Should a city be designed for the people living in it or for the people traveling through it? The infrastructure of most major cities have been more influenced by thru traffic than they have by residents and it shows. In a city altering project of note, Barcelona has started reorganizing its city blocks it to what are being called Superblocks. These blocks get their name from the way city planners clump existing blocks into larger block segments.
“Should a city be designed for the people living in it or for the people traveling through it?”
The result is a city less shaped by cars and major roads and highways and more catered to the organic interaction of pedestrians, cyclists, and vendors. A solution like this is far from simple however, and takes decades of planning and execution.
“Grid Cities” like Barcelona have previously had very low air quality standards, so low that some studies estimated 3500 premature deaths were caused by air pollution each year.
The push to reclaim cities for the people that live in them can be attributed, in large part, to the director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, Salvador Rueda. “You create a nine-square-block mini village, the interior spaces of which can be more equitably shared between cars and other uses,” explains Rueda.
The most significant appeal to city planners tasked with these projects is the ease of converting existing “Grid Cities” into Superblocks. The concept can be applied to most street grids without a large investment in new infrastructure and in Barcelona’s case this was done by combining a 9 normal city blocks into a kind of mini village.
Superblocks can be successfully enforced by limited speed limits within Superblock partitions, substituting curbside parking for off-street garages, and rerouting existing traffic within the Superblock into one-way loops. With this model fully implemented across Barcelona, an estimated 60% of road space would be car-free or mixed use.
Superblocks have the opportunity to become micro-communities and they’re implementation is spreading to other cities and city planners. The first Superblocks in Barcelona were tested in 5 different neighborhoods and city planners have already identified an additional 120 locations to develop new Superblocks.
“Superblocks have the opportunity to become micro-communities and they’re implementation is spreading to other cities and city planners.”
Since these 5 Superblock neighborhood’s implementation in 2008, the pedestrian surface area increased by 29%, air pollution decreased by 42%, and particle pollution was reduced by 38%. They’ve also discovered that noise amplitude has been cut almost in half, from 66.5 decibels to 61 decibels.