Amazing Planet

Barcelona Takes Back Its Streets With "Superilles"

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Our world is becoming increasingly urban. In 1990, there were 10 mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more. By 2014, there were 28 mega-cities. By 2030, the UN projects we'll have 41 cities with more than 10 million people each. As more people head for the bright lights of the big city, how can we fight back against pollution and traffic congestion?

One of the world's most beautiful cities has an ambitious plan to reclaim their space. Barcelona is launching a program called superblocks ("superilles" in Catalan). It carves out nine-square-block mini-villages where cars aren't very welcome.

A Healthier Alternative

In 2014, Barcelona developed an Urban Mobility plan. As Vox explains, this was in response to the city becoming "clogged by cars and choked by air pollution over the past few decades." Barcelona consistently failed to meet the EU's air quality targets, causing 3,500 premature deaths from pollution every year.

The Urban Mobility Plan aimed to cut traffic by 21 percent, reducing noise and air pollution in the process. The plan includes: "186 miles of new bike lanes, a revamped bus system with better access and more frequency, (and) more green space." Your maximum wait for a bus? Five minutes. So far, it sounds like what most cities might do to improve their quality of life. But that's where superblocks go the extra mile.

The concept of these new pedestrian spaces was developed by Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona. For these mini-villages, the strategy isn't to banish cars completely. Instead, a nine-block perimeter is drawn where "traffic, freight, and city buses" must drive. Inside the perimeter, local vehicles may only drive on one-way loops, at maximum speed of 10 mph. The first stage of the project is to reduce speeds, and the second is to remove curbside parking completely. Instead, cars will be parked in underground garages. Can you imagine not having to dodge cars at crosswalks?

An aerial view of Eixample, a district in Barcelona.

Ch-ch-changes

As with most things, change is tricky. The superblocks are facing some opposition, as many citizens find it difficult to reach the city center and businesses are worried they won't be able to load and unload goods at certain times. For Rueda, this response was expected—he explains to Business Insider: "There will always be the resistance to change'...'We seem to forget that there are more pedestrians than drivers." He notes that neighborhoods that have already adjusted to these superblocks would never go back—their children can now play safely in the streets.

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