Most of the streets through central Barcelona will be car-free in the next decade, according to a new plan from the city government that aims to decrease traffic and air pollution and prioritize pedestrians. In 2016, Barcelona introduced the concept of a ‘superblock’, called ‘superilles’ in Catalan, which re-routes vehicle traffic to the outskirts of an area, leaving the interior open for pedestrians, playgrounds, plazas and pick-up football games. This idea is now expanding to more areas in the city, and 21 streets in Barcelona’s L'Eixample neighborhood will be transformed into a new superblock. Work is slated to begin in 2022.

Some vehicles will still be allowed to access the area, but only for residents, deliveries and essential services. The streets will be planted with more trees and more space will be given over to pedestrians. The work in 2016 in the Poblenou district converted nine city blocks into a superblock, but the implementation is L'Eixample is much larger and in a more central – and touristed – area. Because of the size of this superblock, it will likely be introduced in stages and could face fierce protests from motorists.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona © Orbon Alija / Getty Images

‘Think of the new city for the present and the future, with less pollution, new mobility and new public space,’ Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau said.

The mayor’s grand plan is to introduce superblocks across the entire city, though no deadline has been set. A 2019 study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found nearly 700 premature deaths could be prevented every year if all 503 superblocks were created from the original plan. 

Cities around the world are taking inspiration from Barcelona’s superblocks, including in the United States, where a proposal was introduced in Seattle last year to adopt the scheme for a six-block area in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

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