Convivial Experiments in Car-Free Urbanism
Zoning policies that create pedestrianised areas for green space, community events, cycling, and walking within highly dense urban spaces of Barcelona, resulting in an improvement of both environmental and social aspects of life in the city


Cars dominate most cities, consuming public spaces with roads, causing congestion that delays public transport, polluting the air, increasing noise levels, and endangering people and wildlife in traffic. Recognising this problem, an environmental researcher working for Barcelona’s city council set out to create an alternative urban plan in 1987.


The researcher, Salvador Rueda, proposed the creation of “superblocks” (superilles in Catalan) to cluster several blocks into pedestrianised areas. Conducting numerous tests, including experiments in recording sound levels emitted by traffic, Rueda demonstrated cars’ infringement on pedestrians’ daily life and safety. Rethinking the city as a shared public domain rich with green space, Rueda clustered nine city blocks into one superblock measuring three blocks by three. This plan created walkable spaces where vehicle access was restricted to deliveries and bicycles.

Barcelona adopted Rueda’s plan in 1993, first trialling it in the city’s Gràcia and Eixample districts in 2003. Eixample was the perfect testing ground, as it comprises a grid of streets designed in the late 19th century with an ambition for the democratic distribution of green space and housing stock.1Marta Bausells, ‘Superblocks to the Rescue: Barcelona’s Plan to Give Streets Back to Residents’, The Guardian (17 May 2016) <> [accessed 2 December 2022]. Decades after its construction, Eixample choked with cars, but the superblocks scheme radically regulates this. Six other neighbourhoods followed Eixample in creating superblocks, including Sant Martí, which largely follows Eixample’s grid pattern. Through gradual interventions such as changing road signs and bus routes, the superblocks repurpose existing infrastructure, transforming their roads into playgrounds, green spaces, and locations for sports, entertainment, and social gatherings. Superblocks are also accompanied by the introduction of new cycling lanes across Barcelona to further disincentivise car use.

While Barcelona’s implementation of the superblock scheme has received criticism for displacing traffic to other areas of the city, thus exacerbating differences in qualities of life within the city,2C40 Cities, ‘The Implementation of the Superblocks Programme in Barcelona: Filling Our Streets with Life’ (2018) <> [accessed 5 December 2022]. the scheme’s potential for further development, with greater consideration of equality and access, is promising. As an experiment in imagining otherwise, superblocks are exemplary in envisioning an urban fabric whose social structure is transformed by the spatial change of removing cars.


External links

Low Traffic Neighborhoods (LTNs)—temporary measures introduced by the government in the UK to reduce traffic in residential areas 

Ciclovía Bogota—closing streets to cars on Sundays and holidays allows residents to walk, cycle, play, and enjoy various activities, a concept that has inspired similar initiatives in other cities and countries, e.g. Germany’s Spielstraßen (play streets) 

Woonerf (living the street)—a Dutch urban planning concept which promotes a shared street where pedestrians, cyclists, and slow-moving vehicles have priority