Here come the Superblocks

Barcelona’s Superblocks have made headlines around the world. Made up of nine city blocks by closing off transit traffic and known for radically changing urban mobility concepts with its ambitious goal to free up to 60% of the traffic area for multifunctional ‘citizen spaces’ and green infrastructure to tackle air pollution and the urban heat island effect, the Superblocks are part of a complex urban model promoted by the Barcelona Agency of Urban Ecology in its Ecosystemic Urbanism charter.

Pilot Project Superblock in Poblenou Barcelona
Pilot Project: Superblock in Poblenou (Photo: Agència d’Ecologia Urbana)

The charter calls for the recognition of cities as key players in addressing the challenges of climate change and a growing population. Changes in parameters of governance and regulatory frameworks as well as institutional and economic structures are required to give cities the control – and the budget – to drive the urban transformation.

Ecosystemic Urbanism Principles
Ecosystemic Urbanism Principles (Credit: Agència d’Ecologia Urbana)

The Ecosystemic Urbanism model represents a holistic idea of the city as an ecosystem that is defined by relationships, restrictions and proportions. Its characteristics are a compact morphology and urban functionality, a complex organisation in terms of mixed uses and biodiversity, metabolic efficiency in form of flow of materials, water and energy, and – most importantly – social cohesion.

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A human-centred approach

What sets it apart from other eco-city models is a human-centred approach with the human being at the heart of the urban ecosystem, that stresses the importance of the relationships of the citizens with each other and the city itself.

The urban model is scalable and can be applied to new developments and the urban regeneration of compact inner-city suburbs and low-density settlements. The 16-20ha sized Superblock has proven the smallest possible urban ecosystem to achieve the principles of mobility, social infrastructure, density and self-sufficiency. The Superblock is key to the successful implementation of the model as due to its size it is the ideal testing field to trial and adapt the strategy, which allows for tangible and immediate results. Its neighbourhood scale can also foster a bottom-up approach and local citizen engagement. As the pilot projects in Barcelona have shown, a flexible approach, community involvement and retaining the social balance are vital for urban regeneration and the success of the model.