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Barcelona’s plan to give streets back to residents

Updated: May 8, 2019

We love reading how Barcelona gave back to the public with more pedestrian friendly street space. Read the article below by to find out the impact it had.

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The Catalan capital’s radical new strategy will restrict traffic to a number of big roads, drastically reducing pollution and turning secondary streets into ‘citizen spaces’ for culture, leisure and the community.

In the latest attempt from a big city to move away from car hegemony, Barcelona has ambitious plans. Currently faced with excessive pollution and noise levels, the city has come up with a new mobility plan to reduce traffic by 21%. And it comes with something extra: freeing up nearly 60% of streets currently used by cars to turn them into so-called “citizen spaces”.

The plan is based around the idea of superilles (superblocks) – mini neighbourhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed to “fill our city with life”, as its tagline says. This plan will start in the famous gridded neighbourhood of Eixample. That revolutionary design, engineered by Ildefons Cerdà in the late 19th century, had at its core the idea that the city should breathe and – for both ideological and public health reasons – planned for the population to be spread out equally, as well as providing green spaces within each block. Reality and urban development have, however, got the best of it, and as the grid lines became choked with cars, the city’s pollution and noise levels have skyrocketed. What was once a design to make Barcelona healthier, now has to be dramatically rethought for the same reasons.

According to several studies, air pollution alone causes 3,500 premature deaths a year in Barcelona’s metropolitan area (with a population of 3.2 million), as well as having severe effects on local ecosystems and agriculture. Barcelona and the 35 municipalities in its surrounding area have persistently failed to meet EU-established air quality targets.

A study from the local Environmental Epidemiology Agency determined that 1,200 deaths could be prevented in the city yearly just by reaching EU-mandated levels for nitrogen dioxide levels (this would mean a five-month rise in life expectancy). Add to that an estimated 18,700 fewer asthma attacks, 12,100 fewer cases of acute bronchitis and 600 fewer cardiovascular-related hospitalisations, and the problem becomes apparent for a city with a population of 1.6 million. Traffic is also the first cause for noise pollution in the city; 61% of its residents live with noise levels higher than those deemed healthy by legislation.

The council also cites road accidents (9,095 last year, 27 of which were fatal), sedentary lifestyles (one in five kids in Barcelona are overweight or at risk of reaching that state), and the lack of green spaces as reasons driving the plan. The city has only 6.6 sq metres of green space per inhabitant (with the figures standing at just 1.85 in Eixample and 3.15 in Gràcia), closer to Tokyo’s three than to London’s 27, or Amsterdam’s staggering 87.5. The World Health Organisation suggests every city should have at least 9 sq metres per capita.

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