Dealing flexibly with and learning from resistance in Barcelona

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This intervention has been translated into a brief governance scenario. Take a look at Reclaiming Street Space: Cooperation for Neighbourhood Transformation.

You read this description and want to hear more about this case? Get in touch! Contact Isabel Lema from partner project SMARTEES for more information. You can also find the case report here!

a) Basic characteristics and ambitions of the intervention

1. What is the name and the urban context (e.g. city/district) of the intervention? Please also indicate the geographical scale of the intervention (e.g. neighborhood, district, small/medium/ capital city, metropolitan area ...). [Example: “Brixton Energy in Brixton, London (neighborhood in capital city)”]

This is about the creation of Superblocks in Barcelona, a mobility concept that tries to restructure the city in 503 so-called Superblocks, lowering the amount of cars and returning public functions such as leisure and neighborhood activities to city streets. Each of the 503 Superblocks will be different in its exact structure as they will be adapted to neighbourhood contexts.

The first Superblock in Barcelona was established in Ciutat Vella (El Born) in 1993 and in Vila de Gràcia in 2003 (SMARTEES_01: A114) Between 2012 - 2015 the Superblock Programme started with four pilot areas in:

  • La Maternitat i Sant Ramón, in Les Corts
  • Sants-Hostrafrancs, in Sants-Montjuïc
  • DiagonalPoblenou, in Sant Martí,
  • Esquerra de l’Eixample, in Eixample (Ajuntament_01: 21)

From 2016 to 2019, the large-scale Municipal Action Plan, “Let's fill the streets with life. The implementation of the Superblock Model in Barcelona” (Ajuntament_01: 1) continued to work on creating and implementing Superblocks. They worked in other areas in the city, piloting the program such in the Poblenou neighborhood.

2. What sector(s) (alias domain/ policy field) is the intervention primarily implemented in ? [e.g. housing, mobility, energy, water, health, local economy, biodiversity, CC adaptation, etc.]

Mobility and transport.

3. What is the intervention (i.e. situated experiment) aiming to achieve in terms of sustainability and justice? [If possible, please copy from a project website and give a reference]

The municipality of Barcelona summarizes the strategic goals of the intervention in four points (Ajuntament_01: 25f).:

  • Improving the habitability of public spaces

This is about boosting the use of public spaces (e.g for children, meeting, resting etc.) by prioritizing pedestrians, increasing traffic reduced areas, promoting new uses of public spaces, and improving attraction and comfort of those spaces.

  • Moving towards more sustainable mobility

The goal is a healthy, low-carbon model of traffic with less noise and exhaust pollution. This is done by reducing motorized vehicles in general, promoting alternative fuels in the transport sector, and switching to more efficient means of transport.

  • Increasing and improving urban greenery and biodiversity

This is about generally increasing green areas, creating micro-habitats for birds and other species, ensuring a broad variety of plants, and making the ground permeable for water. Also community managed green areas are promoted to increase public interest and participation.

  • Promoting public participation and joint responsibility

The aim is to open up the process as much as possible to ensure participation in city and territory approaches.

As its main goal, the reclamation of public spaces, currently occupied by private cars, for and by residents stands at the core of this intervention. It is about “filling the streets with life again”. (Ajuntament_01: 1f.)

4. What is the interventions’ timeframe?

The initial Superblock Programme took place from 2012 to 2015. The Municipal Action Plan lasted from 2016 to 2019. The longterm goal is to create up to 503 Superblocks (SMARTEES_01: A114).

5. By what governance mode is the intervention characterized primarily? (see Appendix 1: Three modes of governance)

Government - led.

6. Why do you consider it worthwhile to study and share experiences made in the context of this governance intervention for sustainable and just cities?[1]

A) The intervention has been implemented and studied on a district as well as a city-wide level B) There are EU-funded studies concerning the intervention C) The intervention aims at sustainable as well as just goals D) It is very well documented (project materials, research, media)

7. In which project deliverable(s) or other documents can information be found on this situated (i.e. place specific) governance intervention?

SMARTEES (2019): Deliverable 3.1. Report about profiles of social innovation “in action” for each cluster [1]

Barcelona (2016). Government measure: Let's fill streets with life. Establishing Superblocks in Barcelona. Commission for Ecology, Urban Planning and Mobility, Council of Barcelona. [2]

b) Additional basic characteristics, links to earlier UrbanA work

8. EU Project-context of the intervention:

  • a. Has the intervention been developed or studied in the context of an (EU-funded?) project? (please name the project, its duration and include a link to the project website here).

