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Mobility Infrastructures in Cities and Climate Change: An Analysis Through the Superblocks in Barcelona

Authors:
atmosphere
Article
Mobility Infrastructures in Cities and Climate
Change: An Analysis Through the Superblocks
in Barcelona
Iván López 1, *, Jordi Ortega 2and Mercedes Pardo 3
1Department of Psychology and Sociology, University of Zaragoza, 50009 Zaragoza, Spain
2Department of Material Science and Engineering, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, 08019 Barcelona,
Spain; jordiortega@hotmail.com
3Department of Social Analysis, University Carlos III of Madrid, 28903 Getafe, Spain;
mercedes.pardo@uc3m.es
*Correspondence: ivalopez@unizar.es
Received: 2 April 2020; Accepted: 17 April 2020; Published: 20 April 2020

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Abstract:
Cities are key actors in the fight against climate change since they are major sources of
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while at the same time they experience the negative impact of
this phenomenon. Mitigating and adapting to climate change requires fundamental changes in
urbanism and city automobile trac. Superblocks, a grid of blocks and basic roads forming a
polygon, approximately 400 by 400 m, are one of the instruments for such changes. These type of
city Superblocks represent a new model of mobility that restructures the typical urban road
network, thereby substantially reducing automobile trac, and accordingly GHG emissions,
while increasing green space in the city and improving the health and quality of life of its inhabitants.
Furthermore, the Superblocks do not require investment in hard infrastructures, nor do they involve
demolishing buildings or undertaking massive development; they are in fact very low-tech urbanism.
The city of Barcelona has been implementing Superblocks as one of the measures to combat climate
change with very positive results. The paper analyzes the concept of the Superblock and its relation
with climate change in cities. Along these lines, it analyzes the pioneer experience of Barcelona in
the development and implementation of the Superblocks, as a radical plan aimed at taking back the
streets from cars. The role of political power and institutional leadership has been key in societal
acceptance and the achievement of tangible results. But there are also obstacles and drawbacks in the
development of these types of Superblocks, such as the necessity to redesign the collective transport
network so that car trac can truly be reduced in cities, the possible negative influence on trac
going in and out of the city, the lack of visible advantages if they are not implemented in the entire
city, the risk of gentrification in the areas with Superblocks, public opposition, and opposition from
certain sectors of the business community.
Keywords: superblocks; climate change; cities; urban mobility; Barcelona
1. Introduction
Climate change is one of the major challenges faced by today’s societies. The human cause
of climate change is global warming produced by the greenhouse gas (GHG) eect emitted by
manufacturing, consumption and other activities engaged in by our societies today, compounded by
the climate’s natural variability [
1
]. There is tremendous eort involved in not surpassing the 2
C
increase agreed upon—and ideally limiting it to 1.5
C—by the UN in the Paris Agreement [
2
]. It is
necessary to augment national contributions to lowering GHG, in accordance with the latest United
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410; doi:10.3390/atmos11040410 www.mdpi.com/journal/atmosphere
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 2 of 16
Nations Conference of the Parties [
3
], held in 2019 in Madrid, Mitigation and Adaption to climate
change are presented as instruments to attain these objectives [1,3].
Cities are closely linked to climate change. They are major contributors to this change, as they
produce over 70 per cent of GHG emissions, and they are likewise vulnerable hotspots of climate
change impacts [
4
]. However, at the same time, cities are key players in the fight against climate
emergency [5].
Half of a city
´
s GHG emissions are linked to transportation. Automobile use in cities produces
primary polluting emissions (CO, SO
2
, NOx, PM) and secondary emissions (ozone, among others) [
6
],
in addition to noise, trac congestion, and public space occupation, in addition to other problems.
Furthermore, 68% of the world population is projected to live in urban areas by the year 2050 [
7
] and
the number of cars is predicted to double by 2040 [
8
]. All of this makes mobility in cities a key issue
to consider in the fight against climate change, turning cities into agents for change toward a new
mobility model that takes this phenomenon into account.
Today urban mobility largely reflects a city model that is dominated by mass use of the private
automobile, and where collective transport is only a complementary means of mobility. The territorial
development models and urbanism models of contemporary cities, with their corresponding mobility
infrastructures, have principally responded to the needs of the private vehicle. One of the results of
this focus has been urban air pollution, with negative consequences for human health and climate
change [1].
Alternatives to this type of mobility in cities are being sought [
5
,
9
,
10
], conceiving mobility of
persons and goods in cities not only as an economic issue, but also considering urban dysfunctionalities
in terms of the environment and quality of life.
However, the type of urban mobility is intrinsically linked with the type of urbanism and the city
model. Extensive urbanization and functional separation, as theorized in the Charter of Athens [
11
],
is very dierent from a compact city with a combination of uses, as is the Mediterranean city [
12
].
Both city types have very distinct mobility and urban infrastructures models, resulting in either
opportunities or barriers to reducing private vehicle use in cities, and as such to combat climate change.
In global terms, Salat et al [
13
] (p. 1) point out that “the challenge of a new science of cities is to
understand the links between urban morphogenesis, eciency and resilience” and all of that is related
to climate change.
Furthermore, the type of urbanization, urban mobility, transportation and its corresponding
infrastructures facilitate or not measures for mitigating and adapting to climate change [14].
The responses, in addition to the fight against climate change, have the potential to change the city
model from that of dirty cities, subject to a high degree of pollution, noise, trac congestion, to ones
that are decarbonized, healthy, and sustainable [10].
This paper is placed within this context, analyzing the Superblocks, a proposal for urban
physical infrastructure as one of the instruments in the fight against climate change. It deals with
the concept of the Superblock as a new model of mobility that restructures the typical urban road
network, which provides solutions to the main problems of urban mobility and improves both the
availability and quality of the public space for pedestrian trac results in decreased trac, and as
such lower emissions of greenhouse gases. In order to achieve these goals for a new model of mobility,
two fundamental changes must be made: modification of the basic road network and the establishment
of dierentiated routes for each mode of transport [15].
