Meridiana, An Avenida In Search Of A Soul

After the unveiling of the first supermanzanas in Poblenou and the Cajón de Sants urban walkway this summer, Barcelona's council is lining up the next scheme to make the city a greener, more pedestrian-friendly place; the transformation of the unloved Meridiana highway.

With eight traffic lanes used by over 100,000 cars a day, Avinguda Meridiana is a slow motorway running through the city's heart, dislocating the barrios of Eixample, Nou Barris and Sant Andreu.

The aim is to cut traffic and pollution along the highway by reducing the number of lanes, making way for hundreds of new trees, a wide bicycle lane in the centre and revamped zonas peatonales. It's a project the Ajuntament must hope will prove to be as successful as the redevelopment of Passeig de Sant Joan, which was transformed from a choked artery - rather grey and dismal despite the many sumptuous modernist palaces lining it - into one of the trendiest boulevards in the city.

With its access to the upcoming districts of Sant Andreu and Clot, as well as Eixample's eastern limits, Meridiana certainly has the potential to become another eje civico (civic axis). At the same time its development would provide another key shift in favour of public transport and an integrated bicycle network.

Mercedes Vidal, a Transport councillor, believes this is the best way to shift the emphasis on mobility within the city away from private 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.

The Meridiana highway was originally the brainchild of the engineer and urban planner Illdefonso Cerdà, who envisaged it as one of the most important vías crossing the city for the 'transport machines' he imagined existing in the future. But it wasn't until the railtrack was moved underground, midway through the next century, that the avenue was given over to automobile use. Rapid urbanization in Clot, Sagrera and Fabra i Puig followed during the 1960s and 70s, making the edges of the avenue some of the most contaminated, congested and populated areas in the city.

But Meridiana, which runs between the gates of the Parc de la Cuitadella and the north-eastern limits of the city via Plaça de les Glòries, counts a number of modern landmarks along its edge; the timber-clad Auditori de Barcelona, one of the city's best music venues, and its glassy neo-classical neigbour, the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya; further on is the curvy reflective roof of the the fancy new Mercat del Encants opposite the illuminated, bullet/suppository-shaped Torre Agbar, at 145 metres high the third-tallest skyscraper in the city; crossing Sagrera there's Oriol Bohigas and Josep Martorell's 60s-era nou realista tower blocks; and much further up, beyond Fabra i Puig, is the magnificently tacky Heron City shopping mall.

Another of the chief landmarks on Meridiana is the El Corte Ingles department store and its Hipercor outlet, which will be forever connected in the Spanish public's memory with a tragic episode. In 1987 the store was the scene of one of the worst terrorist attacks in Spain's modern history, when a stolen Ford Sierra loaded with 200 kilograms of explosive devices was left to detonate in a parking lot within the building, killing 21 and injured 45. It was later claimed by the perpetrators, the Basque separatist group ETA, that the local police had been warned in advance about the existence of the bomb but had failed to act. The police would claim they had searched the building but couldn't find the suspected package; having received dozens of phoney threats that week, they decided not to order the evactuation of the building. Tragedy ensued.

For now though thousands of citizens living along the avenue can look forward to exciting future developments. The news that a definitive blueprint for the avenue will be ready in early 2017 and construction might begin in 2018 will be another boost in the quest for a greener, more sostenible Barcelona, and might give a fresh lease of life to a throughfare which has uptil now, inspired little love amongst Barcelonins.

#environment #architecture #barcelona #spain