At the flip of the twentieth century, the Catalan engineer Ildefons Cerdà had a revolutionary concept for extending Barcelona past the cramped confines of its medieval partitions. Within the grid system of the extension he deliberate, every metropolis block can be constructed round a big open area or patio, designed to be a park for residents.
When he started his work, the previous metropolis was hemmed in bodily and psychologically, desperately overcrowded and disease-ridden, with frequent outbreaks of cholera and a decrease life expectancy than London or Paris.
Cerdà, whose concepts on city planning had been radical on the time, in impact designed a brand new metropolis with broad streets and open areas. The Eixample, because the extension grew to become identified, now makes up most of central Barcelona, however 100 years on, almost all of Cerda’s patios have been paved over for industrial use and Barcelona is as soon as once more one among Europe’s most densely populated cities.
Its 1.6 million individuals stay crammed right into a small area between the ocean and the mountains, sure to the north and south by rivers, and overspilling into satellite tv for pc cities that take the metropolitan inhabitants to round 5 million. There’s nearly no respiratory area.
In actual fact, its residents breathe air that constantly exceeds EU and WHO limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10 particulates, and in accordance with the World Economic Forum the town additionally has the worst noise air pollution in Europe.
The offender in each circumstances is the automobile, not business. Town has the EU’s highest density of automobiles, with 6,000 per sq. kilometre. Non-public automobiles account for about 20% of journeys however occupy 60% of the floor space. Moreover, an estimated 85% of these automobile journeys are made by individuals coming into or traversing the town.
On account of a tradition of intensive constructing and a center class who can escape to second properties within the mountains or by the ocean, there was little emphasis on creating parks and public area, inexperienced or in any other case, and makes an attempt to treatment this have had little success.
“Empty area right here has all the time been seen as constructing land and one thing you’ll be able to revenue from,” Janet Sanz, the deputy mayor, advised the Guardian. “Cerdà’s concept was to open the town, to make it extra liveable. As a metropolis authorities, we have to change the mentality that sees the town solely in monetary phrases. What we’ve in frequent is public area that belongs to everybody. To date its use has been decided by the car foyer.”
Now the town goals to alter all that with an bold 10-year plan to remodel the town, finish the automobile’s dominion, and reclaim area for its residents.
Till not too long ago, Barcelona’s debate about public area was outlined by the battle between residents and mass tourism. Now it’s Covid-19 that has pushed the problems of area and air pollution to the highest of the political agenda. Studies by Harvard University and others have demonstrated a hyperlink between air high quality and susceptibility to the virus, and throughout the 45-day lockdown final spring, Barcelonans obtained a style of what a car-free, clean-air metropolis could be like – they usually favored it.
“Covid has modified the talk on public area,” mentioned Olga Subirós, a Barcelona architect whose set up on city air pollution, Air, might be introduced at subsequent 12 months’s Venice Biennale. “Now we perceive that it’s not simply in regards to the floor beneath our ft, however the area round us and the air that we breathe. We have to suppose in cubic metres, not simply sq. metres.”
For her challenge, Subirós teamed up with 300,000km/s, a agency of architects that specialises in analysing city knowledge, to attract up maps of the town highlighting air pollution, automobile possession, earnings, healthcare and different components. The maps reveal that many of the worst-affected zones are within the Eixample, the world that’s now the main target of the town’s plans to provide individuals precedence over automobiles.
Even earlier than coronavirus, because the election of Ada Colau, chief of the leftist grouping Barcelona en Comú, as mayor in 2015, the town has adopted insurance policies geared toward returning public area to its residents. The pandemic has made it simpler to fend off critics of that coverage by equating public area with public well being.
“In a Mediterranean metropolis, the road is an extension of our properties. The well being disaster has proven that many individuals stay in small flats and for them the road is essential,” mentioned Sanz.
This level was emphasised by Nani Vall-llosera, a GP within the working-class barrio of Bon Pastor, who mentioned socially and economically disadvantaged areas had suffered “twice as a lot” from Covid as others. “It’s unimaginable for individuals to self-isolate or quarantine if, like a few of my sufferers, there are 4 adults and two kids dwelling in 60 sq. metres,” she mentioned. “Quarantine calls for a degree of particular person accountability, however we’re not offering the assets so that folks can comply.”
Kate Shea Baird, a member of the Barcelona en Comú government, mentioned it was a tenet of urbanism that public area ought to compensate for lack of personal area. “Within the lockdown we noticed essentially the most excessive model of this, with households dwelling in a single room for months, unable to exit for walks, which actually introduced residence the inequalities in housing,” she mentioned. “Now with bars and eating places closed, the one place you’ll be able to go is public area, and this a novel alternative to generate consensus across the topic.”
Constructing on that consensus, the town has printed its 10-year plan for the greening of the town, prioritising pedestrians, residents and different avenue customers over automobiles. On the coronary heart of its radical public area coverage are so-called “superblocks”.
