Barcelona wants to reduce air pollution with car-free “superblocks”

The city of Barcelona has launched a highly ambitious ten-year plan to close some of its streets to cars and reduce pollution, while increasing the number of green spaces and public squares. 

In the highly polluted central Eixample district, whose grid-shaped layout was designed in the late 19th century by the engineer Ildefons Cerdà, one in three streets will be turned into a green zone, giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists. 21 public squares will be created at intersections, so that no resident will be more than 200 meters from a square or a small park. 

This plan, whose cost is estimated at 37.8 million euros over the next ten years, is set to solve the chronic lack of public space and tackle the equally chronic air pollution. It represents a radical extension of the so-called “superblocks” policy introduced in 2016. 

Dissuading car use 

“Superblocks” are groups of nine city blocks closed to through traffic with plant pots and benches. Inside these blocks, everything is done to dissuade people from using cars, with green spaces, play areas, and cycle lanes installed in parking spaces. 

Six “superblocks” exist to date, eleven more are planned over the coming years, and more than 500 if the plan is carried out in its entirety. They offer an oasis of tranquility in a city that counts 6,000 cars per square kilometer, not including vans and motorcycles, the highest rate in the European Union. 

In terms of nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution, Barcelona almost never meets the exposure limits set by the EU and the World Health Organization. For instance, the nitrogen dioxide level regularly exceeds 47 micrograms per cubic meter in much of the city, whereas the WHO’s safety threshold is 40 µg/m3.

Like other European cities, Barcelona has been practicing “tactical urbanism” due to the Covid-19 epidemic, expanding sidewalks, temporarily closing streets, and removing parking spaces. The city also created 29 km of additional cycle lanes and now has a 240-km network. 


Barcelona Will Supersize its Car-Free ‘Superblocks’, Bloomberg City Lab, November 11, 2020 -