“The project includes complementarity with other mobility, social and housing support policies.”
David Escude, Councillor for Sports, Barcelona City Council
Three questions for David Escude, City Council’s Commissioner for Sport
1. The world is watching Barcelona’s superblocks experience with increasing interest, above all, in the context of global warming. What are the strengths of your model and what could be replicated/exported to other cities?
It is a strategy for implementing the new city model, based on health, people … an opportunity to rethink how the public space model should be, introduce sustainability and resilience measures, introduce a green approach and reflect on the uses that can occur, once the main occupant of the street – road traffic – has been eliminated.
The whole project is about having a model that adapts to the physical and social reality of each territory and takes into account political support and participation. It includes complementarity with other mobility, social and housing support policies.
2. Superblocks induce increased physical activity and mobility, improved health and reduced pollution. In terms of Barcelona’s sport policy, how are superblocks integrated/ articulated?
The superblock is in its first phase of implementation. Although it has already incorporated sport-dedicated areas or quality equipment, this has all been done in an experimental context. From the point of view of the sports policy in Barcelona, where a very high percentage of its citizens use public spaces as sports fields, we consider it beneficial to repurpose road surfaces for physical activity. Walking, running, skating or cycling are clearly given preference within safe urban spaces, especially for children. It is more complex to integrate sports practice super islands which use balls or occupy the same space for a period of time. The urban configuration of some city streets will nevertheless allow us to find locations where we can include in urban areas surfaces for the development of sports with more complex needs and guarantee their coexistence with other more relaxed activities or those using less space. The municipal government is willing to increase the number of urban sports activity areas to encourage the occupation of nearby public space that allows for the practicing of recreational and popular sports.
3. Inspiration may lead to action. What are the lessons learnt from the first superblocks and what would you say to cities interested in your model in order to convince them?
It is very important to have in-depth knowledge of the physical and social fabric. It requires a lot of work with the agents involved as well as flexibility when implementing the model. The time factor has to be taken into account when planning. It is not necessary to implement all measures at the same time, but it is essential to have a comprehensive vision, a final objective and to gradually implement measures. This project implies a multidisciplinary approach. Working with social agents is also part of the solution. It is necessary to be patient and to wait a certain amount of time before evaluating the level of acceptance of the changes.
We need to measure and to have adequate indicators in order to do so. Figures help us support the changes that are being implemented in a slightly more objective way. And if some innovations don’t work, we must be flexible and change the solution, while always being very clear about the objective. There are many ways to achieve the desired model, no one is necessarily better than another, but it is necessary that the models fit the physical and social realities of the territory.
To learn more about Superblocks
“Barcelona’s radical plan to take back streets from cars”, David Roberts, Vox, A five-part series
2020 Smart Cities & Sport Publication