Barcelona Superblocks: How Power and Politics Shape Transformational Adaptation


Barcelona Superblocks: How Power and Politics Shape Transformational Adaptation

Green Inequalities (BCNUEJ)

When it comes to urban development, the new word on everyone's lips, in tandem with resilience, is adaptation. As the vulnerability of cities to the effects of climate change increases, so does the urgency for more radical, transformational adaptation policy, which challenges unsustainable development in a radical way by connecting adaptation and mitigation effects through large-scale, non-linear interventions within a system that itself produces climate change and social vulnerability. 


From a scholarly standpoint, critical urban adaptation studies like those of Chu (2017) or Shi et al. (2016) question the neoliberal design and politically neutral character of adaptation strategies. Despite louder calls from academia for transformational adaptation, only a small number of cities undertake this in practice, if any adaptation strategy is planned by the government at all. How can we explain this gap between the reality of climate research and the everyday processes of urban politics and planning? What are the constraints preventing municipalities from planning and implementing transformational interventions?


Barcelona's Superblock Model

Lessons can be learned, with respect to these questions, from Barcelona's superblock intervention, a transformational project that challenges the current model of urban development by employing radical changes in the urban infrastructure in order to mitigate carbon emissions and respond to climate-change induced problems like the urban heat island effect


A superblock ("superilla" in Catalan) is a traffic-regulated 3x3 cell of nine city blocks designed to divert cars to its perimeter and maximize public space in its interior. Garnering international media attention, the project is part of Barcelona's large-scale New Urban Mobility Plan 2013-2018 (NUMP) which seeks to divide the city into a total of 503 superblocks. So ambitious is its goal of drastically reorganizing urban mobility infrastructure, that it represents a new urban model: reducing traffic of private cars by 21%, converting 60 % of the space occupied by cars into public space, diminishing noise contamination, reducing the city's 3,500 premature deaths per year attributed to air pollution, and cutting down CO2 emissions per capita by 40%.



Full article: Green inequalities (BCNUEJ)