It has been studied by SMARTEES - Social Innovation Modelling Approaches to Realizing Transition to Energy Efficiency and Sustainability - from 2018-2021 [3] as well as GREENLULUS - Green Locally Unwanted Land Uses - from 2016 - 2021 [4].

  • b. According to WP3’s database of approaches, which approach(es) does the intervention best fit under? Where applicable, please indicate if the intervention is found in a project that has been explicitly mentioned in the database.

Energy and Mobility solutions. It is also about the ideas concerning rights to the city, as it wants to free up public space currently taken by cars. It could also fit into Nature-based solutions as some affected spaces are "greened".

  • c. Have some project deliverables been coded in the context of UrbanA’s WP4?

Yes [5]

9. Problematization and priority:

  • a. How exactly has inequality and exclusion been problematized (by whom) in the context of this intervention?

Exclusion of residents from public spaces and the loss of public spaces in general is the fundamental inequality that the municipality of Barcelona addresses through this intervention (Ajuntament_01: 2).

  • b. Has the achievement of justice explicitly been named as a major motivation behind the intervention?

Justice is not explicitly mentioned, although it is definitely a driver behind returning the rights to streets to its residents.

Drivers of injustices Based on WP4 coding Based on own assessment
1. Exclusive access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure X
2. Material and livelihood inequalities
3. Racialized or ethnically exclusionary urbanization
4. Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration X
5. Uneven environmental health and pollution patterns
6. Unfit institutional structures
7. Limited citizen participation in urban planning X
8. Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities
9. Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism X
10. Weak(ened) civil society X

c) Actor constellations

10. Who initiated the intervention?

The municipality of Barcelona.

11. Who are the envisioned benefiters of the intervention? (both at a local level and higher, if applicable)

Residents as well as other citizens visiting the areas who may be looking for public spaces to let their children play safely, relax, etc.. (Ajuntament_01: 1f.).

12. Who else is (going to be) involved in the intervention, and what was/is their main role?

Actor types[2] Yes Actor name and role[3]
Academic organizations X Different universities, other expert institutions.
Religious organizations
Civil society organizations X
Hybrid/ 3rd sector organizations X Biciclot SCCL - a bicycle workshop in Poblenou which supported the implementation of the Superblock in Poblenou and who have joined the working group.
Platforms X There are citizen platforms which are in favor of their particular neighbourhood Superblock e.g “Col·lectiu Superilla Poblenou”[4] in Poblenou or in Camp d´en Grassot[5] which have argued in favor of Superblocks as a way to reduce private vehicle circulation.
NGOs X TaulaEix Pere IV supported the Superblock in Poblenou and have also joined the working group.
Social movements X It seems that there are different strong movements in favor and against Superblocks, which are mostly in regards to the effects on the district/neighbourhood level and any perceived positive/negative outcomes of Superblocks (rather than the city plan in general).

The most controversial debate seems to be going on in Poblenou with strong opinions on both sides.

Political parties X The pilot projects were initially launched by the conservative party “Convergència i Unió”. After 2015´s election the new left party “Barcelona en Comú” is leading the city in a coalition with other left parties. They are giving the program continuity. Opposition comes from “Partido Popular” who defend the priority of private car use.

There are also opposition parties in favor of the concept.

Media X
Social entreprises
For profit entreprises X Consultancies provide support in the development of measures for each Superblock as well as guidance with participation processes.
Local/regional government X Municipality initiated the intervention and several city council departments are working on it. Primarily, the mobility and urban design departments of the local administration.

The local government formed a technical secretariat which is leading the program. Furthermore district administrations are playing a counseling role and members (which can also be members of the local political parties) sometimes are actively part of the district working group providing expertise etc.

Moreover, the Catalan government and the public authorities “Metropolitan Area of Barcelona “and the “Metropolitan Transport Authority” are involved with the formulation of the programme on the city level.

Regional organizations
National government
Supranational government
International networks
Other initiatives X The Urban Ecology Agency: a consortium of the City Council of Barcelona, the Municipal Council and Metropolitan Area of Barcelona, and the Barcelona Provincial Council. Its role is to diagnose every neighbourhood where Superblocks are implemented and to aid with technical solutions that could improve the neighbourhoods' sustainability.

13. Which particular interactions among various stakeholders (stakeholder configurations) were crucial in enabling the intervention to emerge successfully? This could include direct or indirect impacts on interventions.

