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Once constricted by medieval walls, industrial developments, and a busy port; today an urbanism success story imagined by the engineer Ildefons Cerdà, the inventor of the general theory of urbanization. This week’s Urban Series features Barcelona, whose “city-building remains one of the best models in the world,” according to CityLab.

The capital of the dynamic Catalonia has thrived amid the economic, environmental and social changes of the last decades “by focusing upon the provision of knowledge-based and information services to place itself at the forefront of a new urban wave,” says the Barcelona Field Studies Centre. In short, it has achieved this by emphasizing city planning that creates high-quality opportunities for people to live and work.


Cerdà’s vision of a city with gardens in every block and infrastructure providing equal access to services for the rich and the poor today prevails, and Barcelona reminds urbanists across the globe that the little details matter more.

The city aims to be composed of superblocks, each housing about 5,000 people and having a hierarchy of streets. explains this strategy. “Each superblock is surrounded by higher-speed streets where cars and trucks can travel at 50km/hr (about 30mph) while within the blocks, cars and trucks are limited to a measly 10km/hr or 6mph—really a crawl.”

Martha Bausells writing for The Guardian points out that the city aims to decrease the use of cars by 21 percent over the next couple of years, to foster mobility by foot, bike and public transportation. “The Catalan capital’s radical new strategy will restrict traffic to a number of big roads, drastically reducing pollution and turning secondary streets into ‘citizen spaces’ for culture, leisure and the community,” says Bausells. To achieve this, CityLab explains that urban biking is growing fast, given that the locals-only bike-share system and bike lanes improve safety, thus encouraging the use of this mode of transport.


Photo CCO Creative Commons

Barcelona is also a pioneer in sustainability, with a strong climate change commitment. According to CO.DESIGN, the city is “a major innovator, introducing a solar thermal ordinance in 2000 that requires all new buildings over a certain size to generate hot water from solar thermal energy.” Similarly, the initiative LIVE Barcelona promotes electric vehicles usage and currently more than 200 EV charging stations can be found throughout the city.

Barcelona has evolved into a metropolis that continuously adjusts to the changing dynamics of its inhabitants. Mexico, too, has densely populated cities often suffocated by traffic, pollution and several other urbanism challenges. Like Barcelona, a strong and innovative city planning model is needed, as the city is an urbanism success story constantly in the making,” according to CityLab. As for Mexico, the key is to also strive to rethink its urban design to better serve the people and build cities for the people.

To learn more about the Urban Blog Series, go to Mexico Infrastructure & Sustainability Blog, and read about Medellin, Melbourne and Tokyo.

For more information about Barcelona’s sustainability model and urban planning, watch the following video.



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