This paper first analyzes the theoretical framework of the Superblock concept as an urban physical
infrastructure and its connection with urban policies in the fight against climate change. Then it
specifically analyzes one of the pioneer experiences in its implementation in the city of Barcelona
(“superilla” in the Catalan language). It further focuses on the actors that have intervened and on the
social processes involved in the development of Superblocks, from the point of view of everyday politics,
not often taken into account in the successful transformation of urban adaptation [
16
]. The analysis is
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 3 of 16
aimed at critically identifying the barriers and opportunities arising from the implementation of the
Superblocks as urban infrastructures that can be used by cities to fight against climate change.
2. Theoretical Framework: The Superblock Concept and the Change in the City Model
The Superblock concept is not new. With dierent objectives, although always geared toward
the search for “human” urbanism, there is a relevant corpus of empirical experiences with diverse
results [
17
]. Numerous towns and cities around the world have implemented areas with elements
based on living streets and shared space, or banned cars from their center.
Some of the experiences include the ‘woonerf’ [
18
] in the Netherlands, the ‘home-zones’ and
‘share-spaces’ in the UK [
19
] the ‘micro-districts’ in Russia [
20
], and the ‘Superblocks’ in China [
21
].
The Superblocks implemented in Barcelona have features that dier from these experiences. The main
dierence is that these types of Superblocks are contemplated for the urban design of the entire city.
The aim is the reorganization of neighborhoods not only through streets, but also using the intersections
of the blocks to redesign the use of public and private space, and the importance given to public
participation in these spaces. The Superblocks in China dier also greatly from these studied in our
paper because of their large size, both in total area and height, as well as their outside enclosure.
At present, they are coming under criticism for diverse reasons [
21
,
22
]. In any case, these dierences
are related to the historic origin of these experiences and to cultural dierences [22,23].
Regarding the specific connection between urban planning and climate change, the experience of
Germany is relevant because it entails the legal foundations for spatial planning of general climate
protection at the regional level. In their analysis on this experience, Wender et al. [
24
] point out that
creating compact urban structures is one of the key factors for climate change mitigation, and the
importance of the links between building stock density and transport. However, they recognized that
comprehensive applied planning guidelines for climate protection still needs to be developed.
For the case of Barcelona, its antecedents can be found towards the end of the 19th century in the
Plan Cerd
á
for the modern amplification of the city and the Plan Maci
á
of 1932, which although not
fully implemented, laid the urban foundations for development of the present Superblocks.
The concept of Superblock in Barcelona is broad and within the framework of ecosystem urban
planning [
22
], which targets a reworking of the city model with new uses of space, a higher percentage
of green areas, reduced road network, and human and social biodiversity and complexity that guarantee
social cohesion, with an ecient urban metabolism for the material flow of water and energy.
In this paper, the concept of Superblock is confined only to the issue of how to tackle the
dysfunctionality of contemporary urban mobility in big cities, specifically in relation to GHG,
human causes of climate change, which connects physical urbanism and functional urbanism.
Salvador Rueda [
15
] conceptualized the Superblock as “a new model of mobility that restructures
the typical urban road network. In physical terms, the Superblocks are made up of a grid of basic
roads forming a polygon, approximately 400 by 400 m, with both interior and exterior components and
around 5000–6000 inhabitants per Superblock. The interior (intervia) is closed to motorized vehicles
and above ground parking, and gives preference to pedestrian trac in the public space. Though the
inner streets are generally reserved for pedestrians they can be used by residential trac, services,
emergency vehicles, and loading/unloading vehicles under special circumstances. The perimeter,
or exterior, of Superblocks is where motorized trac circulates, and makes up the basic roads”. Figure 1
illustrates the dierences in use between the dominant model of urban mobility of single use and that
of the multiple uses and functions of Superblocks.
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 4 of 16
Atmosphere 2020, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 16
Figure 1. Differences between the single use model of urban mobility and the Superblock model.
Source: Reproduced from [15].
As such, there will barely be any traffic inside the Superblocks, which makes streets much more
accessible for pedestrians. Accordingly, Superblocks provide solutions to the main problems of urban
mobility and improve both the availability and quality of the public space for pedestrian traffic.
What does the model based on a change in design of urban infrastructures offer? By reducing
private vehicle traffic, (i) it increases space for pedestrians and accessibility, (ii) improves air quality,
(iii) and reduces noise (Figure 2). The result is an increase in public space, safer zones for children
and seniors, an increase in green areas, an expansion in the economic activity of small businesses,
and viable alternatives to motorized mobility [15].
Figure 2. Space for pedestrians, Accessibility, Air quality, Acoustic comfort, Livability Index in public
space. Current situation. Superblocks model. Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from [25].
The economic effects of transforming the existing urban blocks are also striking. For Barcelona,
according to Love & Stevenson [26], it results in saving of €1.7 billion ($2.7 billion) a year. This benefit
Figure 1.
Dierences between the single use model of urban mobility and the Superblock model.
Source: Reproduced from [15].
As such, there will barely be any trac inside the Superblocks, which makes streets much more
accessible for pedestrians. Accordingly, Superblocks provide solutions to the main problems of urban
mobility and improve both the availability and quality of the public space for pedestrian trac.
What does the model based on a change in design of urban infrastructures oer? By reducing
private vehicle trac, (i) it increases space for pedestrians and accessibility, (ii) improves air quality,
(iii) and reduces noise (Figure 2). The result is an increase in public space, safer zones for children
and seniors, an increase in green areas, an expansion in the economic activity of small businesses,
and viable alternatives to motorized mobility [15].
Atmosphere 2020, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 16
Figure 1. Differences between the single use model of urban mobility and the Superblock model.
Source: Reproduced from [15].
As such, there will barely be any traffic inside the Superblocks, which makes streets much more
accessible for pedestrians. Accordingly, Superblocks provide solutions to the main problems of urban
mobility and improve both the availability and quality of the public space for pedestrian traffic.