In several neighbourhoods, multi-stakeholder decision making processes have been formalized in local, regular working groups that are steering the design for their Superblocks. This was a result of the lack of participation processes in Poblenou and the municipality retroactively realizing that individual Superblocks have to be adapted to local peculiarities. The working groups also serve promotional purposes e.g, presenting the Municipal Action Plan to residents and engaging citizens, local associations, and local economy. They also try to find agreements between different voices and stakeholder interests (SMARTEES_01: A121).

14. To what extent, in what form and at what stages have citizens participated in the shaping of the intervention?

Citizen participation happens at the neighbourhood level within the city-wide plan to implement Superblocks. There is a standard procedure for involving different stakeholders and citizens that is followed for each Superblock. It can be characterized in nine distinctive steps (SMARTEES_01: A120):

  • Definition and analysis of the area
  • Internal work by the Technical Secretariat
  • Technical work with the districts
  • Work with the Promotional Group
  • Participation of specific groups
  • Participation of local residents
  • Approval of Action Plan
  • Drafting projects with suitable protocol and participation according to type of initiative
  • Implementing the initiatives

The process itself is the same over the different districts, but the approval ratings from citizens and their view on their respective Superblock varies for each context. The implementation of a Superblock itself did not seem to be up for debate, as it was integrated into the Urban Mobility Plan, but rather was more controversial in how it could be implemented. The municipality defines its general establishment process of Superblocks in two bigger phases: add the graphs

Over the course of the project, participation became increasingly open and informal, as resistance in some neighbourhoods led to adaptations in the process. The Technical Secretariat designed this participatory process in the beginning, but politicians were too eager to start implementing the program and started implementation in Poblenou without any kind of participation process (Interview_6:01). When the city council decided on making the first physical changes in Poblenou, they were met with public outrage. This steered the project in a more participatory direction and was crucial for key learnings of this project. (Interview_6:05)

The meeting minutes and a protocol for the deliberative process and public meetings are published on the website of the municipality for transparency (SMARTEES_01: 45).

15. How are responsibilities and/or decision-making power distributed among actors?

The city of Barcelona always had leadership over the whole project. The Technical Secretariat (see Q. 22; Q24) is in charge of the Superblock Programme, which includes only three or four public servants (members of the city council) as well as people from urban designing/planning companies (Interview). Therefore, it relies on the help of different consultants, which provide support in defining the measures to be implemented (SMARTEES_01: 44).

The Urban Ecology Agency has a key role in the project because of its charismatic leader Salvador Rueda (SMARTEES_01: A122). In fact, the idea of Superblocks originates from Salvador Rueda (TheGuardian_01). Especially in the beginning, the Urban Ecology Agency was very important in designing the Superblocks, but now they perform ecological diagnoses of the areas for new Superblocks.

Launched by the City Council, local actors, neighbourhood stakeholders, and citizens are involved in a co-designing process to develop the action plan that “should be” approved by the district political body (SMARTEES_01: A122). These processes are formalized in local working groups where different stakeholders can participate and which presents the Local Action Plan to the neighbourhood (SMARTEES_01: A121).

16. Exclusion:

  • a. Which stakeholders or social groups were excluded (at which stages)?

Citizens at the earliest stages (see q.14).

  • b. Is there any indication why this may have happened? With what outcomes? Has anything been done to overcome such exclusions?

In Poblenou, politicians wanted to implement changes to the neighbourhood without waiting for a participation process, which was being designed at the time by the Technical Secretariat. The missing participation resulted in local resistance from the neighbourhood. In response, the project participation became increasingly open and informal to accommodate citizens more.

d) Enabling conditions for the implementation of the intervention

17. What circumstances or events are reported to have triggered the intervention? (In what ways?)

One of the main issues was that streets had lost many of their traditional functions, i.e. as spaces for children's games, local resident gatherings, strolls, resting, financial exchanges, sport, culture, and protests, because they had developed into spaces only used for transit. Additional issues identified over the previous decades included rising air-pollution levels, traffic noise, road-accident rates, a lack of greenery, and overall decline in citizens' quality of life. (Ajuntament_01: 7). Barcelona had developed different integrated plans to tackle these issues and additionally embedded them into global issues such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. Superblocks are thus one of the measures of a systematic change of Barcelona. SMARTEES (01: 42) reported that a critical attitude towards the management of environmental issues in their city started with people from the municipality participating in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Summit) in 1992. Environmental awareness and a holistic management strategy for ecological issues in the city were among key drivers of the Superblock Programme.

