Madrid in the 1950s: The Issue of Shacks and Shantytowns

The Rural Population of Southern Europe Attack the Cities
By Charlotte Vorms

Between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s, housing became a major political issue in Franco’s Spain. The genuine deterioration of living conditions among Madrileños, brought about by the influx of people from the countryside, was identified as a crisis. As the situation developed, all eyes turned to the precarious dwellings erected without building permits in the outskirts of the capital, which were commonly known as chabolas. Analysis of the archives of the General Directorate of Urban Planning in Madrid shows that the notion of a crisis was reached both because of the potential threat posed to public order and also because the occupation of large areas of land was an obstacle to new housing policies aimed at kick-starting construction (which were key to Franco’s social project for the protection of workers). The old problem of self-built housing in deprived areas had been growing in significance, and now the problem of the shacks and shanties became a foremost social concern. This problem provided grounds for an interventionist housing policy with a threefold economic, social, and political goal. The schemes that were devised to curb the development of shacks led to the production of key documents to understanding the chabolas, thus paving the way for a specific policy of re-development. While the administration organized the demolition of such dwellings, the citizens of Madrid began to organize in the background.

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