, from the month of October.

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Ajuntament de Barcelona Institut de Cultura