18. Are particular substantive (multi-level) governmental policies considered to be highly influential in the genesis and shaping of the intervention? (If easily possible, please specify the policy, the policy field and the governance level mainly addressed, and characterize it along Appendix 2: Policy typology)

Very important for the implementation of the Superblocks is the so called “Citizen Commitment for Sustainability,” which was first signed in 2002 by over 800 organizations (large and small enterprises, community groups, professional associations, political parties and educational institutions). It was evaluated and renewed in 2012, leading to the “Citizen Commitment for Sustainability 2012-2022”. (SMARTEES_01: A123). The goal of this commitment is to improve people's life in the city, in the process improving participation and implementing small-scale interventions. Superblocks are one of several actions that are defined in the document and thereby receive additional support. In general, Superblocks are connected to different policies besides the Municipal Action Plan e.g. the Barcelona Mobility Pact (1998), which over 30 mobility-linked organizations have formalized and to which over 100 have signed to improve sustainable mobility (SMARTEES_01: A121); the Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona (2013-2018); the Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan (until 2020); and the Barcelona Commitment to Climate (Ajuntament_01: 22f.), which adopts a common strategy to move toward a unified vision for comprehensive change.

Superblocks are therefore embedded in holistic city-wide changes as well as municipal policies (regulatory, informative, and voluntary frameworks) (See Appendix 1).

19. What constitutional responsibilities and rules does the intervention build upon? In other words, what rights, powers, and/or responsibilities, does the country's constitution (in a broad sense) award municipalities, states, utilities, NGOs, citizens etc. and how does this impact the intervention?

Spain is a decentralized state that comprises of three levels of governance: central, regional, and local, and is divided into Provinces and Municipalities (Art. 137 of the Constitution).

Provinces and Municipalities (and Autonomous Communities) run their respective affairs autonomously, which is ensured by Art. 137

Municipalities have considerable authority and decision - making power that is important for the implementation of Superblocks. For example, municipalities with over 50.000 inhabitants are in charge of “Collective urban transportation” and “Urban environmental protection” (CorSpain).

20. According to project material/and or interviews, in what ways have particularities of (local) political culture influenced the character and success of the intervention? (i.e. trust in political institutions, citizens’ will to interact with policy makers and vice versa, traditions of cooperation etc.)

The eagerness to start “constructing” Superblocks without talking to residents about any of the changes in Poblenou led to a fundamental change of their implementation in other areas of the city and in the general participatory process.

21. What are financial arrangements that support the intervention?

The total budget for the Superblock Programme between 2016 and 2019 (“Let´s fill streets with life. Establishing Superblocks in Barcelona”) was 11 million Euros (Ajuntament_01: 40). The cost of the Superblock project in Sant Antoni is 7 million Euros. It is estimated that the implementation of all Superblocks in Barcelona would cost less than 100 million euros (SMARTEES_01: A117).

22. Have any of the above conditions changed within the intervention’s timeframe, which have (significantly) influenced it in a positive or negative way?

As mentioned, the Technical Secretariat that was formed because of resistance in Poblenou (see Q.24) is now in charge of the project. This improved communication between residents and the government, and assisted in reorganizing the whole process in a better way.

Note: Certain contexts, which provide opportunities to learn from other relevant experiences, may also be a supportive framework condition. Please see section h, questions 26 + 30 on learning context.

e) Obstacles to successful intervention implementation

23. What obstacles to implementing the intervention (both generally, and in this particular context) have been identified, relating to:

  • a. Regulatory framework

Most issues are about legitimacy and public awareness and not so much about regulatory framework issues.

  • b. Legitimacy

Fears of gentrification have arisen, as the process might transform neighbourhoods into “trendy places” (SMARTEES_01: 47). Perceived safety issues were also raised, especially during late night hours when Superblocks become “deserted” and are frequented by young people drinking on the streets. In addition, the project in Poblenou apparently led to a sharp drop in merchant sales in the neighbourhood (SMARTEES_01: A128). Finally, because of unchanged habits in personal vehicle use, traffic on perimeter streets has remained the same. This also relates to insufficient public transport for commuters (ebd.).

  • c. Public awareness

The Superblock in Poblenou was started without any kind of participatory process: the first physical changes in the neighbourhood were done “on a weekend”, which led to a lot of neighbourhood resistance (Interview_7:51)

Groups that emerged in 2016 from different neighbourhoods called the Superblocks unrealistic in a city the size of Barcelona. They warned of a widespread collapse of the city if Superblocks continued to be built, and referred to the then (from their perspective) increasing pollution levels. In Sant Marti, resistance groups also criticized missing information and the mobility chaos of the Superblock perimeter. It has also been criticized that the urban configuration itself has not changed at all and only feels provisional (SMARTEES_01:46)

Of 1739 residents who voted in May 2017 in a consultation promoted by the Plataforma d'Afectats of the Superilla de Poblenou (a platform against the Superblock in Poblenou), 87% voted against its implementation in their district (SMARTEES_01: 46).