What does the model based on a change in design of urban infrastructures offer? By reducing
private vehicle traffic, (i) it increases space for pedestrians and accessibility, (ii) improves air quality,
(iii) and reduces noise (Figure 2). The result is an increase in public space, safer zones for children
and seniors, an increase in green areas, an expansion in the economic activity of small businesses,
and viable alternatives to motorized mobility [15].
Figure 2. Space for pedestrians, Accessibility, Air quality, Acoustic comfort, Livability Index in public
space. Current situation. Superblocks model. Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from [25].
The economic effects of transforming the existing urban blocks are also striking. For Barcelona,
according to Love & Stevenson [26], it results in saving of €1.7 billion ($2.7 billion) a year. This benefit
Figure 2.
Space for pedestrians, Accessibility, Air quality, Acoustic comfort, Livability Index in public
space. Current situation. Superblocks model. Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from [25].
The economic eects of transforming the existing urban blocks are also striking. For Barcelona,
according to Love & Stevenson [
26
], it results in saving of
1.7 billion ($2.7 billion) a year. This benefit
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 5 of 16
mainly comes from increased life expectancy, a 20% reduction in premature mortality and a 13%
reduction in the overall burden of illness and disease.
Moreover, the implementation of the present Superblocks does not require investment in hard
infrastructures, tearing down buildings or undertaking massive redevelopment. A change in the
use of already existing structures is sucient—blocks—which only requires a functional change that
completely modifies the city mobility structures, resulting in a reduction of urban trac and GHG
emission. It is very low-tech and low-cost urbanism [15,27].
The ecological crisis has propelled the design of models for eco-cities. However, the dierence
between the two models is that the Superblocks put human beings at the heart of the urban ecosystem
and emphasize the importance of citizens’ relationships with each other and the city itself [
28
,
29
].
In addition, the urban model of Superblocks is characterized by its scalability so that it can be applied
to new urban developments as well as to the regeneration of suburbs and city centers.
Undoubtedly making part of a city into pedestrian spaces in order to reduce private vehicles by at
least a third requires a strong network of public transport instead of the current radial network, so as
to increase connectivity and achieve optimization similar to that of the metro.
Furthermore, the advantage oered by the Superblocks is creation of not only micro neighborhoods,
but of an ideal structure for development of a collective transport system for the entire city, with an
orthogonal system of buses to substitute the radial model existing in many cities. Barcelona has
a network of buses based on a radial scheme, inheriting to a large extent the tracks of the old
streetcars. The radial transport systems are much slower for getting around, with a greater cost in
time and in distance. In contrast, an orthogonal system allows increased use of collective transport,
with interconnectivity through horizontal and vertical lines that constitute an urban network structure
(Figure 3).
Atmosphere 2020, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 16
mainly comes from increased life expectancy, a 20% reduction in premature mortality and a 13%
reduction in the overall burden of illness and disease.
Moreover, the implementation of the present Superblocks does not require investment in hard
infrastructures, tearing down buildings or undertaking massive redevelopment. A change in the use
of already existing structures is sufficient—blocks—which only requires a functional change that
completely modifies the city mobility structures, resulting in a reduction of urban traffic and GHG
emission. It is very low-tech and low-cost urbanism [15,27].
The ecological crisis has propelled the design of models for eco-cities. However, the difference
between the two models is that the Superblocks put human beings at the heart of the urban ecosystem
and emphasize the importance of citizens’ relationships with each other and the city itself [28,29]. In
addition, the urban model of Superblocks is characterized by its scalability so that it can be applied
to new urban developments as well as to the regeneration of suburbs and city centers.
Undoubtedly making part of a city into pedestrian spaces in order to reduce private vehicles by
at least a third requires a strong network of public transport instead of the current radial network, so
as to increase connectivity and achieve optimization similar to that of the metro.
Furthermore, the advantage offered by the Superblocks is creation of not only micro
neighborhoods, but of an ideal structure for development of a collective transport system for the
entire city, with an orthogonal system of buses to substitute the radial model existing in many cities.
Barcelona has a network of buses based on a radial scheme, inheriting to a large extent the tracks of
the old streetcars. The radial transport systems are much slower for getting around, with a greater
cost in time and in distance. In contrast, an orthogonal system allows increased use of collective
transport, with interconnectivity through horizontal and vertical lines that constitute an urban
network structure (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Proposed Integrated Mobility and Green Networks. Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from
[30].
An orthogonal model increases the frequency of public transportation (one bus instead of several
per bus stop, at a frequency of 3–5 min) and brings about a greater connectivity for the city than the
model for private vehicles [30]. Its objective is to absorb the cars that have been pushed out by
Figure 3.
Proposed Integrated Mobility and Green Networks. Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from [
30
].
An orthogonal model increases the frequency of public transportation (one bus instead of
several per bus stop, at a frequency of 3–5 min) and brings about a greater connectivity for the city
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 6 of 16
than the model for private vehicles [
30
]. Its objective is to absorb the cars that have been pushed
out by pedestrianization with the Superblocks with an ecient, eective and equitable collective
transportation system.
Thus a symbiosis is produced between the Superblocks and the orthogonal network of motorized
mobility, which results in a decrease in the GHG produced by the intense trac of private vehicles [
30
].
Accordingly, Superblocks are infrastructures useful for mitigating climate change. In addition, they lead
to an increase in the green spaces inside them by freeing up public space used by cars. This vegetation
then becomes a tool to adapt to climate change by facilitating the lowering of the temperature in the
“heat island” phenomena of cities [
31
]. Mitigation and adaptation are two key instruments in the fight
against climate change [1,24].
The Superblock is one of the main technical instruments of urbanism with an ecosystemic
approach [
28
], which is necessary to take on the problem of climate change. Furthermore, it enables
achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations in Agenda 2030,
which Spain joined [32].
“The Superblock model also works towards achieving the ambitious targets set by the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) that define sustainable city and community development in SDG 11 as a
pressing issue and leverage point to overcome global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate,
environmental degradation, prosperity, peace, and justice” [33] (p. 2).
