What Dunedin students and Buenos Aires tenement dwellers have in common

Life was hard for renters in Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century. Tenants lived in poorly ventilated, crowded, noisy rooms, with few facilities and high rents. The poor conditions prompted 120,000 renters in 740 tenements to go on rent strike in 1907.

There’s a nice detail in Baer and Wood’s article about the rent strikes which reveals something of the housing, and something of the character of those that lived there:

…[T]enement dwellers would give their building a nickname indicative of its drawbacks. At Ituzaingó 279, a leaky roof poured water into the patio. With no small touch of irony, residents christened their building Los Cuatro Diques (the Four Dams). The residents called another building La Cueva Negra (the Black Cave) because of its dark, cavernous interior (Baer and Wood, 2006, p.881*).

Renters today also sometimes name their homes after poor conditions:  in Dunedin, for example, there’s the Cardboard Box, the Spanish Slum, The Heap, The Fridge and The Fridgette. Other houses are named after  nicer things – if I had to pick a home from its name,  I like the sound of The Cosy House.

All these homes are recorded by Sarah Gallagher for the Dunedin Flat Names Project, a wonderful way of recording a piece of cultural history.

Named flats are collected on this map – there’s over 300 collected, dating from the 1930s till today:

Flat names, Sarah says, help create a sense of identity. Sarah’s looking for the stories behind the names – check out her website for more information on the project.

* Andrew Wood and James A. Baer (2006). Strength in Numbers: Urban Rent Strikes and Political Transformation in the Americas, 1904-1925. Journal of Urban History. 

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