This simple idea is based on blocks, initially named “supermanzanas” (super apples), that are smaller in size than a district (but bigger than an apple!). These new 400mx400m urban blocks have given the city back to the citizens by keeping car traffic on the outskirts of each block. This urban development creates a peaceful, more spacious inner area, ideal for cycling and walking as well as testing new uses that encourage social cohesion and economic development. Several “super-apples” have already been created in the Gràcia district and others are in the process of being developed in Barcelona. This new idea is spreading to the cities of Vitoria, La Coruña, Ferrol, Viladecans and El Prat.
Barcelona ́s neighbourhood transformation program
The Superblocks project, designed by the Municipality of Barcelona in collaboration with the Urban Ecology Agency, represents an innovative planning approach for addressing urban challenges such as mobility, public space, biodiversity and social cohesion. Superblocks are territorial units imagined as bigger than one block of the dense Barcelona ́s urban matrix with strict grid pattern, but still smaller than a whole neighbourhood. The aim of creating such superblocks is to recover space for the general public, to preserve biodiversity in the city, to improve sustainable mobility as well as to encourage social cohesion and collaboration. The Superblocks is open projects, so that any proposed action undergoes a participatory process involving local residents and organisations. The duration of the pilot program is four years, starting in 2014. The vision of the city council in implementing the pilot program, as stated in the Public Commitment for Sustainability 2012-2022, is to promote five superblocks and to create a city that works in a more mixed, compact, efficient and diverse way.
As a result of implementing global ́Agenda 21 ́agreed at the Rio Summit in 1992, Barcelona has managed to establish a collective document named ́Citizen Commitment to Sustainability ́. In 2002, it was signed by more than 800 organisations (small and large enterprises, community groups, professional associations, political parties and educational institutions, etc.) ready to contribute actively to the achievement of the common set goals. In 2012, the commitment was evaluated and revised for the next 10 years. One of the main targets of Barcelona ́s ́Citizen Commitment for Sustainability 2012-2022 ́ is to improve the city at the people level, including participation and focusing on small-scale interventions. In complying with these targets several actions were defined in the document, among them the creation of superblocks. The idea of superblocks has already existed for decades in urban planning. However, in the case of Barcelona it was a novelty to introduce retroactively the superblocks concept as a way to rethink and regenerate existing city neighbourhoods. This project was first launched in the districts Ribera and Gràcia to solve the problem of traffic congestion, while the currently running program covers five districts and works towards the fulfilment of not only mobility but also other sustainability objectives.
The concept of superblocks is also positioned in the Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona 2013-2018 as well as in the cities Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan.
Superblocks are new urban organisational units, with a size of around 400 x 400 m, comprised of several smaller blocks . They are fringed by peripheral roads open for motorized traffic, while interior roads are closed to through traffic but open (by using a system of cards and bollards) to residents, public transport, disabled people, emergency vehicles and, in some streets, bicycles. In this way, the interior public or common areas are relieved of redundant traffic, thus leading to traffic calming of interior roads. Consequently, the areas can be recovered for other uses and thus returned back to inhabitants of the area. The process of stakeholder participation is there by intended to ensure that all the solutions are implemented according to the needs of inhabitants.
The superblock pilot program is currently being implemented in five different neighbourhoods of Barcelona: Les Corts, Plaça de les Glories, Sant Martí, Eixample and Hostafrancs. The duration of the program is four years, starting in 2014. Each superblock project is being implemented with collaboration of local residents, different organisations and the city council. Meetings are held at different project levels, and interested citizens can participatedirectly in the vision creating process and decision-makings or contribute by taking specific actions. The same procedure of involving citizens in the implementation process is followed for each superblock, but the outcomes are different as each neighbourhood has its own distinctiveness (e.g. dynamic economic activity, higher density, less educated inhabitants, etc.). Despite that the project is currently still in its initial stage, many workshops have already been organised and some outcomes are already defined. The Les Corts superblock is the one where the implementation has proceeded the furthest. Within this area the first smart crossroad (using sensor systems for traffic lights regulation) has been installed. Also, several interventions concerning the usage of public spaces have been undertaken, e.g. a provisional parking space has been turned into a temporary green zone.
Projects implementation details
The program started with the consultation of experts and citizens;the organisation of workshops and meetings in each district. Decision groups consisting of different stakeholder representatives were set up in each superblock. In the first year of the program, the proposals for implementation of different stakeholders were collected. In the next two years, it will be decided which projects will be implemented and how it will be done. In the final year an evaluation process should be started, considering indicators designed to measure the impacts of the actions taken in the course of the project.
The superblock project proves that it is not necessary to implement major changes in urban planning or invest in huge infrastructure solutions to improve the lives of citizens. Sometimes small-scale or low-cost actions can induce the same or even better effects. The superblocks model is a great tool to rethink and change existing urban mobility patterns. At the same time, it has become a model for the total transformation of urban neighbourhoods, and superblocks can easily be replicated and modified to suit any other location. Citizens involvement in the whole process is crucial because it is the best way to ensure social acceptance of new lifestyles.