  • d. Finances

The project in general is deemed a low-cost solution. However investment was more substantial for some Superblocks, such as that in Saint-Antoni, because some roads and sidewalks had to be newly constructed. Some critique called for more investment by the city councils, as they were skeptical that low-cost solutions could be truly beneficial (SMARTEES_01: 47).

  • e. Others (please name)

The implementation of Superblocks is taking far longer than expected and it still only involves small parts of the city . This is partially due to the participatory processes that were adapted by the municipality after facing resistance in Poblenou. These processes involve multiple stakeholders operating in local working groups to co-design Superblocks in each neighbourhood (see Q. 24). According to one technician, there are “about 100 areas already pacified, where Superblocks could be created quickly and without social contestation.” (SMARTEES_01: A127).

In a few cases, the local district council acted against the implementation of their Superblock, thus strengthening project resistance (SMARTEES_01: A129).

f) (Institutional) Work done to overcome obstacles

24. What has been done by each central actor group to overcome which particular obstacles in the way of successfully implementing the intervention? (this may include institutional Work - maintaining, disrupting, and creating new rules, applying to both formal laws/regulations and informal norms and expectations.)

Name of obstacle What work was/is being done to overcome this obstacle and by what actor groups?
Citizen resistance in Poblenou Municipality adopted a post-intervention participatory process and engaged in dialogue with resident associations and institutions (e.g schools, kindergartens) in order to improve their plans (getting insights from residents about which streets to reopen for traffic etc.) (Interview)
Citizen resistance in Poblenou Local working groups were created to steer the process for each neighborhood, wheich would co-design with residents and local actors to improve legitimacy in other areas and give residents more agency. (Interview)
Different fears of negative consequences of Superblocks by residents (e.g. unsafety at night ..) The municipality is conducting Measurements/Surveys and empirical research in existing Superblocks to gain insights about the interventions' impact, the results of which they can present to residents of other potential Superblocks. This can help in breaking misperceptions about negative consequences. The SMARTEES team is currently conducting research on the topic of safety at night in Poblenou, along with general perceptions about Superblocks elsewhere (Interview)

g) Reported outcomes

25. What are reported outcomes of the intervention? This may include economic outcomes, political outcomes, ability to reach sustainability and justice targets, etc.

This programme proves that is not always necessary to implement huge changes nor invest large sums of money in order to improve the quality of life in a city. Small-scale or low-cost actions are sometimes just as effective and far easier to implement.

Observed outcomes include (SMARTEES_01: A125):

  • Habitability: 25,129 m2 of new public space without cars have been gained, 349 benches have been installed, 2,483 m2 of playgrounds for children have been created.
  • Mobility: The number of cars that access the streets on a daily basis has gone down from 2,218 to 932 vehicles / day. The area for pedestrians has increased by 80%, and the area for cars reduced by 48%. Unregulated car parking spaces have decreased (from 401 to 74) while cyclist meters have increased.
  • Green spaces and biodiversity: The green area has increased by 91% from 9,722 m2 to 18,632 m2. 176 units of trees have been planted.
  • Economic activity: The number of economic activities on the ground floor has gone up from 65 to 85.
  • Public housing: A public housing building is being constructed in the central area of the Superblock by the Municipal Housing Trust.

Equally as important are observed changes in the lifestyles of residents (SMARTEES_01: A126). Several residents have reported an increase in the personal use of bikes while reducing use of private cars/motorbikes. Biking has become a trend as it is perceived safer with the lower numbers of cars around.

h) Learning involved in establishing the intervention

Please fill in any information on social learning that has occured in this intervention (conceptualized here as “Learning context, content, and process” in line with the FOODLINKS project)[6]. Where possible, please differentiate your response into learning done by specific actor groups.

Learning context

(i.e. the configuration and social environment enabling the learning process)

26. According to the TRANSIT project’s four mechanisms for empowerment – i. funding; ii. legitimacy; iii. knowledge sharing, learning, and peer support; or iv. visibility and identity – please briefly describe the following, and indicate where the intervention has been developed or supported as part of which formal collaborations, networks or projects:

  • a. any previous experiences in the same urban context (e.g. city…) that the intervention is (reportedly) building upon? This could include any relevant experiences in the same or another sector.

