In 1867 an unknown engineer in Barcelona, Ildefons Cerdà, essentially invented urbanism with his General Theory of Urbanization. His ideas were extreme and unprecedented; he wanted gardens in the middle of each block, equal access to services for the rich and the poor, and wider streets. Marta Bausells, writing in the Guardian, describes his success and prescience:
Eixample remains a prominent part of Barcelona’s image today: the octagonal blocks, chamfered in the corners, were his unique idea to deal with traffic, allowing drivers to see more easily what was happening to the left and right. Cars hadn’t even been invented yet – but when Cerdà discovered railways: “He realised there would be some sort of small machines moved by steam that each driver could stop in front of their house,” Permanyer explains. Even today, this design makes traffic circulation infinitely easier in Eixample.
Alas, that traffic circulation is almost too easy. Now the roads are full of cars, pollution and noise. In most cities, there are main arteries and quieter side streets, but in Barcelona they are almost all the same.
So now they are going to be turned into “superblocks” with a hierarchy of streets, with each superblock surrounded by higher speed streets where cars and trucks can travel at 50 km/hr (About 30 MPH) while within the blocks, cars and trucks are limited to a measly 10 km/hr or 6 MPH- really a crawl. Marta Bausells in the Guardian again:
The objectives are ambitious; by implementing these strategies at once, the city wants to reduce car use by 21% over the next two years and increase mobility by foot, bike and public transport. Superblocks will be complemented by the introduction of 300km of new cycling lanes (there are currently around 100km), as well as an orthogonal bus network that has already been put in place, whereby buses only navigate a series of main thoroughfares.
Each superblock houses about 5,000 people, and will be treated essentially like a small town. Planner Salvador Rueda notes that “Every superblock is like a small city with its own character….I’m already fantasizing with neighbourhood-organised inflatable swimming pools in the summer.”
Looking from North America, where anything that might remove a lane of traffic or a few parking spaces in favour of bikes or pedestrians is seen as a war on the car, one can only be green with envy.