Barcelona, for legal reasons unable to expand beyond its medieval
walls, became an intensely overcrowded city during the 19th century.
After these restrictions were lifted, the old city gradually became
an industrial district with many slums. During the 20th century,
three major expansion bursts occurred in Barcelona:
1929 world exhibition brought about an urban boom, with an influx
of immigrants without commensurate housing provision, leading to
the creation of shanties around the town.
from 1945 onwards created a new industrial ring around the town
and drew a new wave of immigrants. Large quantities of poor-quality
housing were built that rapidly developed into slums.
1970s saw a third ring of industrial and housing development at
a metropolitan scale.
In Barcelona, there is no formal definition of a slum, as such areas
ceased to formally exist. Nevertheless, there are areas in the city
with higher indices of social inequality and there are marginalized
people; but both are dispersed throughout the city and there are
no ghettos as such.
There have been slums in the old city of Barcelona in one form or
another for centuries, but the development of slum conditions with
the typical degraded housing, lack of services and concentrations
of social inequality in the old city date from the mid 19th-century
expansion of the city, and the consequent out-migration of the high-income
population from this area.
The shantytowns, which no longer exist, date from the rapid growth
of the city’s population during the 20th century, which was
not accompanied by an adequate growth in housing. They largely concerned
self-built structures without urban services, in areas of wasteland
around the then edges of the city.
The slum conditions in some of the new multifamily
blocks built from the 1950s onwards resulted from attempts to re-house
the shantytown dwellers, but without dealing with essential problems
relating to their social exclusion, and, furthermore, by breaking
up communities and mixing people from different communities in the
same blocks. At present, there are temporary gypsy encampments in
areas of waste ground in and around the city. The inhabitants live
in lorries and the settlements lack all formal urban services. These
encampments are of a recurrent and temporary nature.
Although there are no longer believed to be slum areas or ghettos
as such in Barcelona, there are areas with higher concentrations
of marginalized people. The whole of the old city, and a large part
of the periphery, is considered to be – if not a slum –
at best, a disagreeable area, with a few exceptions of neighbourhoods
that have been gentrified. A significantly high proportion of the
inhabitants of marginal areas are tenants (some 80 per cent), although
reliable figures do not exist. Subletting is extremely common; especially
in the marginal areas, the majority of tenants lack a written contract
and have limited rights in the face of unscrupulous landlords. Tenancy
with formal contract constitutes 26.5 per cent, while informal contracts
constitute 47 per cent of the tenants in marginal areas.
Although Barcelona has lost population since the 1970s, it has not
ceased to be an important destination for immigrants from other
parts of Spain and, more recently, from overseas, mainly Latin America
and North Africa. The populations of the different areas with slum
housing share certain basic characteristics: low average incomes
and relatively low levels of education. However, the populations
of the different areas vary in a number of respects with regard
to other indicators. Despite economic growth since the 1960s, the
conditions in the slum areas improved very little until after the
transition to democracy during the mid 1970s when, gradually, policies
were introduced that were aimed at addressing the physical and social
problems of the city. The following decades witnessed the eradication
of all shantytowns, improvements in living conditions in the housing
blocks, and, from the end of the 1980s, important improvements in
many areas of the old city. Barcelona’s municipal interventions
have been instrumental in improving physical and socio-economic
conditions in many (former) slum areas. Key to these successes were
the combination of wholesale urban renewal programmes in specific
areas, combined with major social components aimed at combating
poverty. In general terms, public institutions (central, regional
and local level) tended to deal with the major urban redevelopments,
while NGOs worked at the individual household or community levels.
Policy commitment, careful planning, coordination among agencies
and participation of affected groups determined the success of the
The policies that are still underway and that are planned for the
future, although often contentious in a number of ways, continue
to have important effects in
improving living conditions and reducing poverty.
has been extracted from:
UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge
of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies',