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Barcelona "super-blocks": back to the future

Barcelona has launched a radical proposal for transforming the city towards a greener, healthier environment, by creating car-free, pedestrian-friendly spaces known as "superblocks"

Each superblock will restrict car circulation to a periphery connecting smaller blocks through pedestrian and bike paths. Such radical transformation seeks curbing air, sound and traffic pollution, reducing fossil fuels consumption and emissions and improving residents' quality of life.

The new proposal was launched with some pilot projects in one of Barcelona's neighborhoods, Poble Nou. The experience is still being evaluated, with preliminary good results and some warning signs relative to housing price increase and gentrification.

The announcement of the new initiative was received with great interest for different stakeholders in a city that experienced the hardships of the 2008 housing crisis (Ada Colau, the current mayor was the leader of a protest movement against evictions and for residents rights) and where residents are highly sensitized about the loss of quality of life to the unregulated expansion of tourism and rentals like AirBnb.

The new approach groups clusters of smaller blocks connected by car-free (pedestrian and bike) paths and surrounded by car-enabled streets.

The new arrangement seeks also to create more communal spaces where residents and pedestrians can interact more sensibly without the hassles of car transit.

Such arrangement is reminiscent of Barcelona's past as a city of small medieval towns coming together as quarters but preserving their character.

The proposal generated mixed reactions, some of them warning about the risk of exacerbating gentrification, in light of an increase in property costs after the pilot implementation.

However, Barcelona remains a forward-thinking city open to economic and social innovation and fiercely independent, determined to stay in control of its character and history without stopping to embrace new currents and global trends.

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