In the course of our global research for the Reinhard Mohn Prize 2018 we became acquainted with Barcelona’s Raval district, one of Europe’s most densely populated neighborhoods. Nearly 50,000 people live here in a space of around one square kilometer. The district’s character has been shaped by immigration since the 19th century. Its residents originate from more than 40 countries. The Tot Raval Foundation works to promote harmonious coexistence within this local diversity.
Narrow streets, high buildings, a sky that is difficult to see. Raval is a labyrinth, where scooters clatter under colorful pieces of laundry fluttering on balcony railings. The small district lies in the heart of Barcelona, in the middle of the Ciutat Vella, or old town. For more than a century, its affordable rents have made it a first port of call for successive groups of immigrants. Today, Raval is crowded with closely built-up structures and is densely populated with nearly 50,000 people living together in an area of around one square kilometer. Nearly half come from countries outside Europe. As many as 40 nationalities are represented in the district. The biggest group among them comes from Pakistan.
The Tot Raval Foundation
Life hasn’t always been easy in Raval. Residents have often had to deal with poverty, drug trafficking, prostitution and limited upward social mobility. Today, numerous organizations and institutions are seeking to improve the local population’s opportunities to participate in mainstream society. The Tot Raval Foundation was founded in 2001. Tot Raval is Catalan, and essentially means “The Whole Raval” or “Everyone in Raval.” The Foundation is an initiative supported by more than 60 organizations in the district, with the task of coordinating and supporting their work. Thanks to its diverse activities, the variety of actors involved and the numerous measures it undertakes, the Foundation is as diverse and dynamic as the district in which it acts.
Tot Raval brings people together, offers spaces and opportunities for collaboration, builds networks, and thus promotes the harmonious coexistence of different cultures in Raval. The district is also home to numerous small shops and businesses. The Foundation has set itself the goal of supporting cooperation between small business owners, as well as with cultural institutions and other initiatives.
Celebrations in common bring people together
An interfaith group in Raval works to break down and creatively combat prejudices and stereotypes between the communities living in the district – in part through jointly organized festivals and the creation of an intercultural event calendar, but also through the establishment of prayer places across Raval. In this work, the goal is always to create mutual understanding between the different groups, and thus to strengthen social cohesion in the quarter in a sustainable way.
An annual high point is the Festival de Cultura Raval(s), or the Raval Festival of Culture(s). This was created 15 years ago as part of a Foundation project, and since then has brought the neighborhood’s spectrum of artistic, musical and culinary wealth to life in continually fresh ways. From intercultural cooking evenings, choral performances, concerts and movie presentations to art workshops, sports events and offerings for children, there is something here for everyone.
A home for all
For the Tot Raval Foundation, the festival’s success – for example, in the form of attendee numbers – isn’t all that matters. Instead, even the preparations for the festival strengthen the neighborhood’s communal spirit, encouraging people to interact with one another and establish closer contact with other cultures. Cross-cultural friendships often emerge from this common work. It is exactly these friendships and diverse relationships between residents that make Raval a unique part of the city, with optimism and trust an aspect of the neighborhood’s lived experience.
The name taken by the Foundation pithily evokes the motto – as simple as it is powerful – that serves as inspirational force for this dynamic atmosphere in Raval: Tot Raval – We are all Raval! This means it doesn’t matter where someone comes from or what god they pray to. In Raval, everyone simply belongs.
So where does it go from here?
The diverse information and experiences gained by the team during its international research is being included in various forms in our ongoing project work. Come back soon to read about other good examples of living together in cultural diversity in Belgium and the United Kingdom.