Superblocks to the rescue: Barcelona’s plan to give streets back to residents

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Superblocks to the rescue: Barcelona’s plan to give streets back to residents
Nine blocks in Barcelona’s Eixample district / © Alami
Superblocks to the rescue: Barcelona’s plan to give streets back to residents
Nine blocks in Barcelona’s Eixample district / © Alami

The Spanish city’s radical new strategy will restrict traffic to a number of big roads, drastically reducing pollution and turning secondary streets into ‘citizen spaces’ for culture, leisure and the community

In the latest attempt from a big city to move away from car hegemony, Barcelona has ambitious plans. Currently faced with excessive pollution and noise levels, the city has come up with a new mobility plan to reduce traffic by 21%. And it comes with something extra: freeing up nearly 60% of streets currently used by cars to turn them into so-called “citizen spaces”. The plan is based around the idea of superilles (superblocks) – mini neighbourhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed to “fill our city with life”, as its tagline says.

This plan will start in the famous gridded neighbourhood of Eixample. That revolutionary design, engineered by Ildefons Cerdà in the late 19th century, had at its core the idea that the city should breathe and – for both ideological and public health reasons – planned for the population to be spread out equally, as well as providing green spaces within each block. Reality and urban development have, however, got the best of it, and as the grid lines became choked with cars, the city’s pollution and noise levels have skyrocketed. What was once a design to make Barcelona healthier, now has to be dramatically rethought for the same reasons.

According to several studies, air pollution alone causes 3,500 premature deaths a year in Barcelona’s metropolitan area (with a population of 3.2 million), as well as having severe effects on local ecosystems and agriculture. Barcelona and the 35 municipalities in its surrounding area have persistently failed to meet EU-established air quality targets. […]

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