Exactly one week ago I embarked on one of the most exciting journeys of my life. With a oneway ticket to Barcelona, I exchanged the safety of my comfortable life in rainy Belgium for the Spanish vibes in Barcelona. Having no place to call home yet, I booked a cosy hostel to start my apartment hunt in the Gracia neighbourhood — popular with students, young professionals and families alike. With its abundance of second hand shops, vegetarian restaurants, ecological streetmarkets and low-traffic streets, it didn’t take long before I fell in love with this village within the city. No wonder rooms are expensive and hard to find.
But Gracia has not always been like this. It was only after a major reorganisation of the neighbourhood in 2003 that the streets were given back to the people. The urban concept behind the area-wide urban experiment is the Superille or Superblock. The superblock idea was first outlined in 1987, after studies revealed noise and pollution levels in the capital of Catalunya are far above what can be considered healthy. Madre mia! Disclosing a territorial unit smaller than a neighbourhood but larger than a residential block for public space — therefore bearing the name superblock — are meant to improve the quality of life and conditions for local residents. Car traffic is deviated to a couple of large streets enclosing the superblock, within pedestrian and bikers are king.