The implementation of the Superblocks programme in Barcelona: Filling our streets with life.
City/Region : Barcelona City Council , Spain

The Superblock model is a way of organizing the city based on reversing the distribution of public space among vehicles and people, giving priority to the citizens to improve environmental conditions and people’s quality of life.

Superblocks are new urban units, larger than a block, but smaller than a neighbourhood. The implementation of superblocks is part of the Urban Mobility Plan, which is aimed at reducing private traffic by 21% and increasing the use of bicycles, public transport and walking.

This functional restructuring of Barcelona enables people to retake public areas generating a public space full of life.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationUrban mobilityBiodiversity
Water resources and air qualityClimate changePublic space
Social inclusion and integration
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Accelerate sustainability and innovation through public procurement
2.Poblenou Superblock_More green areas-min

Barcelona is a dense, compact city, with all the benefits this entails with regard to travel needs and efficiency in the use of natural resources. Compact cities have numerous social and environment advantages: local approaches; minimal use of the territory; public transport and inter-activity relations; less energy waste etc. But there has to be a limit to such compactness and we need to know the optimal point for the city residents' quality of life and the city's quality of public spaces. At the same time, we need to be aware of certain flaws that urgently have to be made good: air-pollution levels; traffic noise; road-accident rates; lack of greenery; quality of spaces for interacting, etc.

The establishment of the Superblock Model in Barcelona bases its guidelines and criteria mainly on several municipal sector plans and commitments - Barcelona Commitment to Climate, Urban Mobility Plan, Green and Biodiversity Plan etc.

In Action
4.Poblenou Superblock_Tactical Urbanism-min

The first Superblock was established in 2003 in Vila de Gràcia. The theory of the implicit advantages in reorganising the city has been perfected, though little progress has been made in its implementation. The implementation of the Superblock Programme also includes the work carried out in four areas of the city under the Superblock Programme for 2012-2015.  These first initiatives are intended to be carried out under two major lines of work: citizen empowerment and tactical urban planning.

The strategic goals that characterise the Superblock Programme can be summarised in the following four points:

  • Improving the habitability of public spaces;
  • Moving towards more sustainable mobility;
  • Increasing and improving urban greenery and biodiversity;
  • Promoting public participation and joint responsibility.

The main stakeholders during all the process of programme implementation are the territory's local residents, associations and civil society groups, city associations, districts, Area of Ecology, Urban Planning and Mobility (City Council) and Experts.

Regarding the general methodology of development, participation and implementation of the programme, there are two levels: city and local. On a city level the methodology includes: work on different networks (bicycle lanes, public transportation), work on the street typology (main, local, neighbourhood street) and civic axes with the Public Health Agency, defining indicators to measure, the definition of a Tactical Urbanism Design Kit, and others.

By local level we consider the work on a specific Superblock area in different phases: In the first phase a definition and analysis of the area is completed, then internal work by the Technical Secretariat, followed by collaboration with the district and then work with the promotional group. The second phase includes the process of participation with specific groups and local residents and approval of an Action Plan. The final phase includes drafting the projects with suitable protocol and participation according to type of initiative and as a final stage the implementation of the initiatives.

“This plan sums up the essence of urban ecology. Our objective is for Barcelona to be a city in which to live … Public spaces need to be spaces to play, where green is not an anecdote – where the neighbourhood’s history and local life have a presence” says Janet Sanz, City Councillor for Ecology, Urbanism and Mobility and Deputy Mayor of the city.  Superblocks to the rescue: Barcelona’s plan to give streets back to residents. Article at The Guardian

3.Poblenou Superblock_Sustainable Mobility-min

Barcelona is working on the implementation of various strategies in order to achieve its commitment of a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The implementation of both Superblocks and the Urban Mobility Plan is a radical way of tackling this challenge, as 27.8% of the city's CO2e emissions are generated from mobility.

The air quality in the area after the Poblenou Superblock implementation, for evaluated pollutants using a mobile unit, has been very good during the campaign made and has not surpassed the targets set by the air quality legislation. (Evaluated pollutants: sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, Ozone, PM10)

Barcelona is also a city with significant lack of public space and green areas, so-called citizen spaces. With adoption of the Barcelona Climate Commitment (2015), the city aims at increasing its urban green areas by 1.6 km2, i.e. by 1 m2 per current city resident by 2030. After the Poblenou superblock implementation, the space for pedestrians has increased by 8,600 m2 (9.4%).

In addition to improving air quality in the districts, a significant improvement in acoustic comfort is expected, as noise is a serious problem faced by the people living in all city districts. In terms of acoustic comfort, from the Poblenou superblock, the noise levels of the pathways points have matched those of noise maps, except for streets at the Llacuna - Tànger intersection, where there is a small increase of night period levels. At two intersections values ​​have declined significantly, reaching a reduction between 6 and 10 dB in daytime and evening. In the night period the reduction is between 3 and 7 dB.


In general all the actions proposed in the first phase of Superblock implementation correspond to the aims of improvement of the habitability and the mobility of existing public space. Barcelona is a city with almost 100% of its territory consolidated, and therefore it needs to be rehabilitated and not re-built.

In this context, the long-term impact is expected as a result of the following actions:
1. Improving habitability: increasing pedestrians space, creating more green areas, creating spaces for leisure and social interaction, using permeable and sustainable materials;
2. Rationalise the vehicle mobility: reducing the transit of private vehicles, reducing the capacity of the roads, improving public transport, expanding bike lanes, and making pedestrian walkways more pleasant.

  • Impact 1: pollution reduction, noise reduction, increased presence of nature, better temperature control, improvement of local life and living conditions, co-responsibility in management and maintenance, citizen's appropriation of public space (which leads to Impact 2);
  • Impact 2: improving the physical and mental health of citizens (this leads to Impact 3);
  • Impact 3: improvement of integration, better productivity, improvement of security, improvement of the quality of life.

The Superblocks Programme is now in the process of implementation in the Poblenou, Horta and Sant Antoni neighbourhoods. The last two ones are developing participatory processes with neighbours to define the Superblock Action Plan. This plan helps the Promotional Group (Grup Impulsor), which monitors and validates the project with the most affected demographics (commercial sector, youth…) and also organises an open day where the whole neighbourhood can participate. It was also important to take into account the resistance to tactical urbanism, which was considered by citizens as fast and temporary.

Challenges and lessons learned
5.Poblenou Superblock_Aerial view of the square-min

In the case of the Poblenou Superblock, we performed the participation once it was implemented. Thus, we conducted an evaluation process with neighbours of the Superblock after it was already in operation. This process led us to several lessons learned about the importance of participation and the implementation phase of the Superblock. Most importantly, there is a need for participation before applying a theoretical model to reality. It is necessary to take into account the “territorial experience” that citizens have, which always modifies the theoretical proposal. The important lesson learned is to try to combine structural and tactical actions in action plans.



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