How Residential Areas Become Car-Free

The urban plan­ning sys­tem for the expan­sion of Barcelona, con­ceived under the Cata­lan urban plan­ner Ilde­fons Cerdà in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, envis­aged build­ing on only two edges of the block. But spec­u­la­tion with land, sim­i­lar to Berlin, led to a much high­er den­si­ty of devel­op­ment than planned. Many of Cerdà’s visions remained unful­filled, such as the estab­lish­ment of large green court­yards. The result­ing extreme­ly dense urban fab­ric has been under increas­ing stress in recent years—it was over­loaded. © Iakov Filimonov/

In Barcelona, the idea of the superblock—an urban area made up of sev­er­al small­er city blocks and bor­dered by large streets—has been rein­vent­ed in recent years. It promis­es solu­tions for cities with high emis­sion lev­els caused by motor­ized vehi­cles. The reduc­tion of traf­fic means that the val­ue of pub­lic spaces increas­es or that a space becomes tru­ly pub­lic for the first time, and exist­ing uses are increased or new ones made pos­si­ble. Six such superblocks have been real­ized in Barcelona to date. Fears that the retail trade would suf­fer as a result of reduced access for cars have not come true. Instead, the num­ber of trips made on foot or by bicy­cle have gone up and the air qual­i­ty has improved. In recent years, oth­er cities have also begun to imple­ment the mod­el since its poten­tial becomes appar­ent every­where when you look at the city from the per­spec­tive of those who walk instead of drive.


Super­illes, Superblocks


Sal­vador Rue­da, Direc­tor of BCNe­colo­gia (2000 — 2019), BCNe­colo­gia (Agència d’Ecologia Urbana de Barcelona; Con­sor­tium of Ajun­ta­ment de Barcelona, l’A ea Met­ro­pol­i­tana de Barcelona i la Diputa­ció de Barcelona), superblocks residents


Since 2003, Wirst test superblock in the Grà­cia dis­trict; 2016, inau­gu­ra­tion superblock in the Poble­nou district


Barcelona, Spain

The var­i­ous prob­lems that had devel­oped due to the immense den­si­ty of the blocks, above all the scarce pub­lic space and the dev­as­tat­ing air qual­i­ty, were to be coun­ter­act­ed with the con­cept of the Superblock. The prin­ci­ple: four to nine blocks are com­bined into one large unit. In addi­tion, the streets are calmed or com­plete­ly closed to through traf­fic. © Ajun­ta­ment de Barcelona
The space freed from car traf­fic can be used in many ways. Addi­tion­al green spaces, sports and play­grounds can be cre­at­ed where motor­ized traf­fic used to dom­i­nate. © Ajun­ta­ment de Barcelona
The upgrad­ing of pub­lic space is man­i­fold and com­plex. Yet many are still skep­ti­cal. Plan­ners are ask­ing where the traf­fic is now that pre­vi­ous­ly rolled over the now calmer streets? And res­i­dents won­der whether the already strong tourist pres­sure on the city could be fur­ther increased by mea­sures that make this quar­ter even more attrac­tive? © Ajun­ta­ment de Barcelona