The municipality mentions that the implementation of Superblocks builds on several city-wide plans from the past such as the:

  • Cerdà Plan
  • County Plan (1953)
  • The General Metropolitan Plan (1977) - the “current framework”
  • The Street Plan (1986)
  • Re-developments of Portal de l’Àngel and Plaça de la Catedral
  • The Mobility Plan for Vila de Gràcia (2003) (Ajuntament_01: 8f.)
  • b. any inter-city partnerships, or transfers from experiences elsewhere that have (reportedly) been important in the emergence of this intervention?

The municipality reports that taming the passage of cars based on blocks is not a new idea. Other examples can be seen in:

  • proposals for neighbourhood units
  • ideas for environmental areas and traffic management published by English engineer Colin Buchanan[7].
  • the woonerfs in the Netherlands[8].

Barcelona was the first city to implement Superblocks, but today the idea is very common across Spain. There is a lot of exchange about the implementation of Superblocks between cities. Barcelona has an especially strong inter-city partnership with Vitoria-Gasteiz, which has a Superblock Programme (SUMP - Sustainable Mobility Plan) that is reorganizing the city in 77 Superblocks. This plan started after Barcelona's, in 2008 and will end in 2023 (SMARTEES_01: A95). Both cities are continuing to support each other through ii) legitimacy, iii) knowledge sharing, learning and peer support. Barcelona profits from the experiences learned in Vitoria-Gasteiz (SMARTEES_01: A109).

Learning content

27. Has any acquired knowledge (e.g. technical knowledge, awareness of local political procedures etc.) been reported as particularly helpful to this intervention?

  • a. from previous experiences in the same urban context

Technical knowledge about how to physically change the existing structure of blocks was originally implemented in the Cerdà Plan (19th century).

Numerous experiences on how to reclaim space for pedestrians have been reported useful to the intervention, especially those based on developments from the Street Plan of 1986 (Ajuntament_01: 10). Much like the current debates surrounding Superblocks, during the first re-developments of Portal de l’Àngel and Plaça de la Catedral, merchants were worried that making streets only accessible to pedestrians would lead to a drop in sales (Ajuntament_01:10). Learning to respond to resistance against implementation with process adaptation instead of halting the project was critical.

  • b. from inter-city partnerships, or transfers from experiences elsewhere

It is difficult to measure the exact content and learnings from partnerships with other cities, as exchanges are rather informal but steadily happening.

  • c. from other knowledge gathering/research

From the implementation of the intervention itself: The municipality had to learn the importance of providing enough, place-specific and reliable data about the proposals for each neighbourhood. This is important to break any misperceptions and better communicate the benefits of the project. In addition, it is crucial to connect the Superblock proposal with the overall ambitions to tackle specific issues on a city-wide scale (SMARTEES_01: 48).

Furthermore the ability to adapt certain parts of the Superblock invtervention in cooperation with stakeholders from different fields and local residents has been one of the key learnings for the municipality (Interview_31:05).

Best practices about participatory processes have been developed based on experiences (especially in coping with resistances) include:

  • engaging people in deliberative processes
  • information and communication strategies and channels
  • the use of ICT technologies (e.g., GIS maps) for illustrating main changes proposed at the neighbourhood level
  • maintaining a coherent discourse and practice
  • building trust to accomplish goals while being open to peoples proposals (SMARTEES_01: A123).

Janet Sanz, a city councillor and today's “Deputy Mayor for Ecology, Urban Planning and Mobility” stressed that "listening to the neighbourhood has been the main learning of this project” (El Periodico).

Learning process

28. In what ways has the intervention been adapted to specific circumstances of the targeted urban context based on the learned content reported in question 27?

In order to reduce conflict and resistance, the Technical Secretariat (in Poblenou):

  • Created new channels for communication
  • Improved participatory process (citizens were invited to formulate improvements in the design of the Superblocks)
  • Entered into a negotiation process between supporters and critics of the intervention

This lead to the implementation of certain changes, such as preventing private vehicles and public transport from entering Superblocks.

The Technical Secretariat also became important in communicating with other cities, as it reportedly gave advice and shared knowledge with representatives from New York and Copenhagen (SMARTEES_01: 50).

29. Based on your answers to question 24, how has overcoming obstacles (reportedly) contributed to the learning process?

The resistance in Poblenou fundamentally changed the way in which Superblocks are implemented. As a critical point, newly created local working groups give residents and other stakeholders the platform to express issues and co-create their neighbourhood (Interview). Speculatively, this might also change the way other projects in Barcelona could be designed in the future, although it is still too early to measure this (Interview).