Superblocks are currently constructed or approved for construction in several, topologically
diverse, Spanish cities and other cities in the world. In Spain, the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz was the winner
of the European Green Capital Prize 2012, and the Plan for Mobility and Public Space has been rated
Best Practice by Un-Habitat. The Superblock of Gr
à
cia (Barcelona) was awarded first prize for its
innovation by BMW in 2011 and was recognized as a sustainable Best Practice by Un-Habitat in 2010.
3. Method
The methodology for our analysis follows the proposed objectives of examining the experience of
the Superblocks in Barcelona, geared toward reducing trac and consequently GHG emissions as
well as improving the urban climate, focusing on their potential as well as on the political, social and
cultural barriers to their implementation. The most appropriate methodology for analyzing these
objectives is qualitative case study [34].
In order to identify and critically analyze both their potential and the barriers faced we first
elaborate on the concept of Superblock, and then the situation of its implementation and development
in the city of Barcelona through the city government’s plans and proposals. Finally the analysis focuses
on the political and social actors based on the literature, the news in relevant local and international
newspapers, City Council documents, and documents and interviews with the Urban Ecology Agency
of Barcelona (Agencia de Ecolog
í
a Urbana de Barcelona), which has been a key actor since the beginning
of the Superblocks. The following are the methods according to the objectives:
Objective 1: To elaborate on the concept of the Superblock and its implementation in Barcelona.
#
Method: Literature review, analysis of the City Council ocial documents and plans (The Urban
Mobility Plan for 2013-2918; The New Mobility Plan for 2019–2024; Barcelona’s Commitment to
Climate; Green and Biodiversity Plan of Barcelona 2020; Citizen Commitment to Sustainability
2012–2022; Superblocks Let’s Fill the Streets with Life program), analysis of the documents
elaborated by the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona (Conceptual Model), and interviews to
both institutions.
Objective 2: The political and social actors.
#
Method: Content analysis [
34
] (more content for or against) of the news related to the Superblocks
of Barcelona in local newspapers (from 1 January 1990 to the present; search ‘superilles’)
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 7 of 16
La Vanguardia [
35
], El Peri
ó
dico [
36
], and in international newspapers; search ‘superblock’
(The New York Times [
37
], and The Guardian [
38
], the ocial documents from the City Council,
and interviews with the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona.
4. The Superblocks Program in the City of Barcelona
Barcelona is located in the northeastern part of Spain (Figure 4). It is a densely populated city,
with more than 1.6 million people per 100 km
2
, one of the highest population densities in Europe. It is
the sixth largest city, population-wise, in the European Union, and its metropolitan area is home to
more than 5 million inhabitants.
Figure 4. Barcelona’s location, latitude 41.3887901 and longitude 2.1589899.
Barcelona is a global city, of great cultural, financial, commercial, and touristic importance. It is
a vital communication point between Spain and France and it also has one of the chief ports in
the Mediterranean.
However, the city of Barcelona has some of the highest levels of air pollution in Spain, which surpass
recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) [
39
] (Figure 5). Sixty percent of the
city’s public space is dedicated solely to motor vehicles and to functioning as thoroughfares for vehicles
in the metropolitan area [40].
Atmosphere 2020, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 16
La Vanguardia [35], El Periódico [36], and in international newspapers; search ‘superblock’ (The
New York Times [37], and The Guardian [38], the official documents from the City Council, and
interviews with the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona.
4. The Superblocks Program in The City of Barcelona
Barcelona is located in the northeastern part of Spain (Figure 4). It is a densely populated city,
with more than 1.6 million people per 100 km
2
, one of the highest population densities in Europe. It
is the sixth largest city, population-wise, in the European Union, and its metropolitan area is home
to more than 5 million inhabitants.
Figure 4. Barcelona’s location, latitude 41.3887901 and longitude 2.1589899.
Barcelona is a global city, of great cultural, financial, commercial, and touristic importance. It is
a vital communication point between Spain and France and it also has one of the chief ports in the
Mediterranean.
However, the city of Barcelona has some of the highest levels of air pollution in Spain, which
surpass recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) [39] (Figure 5). Sixty percent
of the city’s public space is dedicated solely to motor vehicles and to functioning as thoroughfares
for vehicles in the metropolitan area [40]
Figure 5. Population exposed to air quality, current situation and future scenario with Superblocks.
Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from [25].
Additionally, the city of Barcelona is exposed to heat waves, which are increasing in frequency
and intensity due to climate change and which aggravate the urban “heat island” phenomenon. The
temperature in the city center of Barcelona can sometimes surpass the temperature in its periphery
Figure 5.
Population exposed to air quality, current situation and future scenario with Superblocks.
Barcelona. Source: Reproduced from [25].
Additionally, the city of Barcelona is exposed to heat waves, which are increasing in frequency
and intensity due to climate change and which aggravate the urban “heat island” phenomenon.
The temperature in the city center of Barcelona can sometimes surpass the temperature in its periphery
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 8 of 16
by as much as 7.5
C (45.5
F) [
31
]. This heat island in Barcelona, linked to global warming, poses a
new risk for human health in the city center linked to global warming.
Faced with this situation, the city of Barcelona has established the goal of diminishing CO
2
emissions by 40% to 2030 compared to 2005 levels, which is a mitigation measure for climate change,
as well as increasing by 1.6 km
2
, that is 1 m
2
per current inhabitant, the green urban spaces, which is a
measure for adaption to climate change [40].
As for automobile trac, the principal cause of GHG in the city, the new Urban Mobility Plan
(2019–2024) [
41
] foresees that the amount of trac can be reduced by 21% after the Superblocks are
implemented. In absolute values it is supposed to go from 785 tons of CO
2
to 608 tons (reduction of
177 tons). By closing down a good number of public roads to normal trac there will also be
160 new
squares in the city which will all have to be given a new function. Many of these squares will be
transformed into green parks to improve the air quality of Barcelona. Such an increase in green space
within the city’s urban areas combined with the reduced number of cars will have a very significant
impact on Barcelona air quality.
