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.