• Written by Patrick Love, Hon Senior Fellow, Transport Health and Urban Design (THUD) Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne

The Spanish city of Barcelona has pioneered an innovative approach to managing traffic, freeing up public space and promoting walking and cycling. The “superblocks” model produces considerable health and economic benefits, according to newly published research, and could be applied in Australian cities too.

So how does this model work? Large “superblocks” covering an area of around 400m by 400m are created from residential blocks of 150m by 150m. These residential blocks are currently surrounded by normal busy streets.

The superblocks model explained. Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona 2013-2018

Outside the superblocks, the city’s normal through traffic is accommodated on streets with a maximum speed of 50km/h. Within the superblocks, cars are banned or restricted to 20km/h, priority is given to walking and cycling, and open space is reclaimed or created from parking.

Read more: How traffic signals favour cars and discourage walking

In 2016, Barcelona started creating ‘superblocks’ that are transforming life in the affected neighbourhoods.

These priorities accord closely with the goals of growing Australian cities that are struggling to preserve liveability in the face of increasing congestion and density. While current urban designs for new suburbs across Australia are an improvement on post-war suburban residential developments, the results are still unsatisfactory.

Residents of these new outer suburbs typically depend heavily on cars. They have limited (if any) public transport access and scant opportunity to walk or cycle to local amenities. Urban sprawl means commuting times and distances continue to increase, traffic congestion worsens and transport emissions rise.

Residents of these suburbs have poorer economic and health outcomes relative to the whole population.

Read more: City-by-city analysis shows our capitals aren’t liveable for many residents

What are the benefits of superblocks?

In light of these issues, Mark Stevenson collaborated with researchers from the Barcelona Institute of Global Health to explore the superblocks model and its potential benefits for Australian cities. Their research, published in Environment International, found the associated benefits in Barcelona are considerable.

Premature mortality rates were reduced by about 700 fewer deaths a year and life expectancy increased. This was due to reductions in air pollution, noise and heat, greater access to green space and increased transport-related physical activity.

The Barcelona superblocks model had a number of urban quality goals. Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona 2013-2018

The economic effects of transforming the existing urban blocks are also impressive, estimated at €1.7 billion (A$2.7 billion) a year. This benefit mainly comes from increased life expectancy, a 20% reduction in premature mortality and a 13% reduction in overall burden of disease.

Read more: Superblocks: Barcelona's car-free zones could extend lives and boost mental health

Barcelona residents talk about their experiences of superblocks.

Could this model work for Australian cities?

The superblock concept is reminiscent of Griffin’s early Canberra model of self-contained residential development. Traffic was to be routed around neighbourhoods and suburbs rather than through them.

From the perspective of transport sustainability, that model failed, as the city was designed around the car. As the residential neighbourhoods were also low density, schools and neighbourhood retail hubs felt the effect of ageing families and declining populations.

However, a superblock approach might work with two critical differences.

First, if densities were tripled, this would allow for more population within each neighbourhood. Higher density would support more social and retail infrastructure on a smaller footprint.

Second, if cars were restricted within each superblock and more frequent public transport routed around the outskirts of each, then people could get to services and recreational spaces on foot. The result would be a new, healthier urban dynamic.

Read more: New creatives are remaking Canberra's city centre, but at a social cost

Our cities are already ‘retrofitting’

In a case study of Docklands in Melbourne, urban planner Kate Matthews argues along similar lines, but in an inner-urban landscape. She makes the point that the City of Melbourne has retrofitted social infrastructure and open space. An area that was sterile, wind-swept and cut-off has now become a family-friendly neighbourhood.

The elements for success were that it was walkable, green, safe and had everything you need. Matthews argues that the Docklands experience could be transferred to other centres by applying the following principles:

  • if you build it, they will come
  • prioritise infrastructure
  • actively manage traffic
  • invest in the public realm – streets, squares, parks, green spaces and other outdoor places that everyone can freely access and use.