Within this context, the Barcelona City Council has to date developed six Superblocks (Table 1)
and begun the process of three new superblocks, through the program “Llenemos de vida las calles.
La implantaci
ó
n de las supermanzanas en Barcelona” [
42
] (Let’s fill the streets with life! Implementation
of Superblocks in Barcelona). The concept of Superblocks was adopted as a centerpiece of the city’s
mobility plan in 2015, promoted by Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona.
Table 1. Current Superblocks and features. Barcelona.
Neighborhood Population
(2019) Ha. Year Approved Governing Political Party
Orientation
Civil Society
Opposition
La Ribera (Born) 5993 12.48 1993
Coalition: social democrat,
left, pro-independence No
Gracia 18,631 22.96 2003 The same coalition Yes/No
Poblanou 1486 16 2016 Coalition: left, social
democrat Yes
San Antoni 38,566 48.81 2018 Left No
Les Corts 11,049 21 2018 Center pro-independence,
left No
Hortafrancs 8555 22.63 2018 Center pro-indipendence,
left No
Source: Authors based on the interview with BCNEcologia.
This program is an instrument for reorganizing the city so that pedestrians have priority,
followed by bicycles, and then public transport. The main goals are to improve the environmental
conditions in the city and gain quality public space for persons [
42
]. So far, it has been implemented
in six neighborhoods, but the aim of the city government is to develop Superblocks in all of the
city—more than 503 Superblocks over time—with two levels of actions: at the district level and at the
neighborhood level. By 2023 there could be 18 Superblocks distributed throughout the city.
Today, 85% of the transportation network in Barcelona is taken up by use related to transit mobility.
The global proposal for Superblocks for the whole city represents a 61% reduction in thoroughfares
for automobiles (Figure 6), as well as an orthogonal model for a mesh network of buses for public
transport (Figure 3).
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 9 of 16
Atmosphere 2020, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 16
Figure 6. Barcelona road network, current situation and future scenario with new Superblocks.
Source: Reproduced from [15].
Seventy percent of the urban mobility space taken up by cars will be freed up, just by reducing
by the number of cars in circulation by 13%. This represents a total of more than six million square
meters, thereby converting Barcelona into the most important urban recycling project worldwide
without involving demolition of buildings. This new model enables travel time in the city to be cut
in half and increases the use of buses as mass transport, which could substitute from one third to
more than one half of the current use of cars. For this purpose, additional measures are necessary:
increasing the number of bus lanes, and bike and scooter paths, among others [15].
Moreover, pedestrianizing the Barcelona Superblocks has increased the pedestrian space to
67.2% so far, and will achieve a total increase of 270% once the total number of Superblocks is
implemented (Figure 7).
Figure 6.
Barcelona road network, current situation and future scenario with new Superblocks. Source:
Reproduced from [15].
Seventy percent of the urban mobility space taken up by cars will be freed up, just by reducing by
the number of cars in circulation by 13%. This represents a total of more than six million square meters,
thereby converting Barcelona into the most important urban recycling project worldwide without
involving demolition of buildings. This new model enables travel time in the city to be cut in half and
increases the use of buses as mass transport, which could substitute from one third to more than one
half of the current use of cars. For this purpose, additional measures are necessary: increasing the
number of bus lanes, and bike and scooter paths, among others [15].
Moreover, pedestrianizing the Barcelona Superblocks has increased the pedestrian space to 67.2%
so far, and will achieve a total increase of 270% once the total number of Superblocks is implemented
(Figure 7).
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 10 of 16
Atmosphere 2020, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 16
Figure 7. Pedestrian space in Barcelona before and after Superblocks. Source: Reproduced from [15].
The completed implementation of the Superblocks would reduce average annual levels of
ambient NO
2
pollution by 24% (from the current level of 47 µg/m³ to 36 µg/m³), a decrease that would
bring Barcelona’s levels in line with the WHO: a maximum of 40 µg/m³ [30], cutting down CO
2
emissions per capita by 40%.
For Salvador Rueda [15] and Mueller et al. [33], (p.2) the “Barcelona Superblock model is an
innovative urban and transport planning strategy that aims to reclaim public space for people, reduce
motorized transport, promote sustainable mobility and active lifestyles, provide urban greening and
mitigate effects of climate change”
To this it must be added that on 1 January 2020, the municipal government declared a climate
emergency in the city, and to confront this situation, the City Council activated a set of urgent
measures agreed on at its first Climate Emergency Committee, in which more than 200 entities,
experts and administration representatives take part. Within the Climate Emergency Action Plan a
broad range of measures related to mobility and renewable energy are included, among others [43],
as well as indications on how to start up new Superblocks.
At this moment in the process of developing Superblocks, some warnings are being sounded.
The Barcelona Laboratory for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability [44] points out the risk
of gentrification and the scant consideration given to the social dimensions of adaptation to urban
climate change in relation to matters of equality and justice. These authors call for the need to
integrate such issues into the planning and development processes for these urban infrastructures.
The history of the development of Superblocks in Barcelona began as a way to combat the intense
noise from urban traffic hence environmental concerns related to traffic have been at the forefront.
But the aim of sustainable development for the city must also take into account matters of social
inequality that includes the “triple bottom line” approach.
5. The Political and Social Actors: The Need for a Cultural Change
Superblocks in a city as large and complex as Barcelona are not achieved quickly and without
controversy or social conflict. They are a long-haul model and are carried out gradually over time
and space, according to chiefly political and social possibilities, as they do not require substantial
economic investments.
However, the change in a city’s mobility that the development of the Superblocks entails is not
a project that is easily carried out. It does not involve tearing down a city’s historic walls for its
modern expansion, but instead entails a different type of demolition: that of walls in the mind, that
of mental “infrastructures” [45], which are more difficult to modify. Mobility in contemporary cities,
closely linked to the car, is profoundly rooted in people’s mind and daily habits. Therefore, this
change must be understood as an everyday social experience, and not only as a set of economic and
Figure 7. Pedestrian space in Barcelona before and after Superblocks. Source: Reproduced from [15].
