The city of Barcelona has been supporting the implementation of "superblocks" in its territory since 2016. Each superblock consists of three blocks of buildings on top of three others. Within these urban spaces, priority is given to pedestrians, mobility is calmed and vegetation is more present. The Poblenou 'superblock' pilot project, located in a working-class neighbourhood, was strongly criticised at the time of its launch for its lack of a public participation process during the design phase.
A year later, the municipality launched a public consultation to create a 'green axis' - generation 2 of the 'superblocks' - in the Sant Antoni district. The work will be completed in 2019, and an evaluation of the project will be carried out with the residents in 2021. The project will save 29,000 m² of public space. At the end of 2020, Barcelona City Council announces 21 new green axes and 21 squares, all located in the Eixample district. Work on four projects will begin this summer.
On the green axis of Sant Antoni, a central neighbourhood in the Eixample district, the speed limit is 10km/h for all vehicles. Cars are allowed, but must share the lane.
This superposition of mobilities regularly causes some conflicts, particularly between cars and pedestrians: "there have been problems of cohabitation, due to a lack of respect for the norms by certain vehicles, but also due to a lack of signage and information", according to Julia Goula Mejón, Associate Architect of the Equal Saree agency. Efforts on signage are planned for the future green streets of Barcelona planned for 2022.
To slow down the pace of the street, the project designers also had to think in terms of the neighbourhood and even the city. "It was essential to work on the traffic plans for public transport, two-wheelers, cars and pedestrians throughout the Eixample district at the same time," explains Ariadna Miquel, Director of Urban Strategy at the Barcelona City Council's Chief Architect's Office, "we had to reconcile the city council's vision with the city's transport network. The green streets are an element, a link, of this infrastructure".
A joint project
Lessons were learned from Poblenou. For the Sant Antoni project, Barcelona City Council has relied on the strong involvement of citizens. They were involved from the outset through a group of 40 representatives of the street's associations and traders. During the 14 months of public consultation, the so-called "impulsor" group re-evaluated the outline of the project with the city council before presenting it to the residents. "These representatives helped us to explain our work", recalls Ariadna Miquel, "they were the ones who went to meet the inhabitants, who explained our decisions and that helped us a lot".
During the assemblies or workshops in smaller groups, the project evolved. "For example, thanks to the participation process, it was decided by consensus not to change the direction of the streets because people did not understand these changes in mobility", says Ariadna Miquel, "we have reduced the ambition of our project, but it has become possible".
For Julia Goula Mejón: "the Sant Antoni project is extremely interesting because it has reached the evaluation stage". And all the more so, "after having been subject to citizen participation from the beginning and throughout the design process with sessions with neighbours".
A "positive perception"
"As an architectural firm, we conducted evaluation sessions. It was about a year after the works and it was extremely interesting to share the positive perceptions of the neighbours in the area", says Julia Goula Mejón.
Among the benefits cited by the neighbours, "they like the quiet street and the perception of safety increases because there is much more life in the street at different times, and the fact that there are fewer cars improves visibility. There is a kind of informal surveillance because there are always people on the street". Women's outings have also been organised to explore gender issues and implications.
Furniture for new uses
The permanent street furniture in Sant Antoni has increased the bill for Barcelona City Council, which has spent a total of 7 million euros on the project. This is much more than the Poblenou superblock, which was designed with only temporary street furniture. In Sant Antoni, the street is divided into two parts, one with permanent furniture, the other with temporary furniture, easily dismantled and designed to create new uses for passers-by and residents, a type of urban planning described as "tactical".
In the first part of the green street, the urban furniture is more traditional. The benches, for example, are the same as in the rest of the city. In the tactical part, the furniture is more innovative, more inclusive. Ground markings give colour to the street, design games for children, always with the aim of bringing out new ways of "living" the street. "We are freer in the tactical part. Since we installed chess tables, every afternoon the inhabitants of the city meet to play", reports Ariadna Miquel.
The "street of classes"
Located in the tourist heart of Barcelona, the green street of Sant Antoni is often accused of encouraging the gentrification of the area. "When we improve public space, it is clear that there is a risk of gentrification, which is why projects must be designed with a real social housing policy in mind. As it has become particularly attractive for restaurants and bars to set up in a pacified street in Sant Antoni, we have prohibited the establishment of any new shops in the street's usage plan," explains Ariadna Miquel, Director of Urban Strategy at the office of the Chief Architect of Barcelona City Council.
Another risk put forward was that of creating first-class streets that would benefit the most and second-class streets that would suffer the most, concentrating more vehicle movements, waste storage and the consequences on air quality.
However, during the evaluation sessions one year after the launch of the project, "neighbours have expressed dissatisfaction, but they are also very happy to have access to a peaceful, friendly and lively space right next door. In the future design of the new green axes, it will be crucial to take into account the perimeter of the urban project so as not to transfer all the problems to it," warns Julia Goula Mejón, Associate Architect of the Equal Saree agency.
A question of participation!
The concept of superblocks or green axes could easily be exported, according to Ariadna Miquel: "I see them as a flexible and adaptable tool for different urban and social fabrics. Everything is possible by studying the territory, and above all by building the project with its inhabitants and stakeholders. We were regularly present directly in the street to explain the Sant Antoni project and invite passers-by to join the meetings, and one of the keys to remember from this experience is the importance of being able to count on committed citizens to keep the project alive."
Next steps in Barcelona? At the end of 2020, the City Council presented 21 new squares and 21 new green streets to come in the Eixample district. Four of these green streets were the subject of calls for entries, which were won by teams made up of residents, entrepreneurs and local and international architectural agencies. Their work will begin in the summer of 2022. For Ariadna Miquel, "Sant Antoni has been a pilot project for green routes and will be used to propose vegetation, to work better with the ground, to have more shade and more uses thanks to the street furniture in the future calmed streets".
At the same time, the City Council has also launched a participatory process to rethink and redefine the usage plan of Eixample, the district that will host these future green axes.
An article written by Grégoire Brethomé - Construction21