Barcelona, the vibrant heart of Catalonia, has always been known for its intricate urban designs and deep-rooted history. Today, it stands at the forefront of global urban transformations with its innovative superblock model. This new city model not only prioritises the well-being of its citizens but is also preparing to combat climate change and make the city an epicentre of green innovation.
The Evolution of the Superblock Model
The concept of Superilla or ‘Superblock’ first made its appearance in the ’90s, introduced by Salvador Rueda, an environmental and energy engineer. But for nearly two decades, it was sidelined, viewed as a radical departure from conventional urban planning. However, as the world’s gaze shifted towards sustainable solutions and reducing carbon footprints, Barcelona’s superblocks found their moment in the sun.
The Barcelona Agency of Urban Ecology embraced the Ecosystemic Urbanism charter, viewing the city as an interconnected ecosystem. The superblock concept became an integral part of this vision.
Unpacking the Superblock Concept
A superblock encompasses a 3×3 formation, approximately 400x400m in size. The radical part? No traffic is allowed within these blocks. The goal? Reclaim over 60% of the area for the citizens. Imagine wide pedestrian-friendly roads, lush green parks, children playing freely, and local businesses thriving.
And the outcome has been nothing short of spectacular. Reports have shown significant reductions in air pollution within these blocks, with NO2 levels plummeting by a staggering 25%. Noise pollution has also seen drastic reductions, leading to healthier and happier lives for Barcelona’s residents.
Beyond Just Traffic and Pollution
Barcelona’s superblock initiative isn’t just about reducing traffic and curbing pollution. It’s about transforming urban living. Within these blocks:
- The elderly and children have become the epicentres of streets and squares.
- Green hubs and squares have sprung up, offering a refuge for residents in the heart of the bustling city.
- Economic activities are more localized, fostering community bonds and boosting local businesses.
- Greenery is expanding at an unprecedented rate, with more than 40 hectares of vegetation making their way into the city’s urban fabric.
- Barcelona is not just preparing for a sustainable future; it’s living it.
Reduced Pollution and Noise in the Superblock of Sant Antoni
The Sant Antoni superblock has undergone a significant transformation. With the completion of the last phase of construction on Comte Borrell Street, stretching between Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and Floridablanca, the neighbourhood celebrated this achievement with a community festival.
- A significant decrease in vehicle traffic within the superblock has been achieved, reducing it by 82%.
- The air quality has seen a considerable improvement, with a measurement of 33% less NO2 and a 4% reduction in suspended particles (PM10) at the Borrell/Tamarit junction.
- In addition to environmental benefits, the superblock has reclaimed 23,709 m2 of public space, giving priority to pedestrians.
- Accompanying these changes, there’s been a marked reduction in noise levels in the area. Measurements indicate a drop of 4.1 decibels during the day, 5.3 in the afternoon, and 5.4 at night.
- The vehicle traffic on Borrell Street, at the same junction, has seen a reduction of nearly 6,000 vehicles, accounting for the aforementioned 82% decrease.
- Alongside these changes, there’s been a 28% increase in the number of pedestrians who now enjoy, play, and engage in activities within the superblock.
- At the inauguration, the Deputy Mayor for Ecology, Janet Sanz, highlighted the significance of this project, stating that “the Sant Antoni superblock is a symbol for the entire city.” In these times of climate emergency, it’s crucial to create spaces where children can play without fear and where local commerce thrives. The superblock represents not just an achievement in sustainability and the environment but also in community and urban living.
From Barcelona to the World
Barcelona’s success story with superblocks hasn’t gone unnoticed. In Buenos Aires, five superblocks have been introduced. Over 100 Chinese cities have incorporated it into their urban planning policies. The world is watching, learning, and, more importantly, implementing.
Barcelona’s Superblocks: Where People and Sustainability Merge
Barcelona Superblocks stand as a testament to what cities can achieve when they put their residents and the environment at the centre of their designs. As cities worldwide grapple with the challenges of the 21st century, from climate change to urban well-being, Barcelona offers a glimpse of a sustainable, healthy, and prosperous urban future.
Barcelona’s Superblocks: Controversy, Progress, and a Model for the Future
In conclusion, Barcelona’s superblocks serve as an inspiring reminder of how urban spaces can be reinvented to serve the well-being of their citizens while addressing the urgent challenges of our times. Yet, as with any transformative endeavour, the superblocks have not been without controversy.
Like other superblocks, the project has faced challenges and critiques. Members of the Cor Eixample traders’ association have expressed concerns about potential loss of customers. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood association fears the rising cost of housing and overall price inflation in the area. Moreover, as reported by Europa Press, a citizens’ platform has formally denounced the urban reorganization, suspecting potential violations of territorial planning laws.
Nevertheless, the initiative is backed by scientific evidence. A study conducted by the Public Health Agency of Barcelona (ASPB) asserts that the superblocks have not only improved pollution metrics but have also spurred economic activity, evidenced by the opening of new businesses within these areas.
Adding to the local endorsement, international organizations have recognized the benefits of the superblock concept. The World Health Organization (WHO) has commended the initiative for enhancing the quality of life in terms of mobility, atmospheric and noise pollution reduction, and overall mental well-being. The United Nations has also showcased the superblocks in their report on green urbanism, a topic that was discussed at the Glasgow climate conference last year and is set to be revisited at the upcoming COP 27 this November.
Thus, while challenges persist, the superblocks stand as a beacon of hope for cities worldwide, proving that with vision, determination, and innovation, the cities of tomorrow can be places of harmony, health, and happiness.