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Barcelona’s acclaimed Superblocks are at a crossroad. Now, just a year since the new Mayor and team have taken the helm of city hall, there is serious doubt about the continuity of the project. What is the future of Barcelona’s Superblocks project, and what have we learned thus far?

These questions were at the center of the workshop Lessons from Superblocks in Barcelona: What is next? hosted at ICTA-UAB in collaboration with Professor Tahia Devisscher the University of British Columbia. Our aim was to review lessons learned, share our research and think about what is next. Barcelona’s Superblocks have been an idea in constant evolution and this flexible and experimental nature of the Superblocks program is precisely its strength.

The workshop pulled together experts in transportation, public health, economic, political science, architecture and urban design. It was a privilege to have so many experts in the room reflecting on the past and future of Barcelona’s Superblock initiative. I aim to summarize a few  highlights below, but first I want to tackle the larger question of: what is the future of Barcelona’s Superblocks?

Barcelona’s Superblocks: What is their future?

The question about the future of Barcelona’s Superblocks needs to be divided into two parts. First there is the question about the future of pedestrianization strategy, people-oriented street design, and the city’s Green Axis plan. The second question is about the future of the brand “Superblock Barcelona” which has international name recognition. These are different questions: the future of the Superblocks strategy and the future of the Superblock brand.  The new city leadership would be wise to protect and continue both, although this outcome is not clear. Killing them at the same time would be a serious mistake, and mark a major stain on the legacy of Mayor Collboni and his team.

For a brief moment in 2023 the city pulled the plug on the Superblocks website, which was put back online only after an outcry from city staff. Therefore, it is entirely unclear which direction the new city leadership will take us. These are questions that are likely to be decided by the senior leadership team, Mayor Jaume Collboni, Deputy Mayor Laia Bonet and City Architect Maria Bohigas. And yet this decision will have important repercussions that go far beyond Barcelona’s city boundaries.

What is the future of Barcelona’s Superblock brand?

The City of Barcelona has built international name recognition with the Superblock brand. City planners from around the world have turned to Barcelona’s Superblocks as a model for innovative urban design and street transformation. The project has earned Barcelona prestige, credibility, and admiration. Architects and urban planners around the world have an image imprinted in their minds when you say “Barcelona’s Superblocks” and this image is overwhelmingly positive: Innovative, creative, tactical, pedestrian-friendly, bold, transformative, people-first, and neighborhood planning.

In terms of innovative people-centered street design, Barcelona’s the leadership has already been established. The Mayor and team often talk about restoring Barcelona’s leadership in the world, therefore it would be contradictory to walk away from an area where Barcelona is already a leader.

The Superblock brand is a valuable asset for the city, and it would be a major mistake for the Mayor to walk away or bury this idea, simply because the new mayor needs political distance between himself from the previous administration. In other words, a city asset might be torn-up simply for political posturing.

Some detractors are willing to dump the Superblock brand and now simply speak about urban greenspaces. Even members of the research community have shown their willingness to go along with the new Mayor and bury the Superblock brand. In preparation for the workshop, some voices urged us to eliminate the word “Superblock” from the title of workshop, substituting it for “urban greening” or something more general, citing the new city administration as a reason to no longer talk about Superblocks.  Just as it would be a mistake for the city leadership to move on and away from Superblocks, so too would it be a mistake if the research community moved on. Barcelona would lose too much too quickly, and the research community should not bend too easily to the new political winds of the new Mayor and team.

Purists and detractors may point out the that most recent expression of Superblocks on Consell de Cent already diverges from the three-by-three archetype neighborhood unit originally envisioned by Salvador Rueda and his team at BCN Ecologia. However, the Green Axis project remains loyal to the core values of pedestrianization, urban greening and putting people first. In fact, the green axis plan makes critical a scalar leap from the 3 by 3 block to the entire Eixample, inviting residents to envision a future with a walkable Eixample neighbhood in which all streets have re-oriented themselves to put people first. Importantly, the executed green axes plan in the second mandate of Mayor Colau have conquered four traffic intersections, converting them into four new public spaces. The importance of this transformation cannot be understated, and perhaps it is still too recent to appreciate the magnitude and historical significance of this achievement. Once we have seen the transformation of four Eixample intersections, it becomes inevitable to ask why we cannot transform more of them, if not all?

And yet, the program is at a major crossroads, because if the City kills the program, this may have been the last workshop on Barcelona’s Superblocks as we know it.

Simon de Boeck from the University of Antwerp talked about the Superblocks program as an unfinished paradigm shift. He quoted Ada Colau and Antoni Gramsci that described a new life that has not entirely been born and and old world that has not yet died.

Entre un viejo mundo que no acaba de morir y un mundo nuevo que no acaba de nacer, así están las cosas. Colau, opinion in El País, June 16, 2024

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, pp. 275–6, 1930


Workshop Speakers 

Superblocks in Barcelona: A Review

Jordi Honey-Rosés, City Lab Barcelona, ICTA-UAB [PDF Presentation]

Barcelona superblocks: intra-neighbourhood equity and resident perception

Samuel Nel.lo Deakin, Departament de Geografia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

[PDF Presentation]

Changing the urban design of cities for health: The Superblock Model

Natalie Mueller, IS Global

Modeling the impact of Barcelona’s Eixos Verds Plan

Tamara Iugman, IS Global

Barcelona’s Superblocks: an unfinished policy paradigm shift

Simon de Boeck, University of Antwerp

[PDF Presentation]

Customer satisfaction with urban greening in the Sant Antoni Superblock

Juan Pablo Filippini, IESE

Green axes: a new way of thinking about the organization of the city

Francesc Magrinyà, Universitat Politecnica de Barcelona (UPC)

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