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Superblocks: How Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars

Superblocks: How Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars


If you imagine a typical American city street,
and you take away the space that’s dedicated to cars, you aren’t left with very much. There are some narrow walkways on the side,
and some bridges in between them, but not much else. Cars dominate cities. Spend some time walking around most cities
and you’ll find yourself pushed to narrow sidewalks, waiting for crosswalk lights. You’ll find cyclists navigating really narrow
strips of space. Americans are used to cars the way that fish
are used to water. That’s so ubiquitous in the U.S. that I
think for most people, it just never occurred to them that it could be otherwise. But what if there were a way to change that? To give space back to pedestrians and bicyclists,
and to make cities more friendly to life outside of a car? It turns out Barcelona might have a solution. In 2014, the city was faced with serious air
pollution problems. Barcelona and its 35 surrounding municipalities
consistently failed to meet the EU’s air quality targets. Studies were showing that air pollution in
the region causes 3,500 premature deaths every year. Traffic in the city also causes severe noise
pollution. So the city developed an extensive Urban Mobility
Plan with the hope of reducing traffic by 21 percent. The coolest part of the plan were these things: They call them “superilles”. Superilles? “Si, superilles.” That translates to “superblocks”. It’s this urban design concept intended
to minimize the presence of cars in city centers. The word “superblock” has been used before
to describe huge city blocks without any passageways for cars. But that’s not what’s happening here. So here’s how Barcelona’s plan works. You take nine square city blocks and close off
the inside to through traffic. So buses, big freight trucks — or any vehicles
that are trying to get from one part of town to the next — have to drive around the perimeter. Inside the superblock, the speed limit is
kept to 10 kilometers per hour — that translates to just over 6 miles per hour — and curbside parking is replaced by underground parking. That means you wind up with street space for
markets, outdoor games, and events. Within this nine square block perimeter
you’re gonna have kind of a pleasant streetscape where people can walk around and mingle and
do things without this kind of constant fear of cars around. The concept is going to be tested out in five
neighborhoods, but the city has identified 120 possible intersections throughout the
region where it could be implemented. So how do we know what the results of this kind
of plan would look like? Well, northwest of Barcelona is a city called
Vitoria-Gasteiz, which has implemented superblock designs since 2008. In the main superblock at the city center,
pedestrian space increased from 45 percent of the total surface area to 74 percent. With so much less traffic, noise levels dropped
from 66.5 dBA to 61 dBA. Most impressive of all, there was a 42% reduction
in nitrogen oxide emissions and a 38% reduction in particle pollution in the area. On top of that, business is up. What you consistently see when people change
their streetscapes to prioritize human beings over cars is you don’t see any decline in
economic activity, you see the opposite. You get more people walking and cycling
around more slowly, stopping more often patronizing businesses more, and that … center of social
activity will tend to build on itself. So here’s the question: could something
like this work in an American city? Barcelona has some unique advantages getting
started on this plan, in that a lot of it was built before cars, and a lot of it was
built on a simple grid. The district of Eixample — where the superblock
plan is based — was designed in 1859 in this repetitive grid structure by this guy, Ildefons Cerdá. He basically invented the word for (and the study
of) “urbanization” when he laid out this grid plan for Barcelona that evenly distributed
resources like schools and hospitals. But superblock designers insist
that cities don’t need a simple grid structure to implement this kind of plan. It can work anywhere. Now, cities in the US have have attempted some
car-minimizing projects like this. The problem is, they’re usually done in
wealthier areas with lots of existing businesses. Zoning policies often require separation of
residential and commercial areas — but an ideal walkable area would be a mix of the
two. On top of that, zoning minimums on parking
availability encourage the presence of cars and parking lots, and minimums on street width
make for wide, unwalkable streets. Because of that, walkable districts are basically
isolated luxury items in the US. What makes the Barcelona plan different is
that they aren’t setting aside one fancy neighborhood or town square to make pedestrian-friendly — instead, by proposing superblocks throughout the entire city, they’ve declared car-free
spaces a right for everybody, no matter what part of town they’re in. Maybe — this might be overly optimistic — but I think it has sunk in in the U. S. that the model whereby every city resident comes with a car — and drives a car everywhere – is just inherently limited. It limits the growth of your city, it limits the health of your city and the growth of your city. So one way or another we have to find ways of having a lot of people live close to one another without all of them having cars. You know, being able to get around and work and play in live and have enjoyable lives without cars.

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100 thoughts on “Superblocks: How Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars

  1. 3500 death? Here in India we millions dying bcoz of the pollution and our government doesn't do anything to prevent it

  2. 33 years old living in Barcelona never used a car once, proud of it! and get to eat a bit more meat for it to balance my carbon footprint.

  3. that flamenco guitar!!! barcelona is part of spain (don't attack me, this is the way it actually is) but PLEASE, flamenco belongs to the south

  4. man i just left barcelona not even 24 hours ago and noticed on my flight that the city looked like squares now i know why!

  5. Everybody forgets about the fact that it is a port city and those cruise liners and cargo ships never stop their engines while docked, daily emissions are comparable to a million cars (statistics vary but either way the numbers are absurd). There is a still mill, a bunch of car and other factories and a busy airport all crammed in there. It is absurd to think that the cars are the culprit of the pollution problem.

  6. Como buen habitante de Barcelona, me he metido en este video a ver que opina la gente de la ciudad. Bastante gracioso que crean que la música flamenca es típica de aquí 😂

  7. What's funny is that Barcelona is infact one of the most polluted places in Europe to live right now. The air is really unclean out here. Bad noise pollution aswel to the extent where I am thinking about leaving.

  8. OMG! Is so difficult to understand that Flamenco is typical only from Andalucia in southern Spain? Barcelona and Catalonia are at the opposite corner in the northeast!