The completed implementation of the Superblocks would reduce average annual levels of ambient
NO
2
pollution by 24% (from the current level of 47
µ
g/m
3
to 36
µ
g/m
3
), a decrease that would bring
Barcelona’s levels in line with the WHO: a maximum of 40
µ
g/m
3
[
30
], cutting down CO
2
emissions
per capita by 40%.
For Salvador Rueda [
15
] and Mueller et al. [
33
], (p. 2) the “Barcelona Superblock model is
an innovative urban and transport planning strategy that aims to reclaim public space for people,
reduce motorized transport, promote sustainable mobility and active lifestyles, provide urban greening
and mitigate eects of climate change”.
To this it must be added that on 1 January 2020, the municipal government declared a climate
emergency in the city, and to confront this situation, the City Council activated a set of urgent measures
agreed on at its first Climate Emergency Committee, in which more than 200 entities, experts and
administration representatives take part. Within the Climate Emergency Action Plan a broad range
of measures related to mobility and renewable energy are included, among others [
43
], as well as
indications on how to start up new Superblocks.
At this moment in the process of developing Superblocks, some warnings are being sounded.
The Barcelona Laboratory for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability [
44
] points out the risk
of gentrification and the scant consideration given to the social dimensions of adaptation to urban
climate change in relation to matters of equality and justice. These authors call for the need to integrate
such issues into the planning and development processes for these urban infrastructures.
The history of the development of Superblocks in Barcelona began as a way to combat the intense
noise from urban trac hence environmental concerns related to trac have been at the forefront.
But the aim of sustainable development for the city must also take into account matters of social
inequality that includes the “triple bottom line” approach.
5. The Political and Social Actors: The Need for a Cultural Change
Superblocks in a city as large and complex as Barcelona are not achieved quickly and without
controversy or social conflict. They are a long-haul model and are carried out gradually over time
and space, according to chiefly political and social possibilities, as they do not require substantial
economic investments.
However, the change in a city’s mobility that the development of the Superblocks entails is not
a project that is easily carried out. It does not involve tearing down a city’s historic walls for its
modern expansion, but instead entails a dierent type of demolition: that of walls in the mind, that of
mental “infrastructures” [
45
], which are more dicult to modify. Mobility in contemporary cities,
closely linked to the car, is profoundly rooted in people’s mind and daily habits.
Therefore, this change
must be understood as an everyday social experience, and not only as a set of economic and institutional
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 11 of 16
processes. This dimension is, nonetheless, much less analyzed or considered in the development of
Superblocks, in addition to the analysis of the processes of social and political conflict [16].
As an urban model, the first actor was the architect Cerd
á
. His initial plan for expansion of the
city of Barcelona at the end of the 19th century established the bases for the modern blocks extending
the city. This later facilitated development of the Superblocks toward the end of the 1980’s, based on a
noise map of the city undertaken by the Barcelona City Council. Using this diagnostic tool, an action
plan was proposed to reduce noise, with one of the solutions being streets closed to automobile trac.
Although the original purpose was to combat the city’s significant level of noise, afterwards, it was
broadened to include improving air quality, as pointed out by Mueller et al. [33].
During these beginnings as well as in the later development, the City Council has been a key agent
in the development of the Superblocks in Barcelona [
16
,
46
] together with its promoter, Salvador Rueda,
director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona. The diverse municipal governments, with their
ideological dierences and interests, have been the main protagonists [
16
,
46
]. However, the civil
society of Barcelona is very diverse and active, so the complex interactions between the municipal
government and the civil sector, including, for example, car industry lobbies, can help to explain the
progress as well as the setbacks in the development process for Superblocks in Barcelona [16,40].
The Superblock project has been on the desk of municipal governments for some 20 years,
with processes to support or to abandon the project, depending on the interests of the dierent parties
governing the city. However it is not in fact dierences in political ideology that explain the process,
but rather other matters such as the dominant role of the car in the city or the lack of vision as to the
importance of the Superblocks. Only recently is the focus of city administration and management being
placed on sustainability [
40
,
41
], taking into account, not only economic issues, the entrepreneurial city,
but also social, and environmental ones, which are referred to as the “triple bottom line” approach.
In recent city governments, the divide was due to which political party was given credit for its
impetus and development. This is an indicator of the political importance that the development of
the Barcelona Superblocks have acquired, in the context of the new paradigm of sustainable cities,
articulated by the United Nations new urban agenda (UN, 2016) and also for the recognition of
the experience of the Superblocks in Barcelona by the media. Today, the implementing actor of the
superblocks is the city’s current minority municipal government led by Barcelona en Com
ú
(BeC),
a new left-leaning political party [
16
,
40
]. Zografos et al. [
16
] (p. 9) in their analysis of the conflictive
nature surrounding one of the Superblocks—Poblenou—find that “underlying drivers of barriers are
to be found in political struggles for authority”.
The mass media has also been an important actor, with the local press at first opposing the
Superblocks, and the international press in favor. As Klause [
46
] (p. 1) points out in the analysis
of the opposition to the Superblock pilot project—Poblenou—“local media coverage is more about
implementation problems, opposition to the pilot-project and its alleged negative impact on the
economy rather than about the potential benefits to public health, air quality or climate change
mitigation”. In this sense, the local media has lacked the necessary innovative vision required by a
global city such as Barcelona. However, the coverage of the Barcelona Superblocks in such prestigious
newspapers as the New York Times, considering its replicability in New York, and the Guardian greatly
boosted local recognition.
