Barrio (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈbarjo]) is a Spanish word meaning a quarter or neighbourhood. In modern Spanish language “barrio” is generally defined as each area of a city, usually differentiated by functional (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.), social, architectural or morphological features. In Spain, several Latin American countries and the Philippines, the term is also used officially to denote a division of a municipality.
In Argentina and Uruguay, a barrio is a division of a municipality officially delineated by the local authority at a later time, and it sometimes keeps a distinct character from others (as in the barrios of Buenos Aires even if they have been superseded by larger administrative divisions). The word does not have a special socioeconomic connotation unless it is used in contrast to the centro (city center or downtown). The expression barrio cerrado (translated "closed neighborhood") is employed for small, upper-class, residential settlements, planned with an exclusive criterion and often literally enclosed in walls (a kind of gated community).
In Colombia, the term is used to describe any urban area neighborhood whose geographical limits are determined locally. The term can be used to refer to all classes within society. The term barrio de invasión or comuna is more often used to refer to shanty towns, but the term "barrio" has a more general use.
In Puerto Rico, the term barrio is used to denote a subdivision of a municipio and its lowest officially recognized administrative unit. A barrio in Puerto Rico is not vested with political authority. It may, or may not, be further subdivided into sectors, communities, urbanizaciones, or a combination of these, but such further subdivisions, though popular and common, are unofficial.
In the Philippines, the term barrio once referred to a rural village, but it was changed by law in 1975 to the term barangay, the basic unit of government with an average population of 2,500 people. It is still used informally to refer to small rural towns and villages, as opposed to barangay which can be used for both rural settlements and urban municipal districts (the latter formerly known as visitas). It is alternatively spelled as baryo, though the preferred spelling is the Spanish one.
The United States usage of the term barrio is also found in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, where the term is commonly used to describe slums in the outer rims of big cities such as Caracas and Santo Domingo as well as lower- and middle-class neighborhoods in other cities and towns. Well-known localities in the United States containing a sector called "Barrio" include Manhattan (Spanish Harlem), East Los Angeles, California; Second Ward, Houston, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, and Miami, Florida (Allapattah). Some of them are referred to as just "El Barrio" by the locals and nearby residents. Gina M. Pérez notes that barrios are also, "precious spaces that affirm cultural identities, nurture popular cultural production, and provide sanctuary for people with long histories of displacement, land loss, repression, and collective struggle."
Over the centuries, selectness in the Spanish Empire evolved as a mosaic of the various barrios, surrounding the central administrative areas. As they matured, the barrios functionally and symbolically reproduced the city and in some way tended to replicate it. The barrio reproduced the city through providing occupational, social, physical and spiritual space. With the emergence of an enlarged merchant class, some barrios were able to support a wide range of economic levels. This led to new patterns of social class distribution throughout the city. Those who could afford to locate in and around the central plazas relocate. The poor and marginal groups still occupied the spaces at the city's edge.
The desire on the part of the sector popular to replicate a barrio was expressed through the diversity of the populace and functions and the tendency to form social hierarchies and to maintain social control. The limits to replication were mainly social. Any particular barrio could not easily expand territorially into other barrios, nor could it easily export its particular social identity to others. Different barrios provided different products and services to the city, e.g. one might make shoes while another made cheese. Integration of daily life could also be seen in the religious sector, where a parish and a convento might serve one or more neighborhoods.
The mosaic formed by the barrios and the colonial center continued until the period of independence in Mexico and Latin America. The general urban pattern was one where the old central plaza was surrounded by an intermediate ring of barrios and emerging suburban areas linking the city to the hinterland. The general governance of the city was in the hands of a mayor and city councilors. Public posts were purchased and funds given to the local government and the royal bureaucracy. Fairness and equity were not high on the list of public interests. Lands located on the periphery were given to individuals by local authorities, even if this land was designated for collective uses, such as farming or grazing. This practice of peripheral land expansion laid the groundwork for later suburbanization by immigrants from outside the region and by real estate agents.
At the edge of Hispanic American colonial cities there were places where work, trade, social interaction and symbolic spiritual life occurred. These barrios were created to meet the space needs of local craftsman and the shelter needs of the working class. At times they were designed to meet municipal norms, but they usually responded to functional requirements of the users. Barrios were built over centuries of sociocultural interaction within urban space. In Mexico and in other Latin American countries with strong heritages of colonial centers, the concept of barrio no longer contains the social, cultural and functional attributes of the past. The few surviving barrios do so with a loss of traditional meaning. For most of them the word has become a descriptive category or a generic definition.