30. Please list any tools that enabled the learning process (e.g. various Knowledge Brokerage Activities from pg. 24 of FOODLINK’s Deliverable 7.1 - linked in footnote)[9] and the actors involved in using them.

  • Face-to-Face meetings (all actors)
  • Field visits / meeting the locals (Workshops organized by city council with city technicians, politicians and residents) (SMARTEES_01: A119).

i) Learning involved in establishing interventions elsewhere (transferability)

31. Suggestions regarding transferability.

  • a. Have any suggestions been made about a replicability, scaleability or transferability of the intervention? [e.g. in the documentation of the intervention in a project or the press? Links would be perfect]

Barcelona's Superblock program recognized internationally; many other cities are in contact with Barcelona to learn from their experience. Barcelona has received a lot of media attention over the last couple of years from e.g The New York Times (2016)[10], The Guardian (2019[11]), El Pais (2018)[12], Deutschlandfunk (2016)[13], Die Zeit (2018[14]) or very extensively from VOX[15].

The New York Times and Vox are suggesting possibilities to replicate the Superblock idea, the New York Times article is called “What New York Can Learn From Barcelona’s ‘Superblocks’” (NewYorkTimes_01). Similarly, VOX is suggesting the possible replicability of the Superblock idea in Portland, Oregon. An interviewee from Bloomberg Associates sees potential in Washington, DC, New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago as they already have grid patterns, walkable blocks, and suffer from air and noise pollution. She also sees potential in several smaller cities, as “just about every city or town has some central area with remnants of a block pattern”(VOX_02).

  • b. Transferability to what kind of contexts has been suggested?

Districts and city-wide plans, dense cities.

  • c. Who has made the claims?

Media, urban planners, researchers.

  • d. What limits to transferability to broader contexts have been discussed?

VOX mentions different limits to transferability, especially in regards to US cities:

  • Cities tend to be too wide and focused around interstates and freeways
  • Missing density and walkability
  • Missing short, regular blocks, orthogonal streets, and mixed-use zoning
  • Missing familiarity with urban transformations and civic pride (VOX_02). Americans are so accustomed to the absence of walkable and accessible public spaces they barely can express what they are missing.

These factors are especially prominent in the US but can be applied to a lot of European cities, as well.

Also interesting is the relationship between the suburbs and hurdles to reduce cars on the roads: Suburbs with clear property borders and separated dwellings means less density, less walkability, and slower and less frequent public transport. This leads to a dependance on private vehicles as a predominant form of mobility.

The idea of vibrant, public spaces then does not really work if there is not sufficient density around them: “They become internal tourist destinations, places residents drive to visit” (VOX_02).

32. In what forms has the learning process, including stories of overcoming obstacles, been recorded for, and/or made accessible to city makers also from elsewhere?[16]

SMARTEES has a large report on all kinds of issues related to the implementation of Superblocks. There is specific section on “Critical issues and How Critical issues have been overcome” (SMARTEES_01: 45f); as well as specific stories (an extra info box) that show how exactly certain project processes developed e.g resistance in Poblenou (SMARTEES_01: A129f.). As mentioned, there is also a lot of media coverage around Barcelona's implementation of Superblocks, which have reported how other cities could learn from the challenges Barcelona faced (NewYorkTimes_01).

SMARTEES is actively trying to build networks between Barcelona and other Spanish cities and thereby creating ways to formalize learning and sharing. SMARTEES wants to develop policy scenario workshops where cities can discuss next steps for future Superblock interventions (Vitoria-Gasteiz and Barcelona will be part of these workshops). The goal is to bring researchers and actors from the cities together to discuss lessons learned, strategize on alternative approaches, and find best practices to transfer that knowledge to future implementations.

33. Have any signs of collaboration, support, or inspiration already been reported between actors involved in this intervention and others that follow its example? (e.g. in “follower cities”?)

Within Spain, the idea of Superblocks is spreading to other topologically diverse cities such as A Coruña, Ferrol,Viladecans and El Prat (SMARTEES_01: A49).

SMARTEES report that representatives of New York and Copenhagen have already visited Barcelona and are advised by the Technical Secretariat (SMARTEES_01: 50).

Other cities in the world such as Melbourne, Toronto, Lisbon, Quito, Buenos Aires are also interested in the Superblock Programme and are in contact with the Agencia de Ecologia Urbana. Seattle is also reportedly considering implementing its first Superblock, which was brought to the table by Seattle Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda (CapitolHill_01).