As for the citizen as social actor, the response to the Superblocks has been diverse, ranging from
initial strong opposition with later acceptance because of positive results (the case of the Vila de Gr
à
cia
Superblock in 2006 and The Poblenou), to other experiences of citizen support from the beginning
(the La Ribera Superblock, in the old market of Born in 2012). In the case of Poblenou [
16
] (p. 1),
the Plataforma d’Afectats per la Superilla de PobleNou (Plattform of people aected by the Superblock
of PobleNou) have voiced “fierce opposition”. They protested about the removal and relocation of bus
stops, inadequate community consultation and higher trac volumes along the exterior perimeter of
the Superblock.
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 12 of 16
In 2006, two Superblocks were established in Vila de Gr
à
cia. There likewise was a great deal of
opposition at the start (the 150 meetings, with 85 of them held at night, led to eventual acceptance of
the initial proposal).
As pointed out by Welzer [
45
] (p. 32) “the infrastructures that owe their existence to the car
not only form a part of our consciousness, but so also our standards of conduct, our ways of life.
The superblock project itself that clashes with old established beliefs and habits and thus provokes
social, cognitive and cultural contestation”. Its generalized implementation requires a change of
mobility habits in the city and a shared extra eort.
The Superblocks have been endowed with specific content in each ambit by the neighbors
themselves, through participative processes designed to define the problems or the challenges together,
and to jointly find solutions. A Superblock steering group is set up in each district where the program
is being implemented, consisting of a group of people and/or representative bodies, to monitor the
project. The group acts as a link between the technical team and residents, validating the dierent
stages and helping to define the participation spaces, as well as the outcomes of the participation
workshops and the technical work carried out. Public participation is present throughout the entire
program, from initial diagnosis to implementing the planned actions.
These processes have been key to the progress, albeit somewhat slow, of the Superblock
development in the city. Local acceptance of the Superblock has also grown over the years,
although ongoing close collaboration with residents is essential to dispel fears. The active and
diverse civil society in Barcelona has been a key agent in the implementation of the Superblocks in the
city. In their analysis of the conflicts arising in relation to some of the Superblocks, Scudellari et al [
47
]
point out that temporal synchronization between the urban level and the neighborhood level turns out
to be particularly important to reduce conflicts and criticalities.
Cars always have long been correlated with modernity, for which the departure from the
car-centric city will require a cultural change and shift of mindset, which can only happen over
time [
45
]. Development of the current six Superblocks has taken over four decades. That may seem
like too long of time, but we must take into account that a change in the mobility model of a city is
underway. The climate emergency is driving the acceleration of this process of change.
On 1 January 2020 a climate emergency was declared by the City Council [
43
], and to deal
with it, this coming autumn the municipal government will activate a set of urgent measures agreed
upon by the first Climate Emergency Committee, in which more than 200 entities, experts and
administration representatives take part. The action includes the areas of mobility, urbanism, education,
energy and waste management, among others. Clearly, the policies to combat climate change require a
collaborative government.
This new measure will undoubtedly allow the implementation of the Superblocks in Barcelona
to progress since it includes finishing the third stage of the Sant Antoni I superblocks, the second
stage of the Horta superblocks, drafting of the project of the Sant Gervasi-La Bonanova superblocks,
the Izquierda de l’Eixample superblocks and the Derecha de l’Eixample superblocks, and initiating the
participative processes for new Superblocks.
It is a long-haul model that is being made reality through gradual and shared implementation
throughout the entire city. This generalized execution requires a change of habits in city mobility,
a cultural shift and an additional shared eort. It is an open model and a collective transformation.
Political initiative is key for propelling the development of the Superblocks. However,
the narratives created at the start are fundamental for its evolution. Unfavorable narratives emerge in
relation to the negative impact of limiting private trac, or even to limiting freedom of circulation,
among others. The positive experience in terms of quality of life brought about by the development of
Superblocks is nevertheless breaking down the mental barriers in these narratives. Positive narratives
are arising from the real life experience in these new contexts. What is more, at present Superblocks
has become a positive identity “brand” for Barcelona [
48
]. The current municipal government
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 13 of 16
that has promoted the Superblocks received majority support in the last municipal elections in the
Superblock areas.
The need for structured engagement between city stakeholders (governance, policy-makers,
planners, decision-makers) and the scientific community is long overdue, and urban climate science is
required to provide the rigorous evidence base for urban policy-making [
4
]. It is an open model and a
collective transformation as mobility is both spatial and political.
6. Discussion and Conclusions
As one of the responses to the challenges of climate change in the 21st century, the development
of Superblocks in the cities is an imaginative and relatively simple one. If today the focus is on climate
change, concerns are also arising from the eect on health as well as on extreme weather episodes,
air quality, noise, trac congestion, etc., brought about by motorized mobility in and outside the city
(going into and out of the city).
There are clear opportunities and benefits from the Superblock as urban infrastructure in the
fight against climate change regarding the reduction of trac and consequently the greenhouse gas
emissions along with freeing up space for green areas.
The fact that it is not necessary to implement major changes in urban planning, and that it is a
multi-purpose and versatile instrument for dierent contexts whether they are new urban developments
or regeneration of consolidated areas [
49
], makes the model of the Superblock an important tool
for mobility, capable of improving the lives of people in cities of any type, and for climate change
mitigation and adaptation.
Notwithstanding, Superblocks also present some barriers and possible negative eects that could
limit their development and as such, their eectiveness in relation to climate change. In cities with not
only local but also regional trac, the implementation of Superblocks could lead to increased regional
trac congestion. In this sense, coordinated eorts between the various municipalities in the region
are required. This is a political barrier that could hamper its development.
A conclusion in this respect is the importance of approaching the role of Superblocks in a
comprehensive way within the framework of the ecosystem urban planning of cities. The experience
of Barcelona shows that in order for Superblocks to obtain full eciency in reducing private trac,
other complementary strategies need to be undertaken, such as design of public transportation in
symbiosis with the design of Superblocks. If urban residents are to give up their cars, they need to be
able to access the rest of the city. The partial understanding of Superblocks in and by themselves brings
about improvements that can scarcely be seen by both the residents and the commuters. This is a social
barrier to its rapid development. Superblocks make the most sense when they are extended all over
the entire city in the form of a network. This involves going from managing mobility infrastructures to
managing infrastructures with broader positive socioecological consequences.