  9. You forgot to mention all the bycicles, skates and scooters that circulate freely outside their lanes, occupying the space of pedestrians…Oh Yes! Barcelona! A wonderfull citty for all those who don't live in it…

  10. I ve been living in Barcelona since December 2016. The space dedicated for the use of pedestrians is amazing but there s another problem: Excluding the main tourist areas (e.g. Las Ramblas etc), pedestrians in Barcelona, INCLUDING LOCALS!, are not respectful to other pedestrians at all!! Despite big spaces dedicated for pedestrians on average, 5 or 4 people walking side by side not allowing any others or parents blocking the whole pavement while waiting for their children near a kindergarten (not letting even the disabled to pass) is a common behaviour. (Of course I m excluding main squares like Catalunya/Espanya). On the other hand, I have lived in and been to other (highly populated) cities with much smaller spaces allocated for pedestrians and witnessed people using pavements more respectfully and efficiently!

  11. I live in Barcelona and public transportation works great but it's expensive. But you can rent the public bikes that are way cheaper and they are electric so u can go where ever you want and super fast

  12. Truth is that it's so difficult to go by car by Barcelona (too many people too little space) that people just give up and go by train. You'll see mostly motorbikes and taxis.

  13. The superblocks are making life impossible for normal people and small businesses. "Manteros", extremely dangerous bicycle lanes and superblocks are killing our city. It's no longer a place to live but a showroom.

  14. Was in Barcelona. Amazing beautiful city. And re. pollution – best way to reduce it drastically – both emission and noise – EVs. And it is coming. Within like 20-25 years, I expect nearly 50% to 75% cars to become fully electric. Led by Tesla, EVs have a future now.

  15. I think that mentioning all the public transportation system (including the underground train system, buses and public bikes) would have added a lot of richness. It's the Best way to move around in Barcelona!

  16. Next time I make a video about Seattle or Chicago, I'm gonna play Nashville country music in the background, and see what happens.

  17. Can't speak for everyone but, living in Barcelona, from all my friends and acquaintances, I'd say about 70% of them do not own a car or if they do they don't use it in the city. Hopefully other cities can learn from good ideas like these!

  18. You should come visit Texas, here people take car from 1 parking spot to another parking spot in the same parking lot !

  19. Flamenco even if its not originary from Barcelona it is widely spread. Andalusians in Catalunya, rumba catalana, rosalia is from Badalona for example… dont complain from everything guys

  20. Barcelona is by far the best city that I've enjoyed as a pedestrian. You dont even realise that you're walking kilometres from one place to another

  21. Hey, I´m from Barcelona. Cities are still designed for cars. Those "beautiful" squares are pretty much a pain to walk around.

  22. To everyone saying that flamenco in Barcelona is like country music in New York, I can attest to the fact that we do have country music in New York (unfortunately)

  23. 4:45
    Imagine thinking anything that could make the world better has sunk in in the U.S. Ah, you sweet summer child.

  24. I lived in Barcelona and I loved walking on the streets because they were so relaxing…didn't realize there was this whole thing going on 😛

  25. in my country if we make like that gonna be reduce car but increase motorbike…. thats mini space gonna be heaven to motorbike user

  26. Logical… Now tell me how and when will Barcelona pay for the damages they have done on Africans or their ex colonies….

  27. Now i know why.
    I was in Barcelona last week and i was mad at the fact that to get to a point behind you 100 meters far you had to drive around huge blocks of buildings as no turns were allowed.
    You really had to travel a lot to make it to a close point behind you.
    Now it makes sense.

  28. The fact that US have more people walking around than people in my country and superblock didn't work in there make me hopeless with my country future

  29. Road trips are fun but driving in the city is another story. That's the reason why a lot of humans gain weight here in America, not suitable for walking.

  30. Something similar was made here in Buenos Aires (Argentina). Serch "microcentro peatonal" in Google and you will see how some streets at downtown were transform into pedestrian ways, with access only for pedestrians and bikes from 11am to 4pm. Also speed limit is 10km/h.

  31. We had a couple areas like this around me for as long as I've lived here. Then all of a sudden a couple years ago they cut roads right through the walking areas. I hate it and see no positive benefit from it. I felt like the cities destroyed some of their nicest areas by allowing cars. It made no sense why they got rid of them as they were areas regularly used for festivals and fairs over the summer.

  32. Or you have underground streets which in turn can make the above-ground more free for pedestrials, cyclists, and the occasional emergency vehicle such as police cars, firefighter trucks and ambulance vans. You can also build residences/homes underground, but this is more valid as semi-permanent shelters for homeless people, migrants and refugees. These people would be tax free, but their commodities are only an extension of any budge tied to maintaining the underground highway system. Underground parking would also exist, but such arrangements are part of the property of the above-ground dominion, not part of federal/national, provincial or municipal conditions unless the above-ground structure is owned by the federal/national, provincial or municipal government in some form or manner.

  33. America is an illegitimate country. It will never happen. Start over. Have a continental constitutional convention and form a new country.

  34. Oh! Reminds me of kabukicho! Im from Canada so the only thing ive seen similar to this concept is kabukicho, when i visited.

  35. This is so naive. Do you really think people will throw away cars just like that?
    That would be like Barcelona's mayor saying to drivers: "Hi, we're closing streets for cars. You've wasted 5 years of your lifetime saving money to buy one of those. Sorry."
    I don't get it.

  36. I'm a little confused, UK towns and cities already did this a long time ago, like back in the frigging 90's, long before 2016 when this video came out, they bricked over their town/city centres and turned them into mass pedestrian zones. Honestly feel like the world is decades behind the UK and they don't even realise it, thinking they're coming up with amazing new ideas when they're already being done.

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