Contexts

Lisbon-Castro Daire

Throughout the 20th century, the Bairro Chinês (“Chinese neighbourhood”) was the largest shanty town in eastern Lisbon (Portugal), where today we can see the tower block neighbourhoods of Marquês de Abrantes, Pinheiros, Salgadas and Quinta do Chalé.

Interestingly, the name of the neighbourhood is not connected to the presence of Chinese immigrants, but rather to its “eastern” localization in the city of Lisbon and to the presence of poor wooden shacks that made local inhabitants ironically connect these with the Chinese-style wooden houses.

Since the beginning of the 20th century until the 60’s there was a great exodus of rural population from the province of Beira Alta (Centre Portugal) to this area in ​​Lisbon, coming in search of work and better living conditions. Many worked in factories such as the National Soap Factory, the Rubber Factory, the Matches Factory and in the wine warehouses of Abel Pereira da Fonseca. As the money was scarce and the living conditions poor, in order to have the family together, these immigrants began a process of occupation of farmlands and ruined areas in order to build thousands of wooden and plate shacks, distributed in very narrow alleys. However, despite being one of the largest shacks in Lisbon, the “Bairro Chinês” was different from many neighbourhoods with the same characteristics, since its population was humble and orderly because of its common rural roots, therefore more socially interconnected and well integrated into the local labour market.

At the end of the twentieth century, more precisely in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a great need to put an end to the shack areas that proliferated throughout eastern Lisbon, therefore an immense urbanization project was put in place and naturally demolitions took all the population who lived in the shacks to the new tower blocks that were built throughout the neighbourhood. Paradoxically, the previous deep social connections that existed when people lived in very poor conditions were totally shattered when they moved to the new apartments in huge tower blocks.

The other side of the coin of this story is connected with the places of origin of these populations: mountain rural areas of centre Portugal, particularly the Gralheira and Montemuro mountain ranges (Municipalities of Castro Daire, Cinfães and São Pedro do Sul), the epicentre of the rural exodus to the “Bairro Chinês”, villages with an ancient and rich ethnographic context, but that until the end of the Portuguese dictatorship (1974) were deeply poor with no electricity in the houses and with an economic system still based on subsistence farming, where money, and therefore jobs were almost nonexistent..

L’Hospitalet

Since the beginning of the 20th Century until the 90’s, two major events in the city (1929 Barcelona International Exhibition and 1992 Barcelona’s Olympic Games), marked the beginning and the end of shantyism in the metropolitan area of Barcelona. In the first settlements of shantytowns, a good number of domestic migrant people settled in the city to work, precisely, on the construction of the International Exposition site, which was also responsible for the fact that the settlements were displaced to the opposite side of the Montjuic mountain, so as not to detract from the image of the fairgrounds. The Olympic Games of 1992 marked the end of the shacks, the presence of which was intolerable for the brand image that Barcelona wanted to project internationally, to be inserted in the global circuits of tourism, congresses and real estate investments. Before that, during Francoism dictatorship, now and then, metal walls were installed alongside the settlements to hide them when Franco came to Barcelona. Those shantytowns, such as La Bomba, Can Pi, La Cadena, that were settled in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, received migrant people from other Spanish parts such as Andalucía, Extremadura, Castilla, Murcia, among other regions, but also impoverished local population, Roma, and people expelled from their territories for political reasons, above all, after the Civil War.

When those settlements were demolished most of the people were displaced to big housing states quite close to the site where shantytowns used to be. The evicted territory, years later, became the huge Economic District that connects Barcelona and L’Hospitalet and has no sign, no trace of those communities that lived there for decades. Therefore, their struggles, their stories of survival and self organization, that constitute a keystone of the city history and development, are at risk of been forgotten.

Cluj

In 2015, following a European project implemented by the City Council, a landfill in Cluj was closed, so that many families working in the selective collection on waste, lost their sources of income. Their Roma origins, the low level of education and professional qualification, combined with family responsibilities, further hamper employment opportunities. Given that most of these families do not have alternatives for housing in other parts of the city or region, they had to seek to survive in the city. The struggle to ensure a decent life and a house becomes evident at a closer look, all taking place against a background of unemployment on a large scale, and the growing prejudices to Roma people among Cluj citizens.

Pâta Rat is an urban informal spatially segregated neighbourhood located near the closed city landfill of Cluj-Napoca, a badly polluted industrial area, about 6 km from the city, where about 300 families are living in houses with several lack of basic utilities.

The four communities in the area were formed after repeated evictions of Roma people living in central areas of the city and also inhabitants of nearby villages who went there to look for livelihoods in the landfill. The adoption of strong intervention from the authorities to disaggregate and relocate the population in Pâta Rat area causes discontent among several social and cultural agents working in the area. Life stories of people from Pâta-Rat and Canton Street incorporate historical processes of political change, economic and social disadvantages for Roma families and exacerbating differences between the majority and the marginalized.