The superblock scheme teams collectively 9 metropolis blocks and closes them to by visitors with plant pots and benches, introduces cycle lanes, play areas and inexperienced areas, and eliminates most parking areas. Whereas automobiles aren’t banned, the superblocks are car-unfriendly.
There are six to this point, as many as 11 extra are deliberate over the following three years, and there may very well be greater than 500 if the plan is carried out in its entirety. Within the two years because the second superblock was inaugurated within the Sant Antoni barrio, visitors has fallen by 80% and NO2 air pollution by 33%. Noise ranges have dropped by 5 decibels.
Sílvia Casorrán, 41, has lived within the former industrial barrio of Poblenou all her life and lives in what grew to become the town’s first superblock in 2016. Not like subsequent schemes, the goals of the Poblenou challenge had been poorly communicated and residents had been scarcely consulted, so there was appreciable opposition at first. Now there’s nearly none, and Casorrán says being a superblock has remodeled the barrio.
“Earlier than we shopped and socialised in different components of the barrio,” she mentioned. “There was no life right here. However now it’s laborious to even get out of the tremendous block as a result of there are such a lot of individuals who cease and speak. That’s the massive change – the best way we use the area and attending to know our neighbours. We’ve obtained three playgrounds and picnic areas the place everybody congregates. You get children doing their homework, aged individuals enjoying Parcheesi, a democratisation of area simply by placing in 4 picnic tables. There’s an actual sense of id with the place.”
In 5 years, Colau’s authorities has doubled the town’s community of cycle lanes from 120km to 241km and eradicated 3,500 parking areas. It has additionally made all the metropolis a low-emissions zone and created car-free areas round faculties, and it has not discounted introducing a London-style congestion zone.
Regardless of predictable criticism from the native motorists’ affiliation, the plan has met little widespread opposition, and there was not one of the hostility seen within the UK to comparable schemes. Certainly, it has obtained widespread public help.
Superblocks take time to implement, so the quick response to the pandemic was to create extra public area with so-called “tactical urbanism”, a low-intervention technique adopted in cities as various as Paris, Bogotá and Los Angeles. In addition to creating cycle lanes, the tactic has been to reclaim visitors lanes for pedestrians, usually simply by portray the pedestrian space one other color and separating it with concrete blocks, and by closing chosen streets.
4 main Barcelona streets which were subjected to this tactical urbanism would be the first to be integrated into the brand new plan. They are going to grow to be what are in impact linear superblocks with a complete of 21 new inexperienced areas and 21 public squares, the design of which is being put out to worldwide competitors. This primary section is predicted to value €37.8m.
By 2030, one in three Eixample streets can have undergone the identical remedy, leaving no resident greater than 200 metres from a inexperienced area or a public sq..
“It’s troublesome to reclaim public area in a metropolis that’s so dense,” mentioned Garbino Carballo, who works for the town as a panorama architect and can also be spokesman on nature-based options on the Spanish Affiliation of Parks and Gardens.
“The one public area we’ve left is the area occupied by automobiles. To me, as a panorama architect, I’m thinking about the truth that the road doesn’t have a hard and fast type. We will change it. Should you begin breaking apart pavements and planting extra bushes, you’ll be able to result in a greater environmental understanding of how the town works. As an alternative of investing in capital spending in spectacular tasks, we should always spend money on sustaining and conserving what we’ve. It might not sound very attractive, however it doesn’t get you into debt and it creates sustainable jobs.”
These few weeks final spring when the streets had been abandoned, when you would hear birdsong and didn’t need to shout above the noise of visitors, when you would breathe straightforward and continual allergy symptoms started to vanish, could mark a watershed in Barcelona’s historical past, when individuals caught a glimpse of one other metropolis and one other lifestyle.
“We don’t understand how lengthy Covid might be with us, however what we’ve is a everlasting pandemic, which is the air, it’s not a virus,” mentioned Subirós, citing native well being authority knowledge that hyperlinks automobile air pollution on to round 1,000 deaths a 12 months in Barcelona. “Individuals suppose they’ve a proper to go the place they like in a personal automobile, however it’s not a proper, it’s a privilege. What’s a proper is the suitable to breathe clear air. Particular person rights shouldn’t be allowed to take priority over the rights of the collective.”
Sanz mentioned she was in little question that Barcelona would take a number one function in fixing the worldwide drawback of local weather change and air pollution, and believed it was simpler to reclaim public area in Europe’s previous, compact cities than in a sprawling megapolis equivalent to São Paulo.
“The premise for what we’re doing is to guard individuals,” she mentioned. “What we’ve been doing right here has made Barcelona the centre of consideration, simply because the transformation of the town for the 1992 Olympics did. However the Barcelona model isn’t about grand tasks any extra – it’s about tips on how to remodel the town right into a more healthy and extra sustainable place to stay.”
“Who is aware of?” mentioned Shea Baird. “We could look again and see that the 50 years within the twentieth century when automobiles had been all over the place was only a blip.”