A new study predicts that Barcelona's revolutionary plan to return nearly 70% of street space to citizens could prevent hundreds of premature deaths every year.
Back in 2016, Barcelona revealed a sustainable urban mobility plan for the city. By reclaiming 70% of street space from cars for pedestrians and cyclists in designated areas, the city could transform them into mixed-use public spaces or "superblocks" as they're called. CityLab describes them as "square sections of the city’s grid made up of nine actual blocks, with a combined area of just under 40 acres, where through traffic is permitted only on perimeter roads."
The first superblock was implemented in the neighbourhood of Poblenou in 2017. While it initially met some resistance from business owners and motorists, residents soon began to appreciate the extra safe space they had for walking and socialising. Local business in the neighbourhood actually increased by 30% and it brought significant changes to the quality of life in the neighbourhood. Its success spawned five more superblocks in the Catalan capital with a wider goal to implement 503 in total.
A new study published in the journal Environment International offers some compelling evidence supporting the health benefits of superblocks. Carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), the study found that the superblocks could prevent 667 premature deaths every year and increase the life expectancy for the average Barcelona resident by 200 days. Notable health benefits include reductions in air pollution, traffic noise and urban heat in a city that is plagued by contaminants and noise.
The superblocks plan would also increase the number of green spaces in what is a densely populated city with few public parks. In the L'Eixample district alone, an area with only 1.3 sq metres of green space per resident, researchers predict that more vegetation would prevent 60 premature deaths a year.
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"What we want to show with this study is that we have to go back and put the citizen at the centre of ... urban plans, because the health impacts are quite considerable," said lead author and ISGlobal researcher Natalie Mueller.