What is: A Supermanzana

Barcelona's Supermanzanas

The Supermanzana. No, it's not a genetically modified fruit. It's a new urban planning project being inaugurated in the Sant Martí, Eixample and Grácia districts of Barcelona. The aim is to maximize the pedestrian potential and reduce traffic in all the areas affected.

In 2017 the Ajuntament will begin a process to which it has committed 10 million euros, and which could see zonas peatonales in the designated areas increase from 46.1% to 65.8% of the total groundspace. At the heart of this plan is the concept of the Barcelona 'Supermanzana'.

It was Ildefonso Cerdà, the man responsible for designing Barcelona's Eixample District, who spun the term 'mansana' (later Castillianized to 'manzana') in its modern sense. Inspired by the idea of the 'manso feudal', strips of land belonging to a masia (farmhouse/villa) and surrounded by the houses of the feudal peasants who took care of the crops, Cerdà applied it to the urban landscape, inventing the urban island - a self-contained block enclosing gardens and surrounded by streets. The very definition of Cerdà's idea can be seen in the lay-out of Eixample itself, with its octagonal blocks on a grid system, a system which has been enormously influential on urban planning all over the world.

The Supermanzana is the 21st Century upgrade of Cerdà's idea. According to BCNEcologia (Barcelona's Urban Ecology Agency) who are responsible for putting it all into practice, 'Supermanzanas are 400m by 400m urban cells...whose objective is to reduce the presence of cars and return the public space to the pedestrian.' So imagine, say, an area in the Eixample district. Take three blocks by three blocks and now shade in all the streets contained within those 3X3 blocks with the colour green. The traffic circulates around the edge. Inside, it's all about pedestrians.

Thus the Supermanzana project will also have a marked effect on traffic. Currently 8.7% of Sant Martí's streets have a 10 km speed limit. This could rise to over 50% with the changes. Similar stats might apply to whole city eventually, according to the Ajuntament's Janet Sanz, a councillor for Nou Barris.

Her colleague, Mercedes Vidal, a Transport councillor, believes this is the best way to shift the emphasis on mobility within the city away from cars and towards walking and cycling, in turn improving air quality and reducing accidents. This she terms the 'hierarchization of the street network', isolating each mode of transport along its own routes.

Another hoped-for effect of the Supermanzana would be the doubling of the city's zonas verdes - with green corridors intersecting parts of the Meridiana and Diagonal avenues. The city of Vittoria-Gasteiz, where the Supermanzana has already been implemented, is seen as a reference point in this aspect, and won the European Green Capital award in 2012. Now it's Barcelona's turn for a bite of the super apple.

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