A lot of other cities in the world (from Japan, China, India, South Korea, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico and Moscow) have requested information on Superblocks (SMARTEES_01: 50).

j) Structural learning

34. Has the intervention influenced higher-level governance arrangements such that sustainability and justice are considered (together) in a more durable, structural way? In other words, are there any observations about more structural, long-term changes as a result of the intervention?

  • For example: new programs run by local councils, new modes of citizen participation, new mediating bodies
  • Is there other evidence that the project has contributed to enhancing sustainable and just governance in cities in a general sense?

The Superblock model developed a new strategy to facilitate public participation, pursuing co-responsibility as one of the core strategies of the programme (SMARTEES_01: 43). Other long-term consequences are not yet foreseeable, as this project only started relatively recently and will be ongoing for several years. It will be interesting to see if there are going to be institutional changes because of the Superblocks Programme. SMARTEES is trying to evaluate these as part of their project.

k) Reflections on important governance concepts

35. What other aspects of governance, that were not covered above, are important to highlight, too?

Barcelona has a long history public engagement and has formal structures for participation in place, such as the Conseils de Barri (SMARTEES_01: 43) (VOX_02).

36. From your perspective as a researcher, which word or phrase characterizes this governance intervention most concisely? (Please attach your name to the characterization) In other words, what is the biggest takeaway from this intervention about governance arrangements?

This intervention shows how important it is to be able to adapt existing plans to local contexts. There could possibly be long-term changes in the way the municipality interacts with residents for different programmes beyond Superblocks. Therefore, the lessons learned from the Superblock intervention could be a critical moment of change for the city (Interview).

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Appendix 1: Three modes of governance

(from NATURVATION project)

NATURVATION's NBS-Atlas distinguishes three categories of governance arrangements (dubbed "management set-ups":

  • Government-led (Gov)
  • Co-governance or hybrid governance (mix of responsibilities between government and non-government actors) (c/h)
  • Led by non-government actors (NGO)

Alternatively or additionally, the following four modes of governing (as distinguished also by Bulkeley/Kern 2006 and Zvolska et al. 2019) could be used as a typology: Castan Broto/ Bulkeley 2013:95

  1. Self-governing, intervening in the management of local authority operations to ‘‘lead by example’’;
  2. Provision, greening infrastructure and consumer services provided by different authorities;
  3. Regulations, enforcing new laws, planning regulations, building codes, etc.; and
  4. Enabling, supporting initiatives led by other actors through information and resource provision and partnerships”

Appendix 2: Policy typology

(from NATURVATION project)

Policy typology Description Examples
Regulatory (administrative, command-and-control) Mandatory fulfillment of certain requirements by targeted actors Legislations, regulations, laws, directives, etc.
Economic (financial, market-based) Financial (dis)incentives to trigger change by providing (new) favourable (or unfavourable) economic conditions for targeted actors Positive incentive include subsidies, soft loans, tax allowance and procurments. Negative incentives are taxes, fees and charges.
Informative (educational) They aim at providing information or knowledge to target actors in order to increase awareness and support informed decision-making accomplish or prevent social change Information and awareness raising campaigns, informative leaflets, advertisements in different media.
Voluntary Commitment and/or actions beyond legal requirements, undertaken by private actors and/or non-governmental organisations. Voluntary actions and agreements.

test tableau

  1. Background to this question: Our four main criteria for selecting particular governance interventions and develop rich descriptions of them were: A) The intervention has been studied in a specific urban context (e.g. city), B) this context is located in Europe (and, preferably, the study was EU-funded), C) the intervention considers to a large extent sustainability AND justice (at least implicitly), and D) it is well-documented, ideally including assumptions or even critical reflections on enablers and barriers to implementation and on transferability (i.e. ‘de-contextualizability’). Additionally, we aimed at a diverse portfolio of domains (see Q2.) and governance modes (see Q5):
  2. Actor types according to TRANSIT’s Critical Turning Point Database,
  3. If easily possible mention sources for your association of roles.
  6. Deliverable 7.1 Synthesis Report on results from Monitoring and Evaluation (p.14) : .
  7. Bianconi M., Tewdwr-Jones M. (2013): The form and organisation of urban areas: Colin Buchanan and Traffic in Towns 50 years on. In: The Town planning review 84(3):313-336.
  9. .
  12. .
  16. Feel free to include learning that has been made available through EU project documentation, intervention initiatives, or other channels. In addition to the forms in which the learning process has been shared with others, please indicate whether the learning process that’s being shared has been recorded in a self-critical/reflexive way.