The urban success of the Superblocks could also bring about a collateral eect of gentrification,
if matters of social inequality and justice are not taken into account. To overcome this social barrier,
its design and implementation needs to focus on sustainable development based on the three pillars
of the triple bottom line. The potential for the Superblocks to improve the environment of cities,
and specifically the urban climate, should not make us forget the Superblocks’ goal of not producing
greater social inequality.
Lessons can be learned with respect to these issues from Barcelona’s superblock intervention, a
transformational project that challenges the current model of urban development by employing radical
changes in the urban infrastructure in order to mitigate carbon emissions and respond to climate-change
induced problems like the urban heat island eect. Other similarly dense cities with mixed-use
development can learn from Barcelona’s Superblocks experiences, while adapting and modifying
them to dierent historical and cultural contexts. The City Council, or the corresponding municipal
government, is a key player in this process. Political conflicts at the municipal government level could
be an obstacle to the change in the urban model required for the Superblocks.
However, only through
Atmosphere 2020,11, 410 14 of 16
the interaction of urban climate science/policy makers/civil society is it possible to move forward in the
implementation of the Superblocks as a tool to fight against climate change. Well-organized public
participation processes are vital for the acceptance of the Superblocks projects.
Superblocks not only modify a city’s physical and functional structures, but they also modify its
mental barriers, which are based on car-centered city models. Cities needs to change their coordinates
towards a low-carbon transition when the movement of people and things are major contributors to
GHG. That makes it necessary for us to look at the past to imagine the future; it requires a present—the
fight against climate change—with a historical awareness that also looks towards the future. This is
key to fighting such a far-reaching problem, as is climate change.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, I.L., J.O. and M.P.; methodology, I.L., J.O. and M.P.; research, J.O. and
M.P.; writing—original draft preparation, I.L.; writing—review and editing, J.O. and M.P. All authors have read
and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Acknowledgments:
The authors are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestion on
improving the text.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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©
2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
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... Superblock's implementation does not require investment in complex infrastructures, massive redevelopment, or tearing down buildings [24]. It only requires a functional change using the existing structure block, which will lead to a complete modification in city mobility, reduction of carbon emissions, urban traffic, and increased city livability [25], as shown in Figure 4. A city transforms into a public space, considering it is the "house of everybody," a meeting place for interchange, leisure, culture, staying, expression, democracy, and movement [22]. ...
... showing improvement in different aspects such as, Space for pedestrians, Accessibility, Air quality, Acoustic comfort, Livability Index in public space. Adopted from[25]. traffic circulation and Road hierarchy aimed at the Superblock model. Adopted from[22] (a) Baseline situation, (b) superblock model ...
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Livability is one of the primary guiding principles for policy-making and urbanists, of which the evaluation and definition have become the crucial research topic of countering. The micro-scale living conditions necessitate more urgent attention as the progress in socioeconomic development accelerates. However, few researchers have addressed the evaluation criteria of urban livability at spatial enclosure scales as community scale. Therefore, this paper aims to create an urban community-level balanced weight evaluation statistical system, as residential communities are one of the basic units of urban living places. Twenty-nine objective indicators are selected to establish the indicator system. Considering different age groups, a comprehensive evaluation framework for communities' livability combines objective indicators and subjective perceptions. Accordingly, this study is applied to assess the urban microscale livability of residential communities in Aswan City. There are significant results from the study. Different age groups have distinct demands for an urban community's livability. They have valued some indicators and concentrated on the following two dimensions: pedestrians' rights and convenience of transportation. Finally, the communities' livability shows a decreasing spatial pattern from the city center to the surroundings. These empirical findings may be helpful to urbanists and other parties as stakeholders for future development.
... Superblock's implementation does not require investment in complex infrastructures, massive redevelopment, or tearing down buildings [24]. It only requires a functional change using the existing structure block, which will lead to a complete modification in city mobility, reduction of carbon emissions, urban traffic, and increased city livability [25], as shown in Figure 4. A city transforms into a public space, considering it is the "house of everybody," a meeting place for interchange, leisure, culture, staying, expression, democracy, and movement [22]. ...
... showing improvement in different aspects such as, Space for pedestrians, Accessibility, Air quality, Acoustic comfort, Livability Index in public space. Adopted from[25]. traffic circulation and Road hierarchy aimed at the Superblock model. Adopted from[22] (a) Baseline situation, (b) superblock model ...
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Full-text available
Livability is one of the primary guiding principles for policy-making and urbanists, of which the evaluation and definition have become the crucial research topic of countering. The micro-scale living conditions necessitate more urgent attention as the progress in socioeconomic development accelerates. However, few researchers have addressed the evaluation criteria of urban livability at spatial enclosure scales as community scale. Therefore, this paper aims to create an urban community-level balanced weight evaluation statistical system, as residential communities are one of the basic units of urban living places. Twenty-nine objective indicators are selected to establish the indicator system. Considering different age groups, a comprehensive evaluation framework for communities' livability combines objective indicators and subjective perceptions. Accordingly, this study is applied to assess the urban microscale livability of residential communities in Aswan City. There are significant results from the study. Different age groups have distinct demands for an urban community's livability. They have valued some indicators and concentrated on the following two dimensions: pedestrians' rights and convenience of transportation. Finally, the communities' livability shows a decreasing spatial pattern from the city center to the surroundings. These empirical findings may be helpful to urbanists and other parties as stakeholders for future development.
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To improve neighbourhood liveability and urban sustainability, Barcelona is seeking to re-organize its urban structure into superblocks, designed to discourage cut-through traffic and promote multiple uses of street space. Despite its potential, this approach is not without its limits, that should be properly taken into account. The implementation of the Supermanzana model in the Poblenou neighbourhood is explored in this paper to analyse its potentialities and constraints. Temporal synchronization between the urban level and the neighbourhood level turns out to be particularly important to reduce conflicts and criticalities.
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