Read more: Seven steps Melbourne can take to regain its 'liveable city' crown

Some cities and towns – such as the Tonsley redevelopment in Adelaide, Claisebrook Village in East Perth, and the Barangaroo and Green Square renewal projects in Sydney – are already well down this path. We need more examples to draw on and learn from. All levels of government should encourage this approach, as the evidence is now there to show that significant health and ultimately financial benefits accrue to the communities that live within them.

Could we also apply these principles to developments in outer growth suburbs? How might this process be managed? And who pays for the up-front investment in the public realm, more frequent public transport and social infrastructure, whether in existing urban areas or new growth suburbs?

These are real questions, but surely none are greater than those we face now. If we commit ourselves to resolving the challenges of designing high-quality, affordable, higher-density urban environments in Australia, the research shows the beneficiaries will not just be ourselves but our children and their children’s health in, importantly, a sustainable future.

Mark Stevenson holds an NHMRC Research Fellowship.

Patrick Love does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Patrick Love, Hon Senior Fellow, Transport Health and Urban Design (THUD) Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/superblocks-are-transforming-barcelona-they-might-work-in-australian-cities-too-123354

A Guide to Buy Home Appliances on Budget

A new home comes up with the need for new appliances, but where should one begin? Check our list that lets you find what you need first. Congratulations on getting your new dream home! If this is you...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Create A Legal Will Online

A will is an essential legal document that clearly states the desires of someone after the person passes away. With a will, you can successfully choose the beneficiaries of your properties and e...

News Company - avatar News Company

Roborock Launches Long Lasting Cordless Stick Vacuum

Leading technology and robotics company Roborock has launched the first cordless vacuum cleaner in the world to use a Lithium-Ion Polymer Battery. Roborock’s H6 uses a lightweight battery w...

Belinda Luby - avatar Belinda Luby

Why It’s A Good Idea to Plan for Your NDIS Meeting

For those wanting to find the supports they need for their disability, the NDIS is an excellent way to receive a tailored plan to help you manage your circumstances in the best way possible. Whe...

News Company - avatar News Company

Why writing down your thoughts is beneficial

In times of sadness, you often wish to write down everything coming in your mind. You think about different things to get out of sadness, like calling your beloved ones or going out. These ideas...

Paresh Patil - avatar Paresh Patil

Digital currency and online trading

First of all, digital currency refers to a currency that is traded as electronic data that does not have banknotes or coins. When it comes to data, you might wonder if you can send Bitcoin as if yo...

Thomas Carey - avatar Thomas Carey


What if people saved just a few dollars on each of the thousands of money transactions people make every year? With the ongoing globalisation and widely available internet connection we tend to con...

News Company - avatar News Company

Discount Drug Stores introduce drive thru services for customers

With COVID-19 presenting more challenges than ever for customers needing to access pharmaceutical services, Discount Drug Stores has expanded its drive-thru option at select stores to provide a flex...

Red Havas - avatar Red Havas

Fun beginner hobbies (that need no skill)

When I was in my very early teens, I was convinced I was put on this planet to become the next Bruce Lee. After begging my parents for lessons, I eventually joined no less than four different ma...

Jennifer Martinez - avatar Jennifer Martinez

Viw Magazine

Taking A Look Into The World Of Single Dating

No-one dreams of being alone one day, there isn’t a little girl or boy hoping to never meet someone and living their lives with no-one to share it with. We all want that person we can run to, count on in tough times, and be the first one we t...

News Company - avatar News Company

Free Educational Apps for Students

Before improved technology, smartphones were viewed as bad habits in the lives of the students. No parent nor teachers wished their students to access phones because their education would be severely affected. However, with time, mobile app dev...

Elizabeth Horrell - avatar Elizabeth Horrell

Financial Frustration - 5 Things To Consider Before Touching Your Super After The COVID-19 Crash

Though your main focus throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has likely been the health and welfare of your friends, family, and the community at large, you’ve probably also noticed that your super account has taken a hit. Additionally, the govern...

News Company - avatar News Company

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion