Building Superblocks Can Save Cities

Good Street from Streetmix

Barcelona’s urban layout of “superblocks” has proven to be a great way to make cities liveable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. We’ve looked at the brilliant design in Barcelona before, and now the question is how to take this urban design to other cities. Can car-focussed cities like Atlanta, Toronto, and Sydney benefit from the person-focussed approach in Barcelona? Of course they can, and so can other places like Mexico City and Zurich. The question how to implement the design approach and at what scale.

We’re all one step closer to living in a 15-minute city.

“Density is important, as the superblock model focuses on districts where many people live to allow active street life,” says Eggimann. Having enough people in one area also makes public transportation efficient, he says, and good public transportation is part of what makes the superblock possible. The design doesn’t work well in sprawling neighborhoods that only have single-family homes—even if those neighborhoods have a perfect street grid, as is the case in Atlanta and many other American cities.

While cities are taking a variety of approaches to rethinking traffic on streets, Eggimann thinks that superblocks can be especially useful. “I think the superblock model is particularly interesting as it strives for combined tackling of multiple challenges neighborhoods and cities are faced with—mobility, noise, walkability, urban green space—and that it is a model which envisions city-scale wide and broad transformation, going beyond single street transformation,” Eggimann says.

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Infrastructure That Cleans the Air

Barcelona is going to build a road bridge which may be the cleanest bridge yet. Of course it’ll have pedestrian walks and bike paths, however, what makes the bridge really noteworthy is that it will clean the air.

Concrete is notoriously energy-intensive to create so any carbon offset is beneficial. The Barcelona bridge will make use of photocatalytic concrete.

But the real prize of this thing is its basic building material, photocatalytic concrete. The principal of photocatylitics is that ultraviolet light naturally breaks down dirt, both natural and synthetic. It’s that old adage about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Photocatalytic concrete is used with titanium dioxide, which helps accelerate the natural UV-breakdown process, turning the pollution into carbon dioxide, and oxygen and substances that actually belong in the atmosphere.

The actual process has to do with semiconductors and electrons and other things that you may or may not care to read about. (At any rate, the Concrete Society of the United Kingdom does a better job of explaining it.)

An air-cleaning bridge makes for a neat news story and a sci-fi-ish novelty that environmentalists can blog about. But the important point is that Barcelona has taken a piece of infrastructure that exists solely to accommodate car culture, and re-invented it to partially offset the effects of car pollution.

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The Self-Sufficient City

Looking to save the world? Then enter the international competition to design the self-sufficient city. One of the goals is to spur some online discussion, so what do you think the city of the future will look like? And will you enter the contest?

The competition jury, which is composed of architects, directors of some of the world’s foremost architecture schools, and mayors of cities such as Barcelona, is looking for outstanding proposals for any city in the world, at any scale, and within any timescale. Competition entries should be submitted via the Internet ( on Connected metropolises, Eco neighborhoods, Self-sufficient buildings, Intelligent homes or any other proposal for a short-, medium or long-term project to create habitats that respond to the social, cultural, environmental and economic conditions that may obtain in the 21st century. The proposal should include whatever texts, drawings and other images may be needed to make it fully understandable.
The competition prizes will consist of three scholarships for the IaaC Masters in Advanced Architecture for academic year 2010-11, cash prizes, and the latest generation of large-format HP printers. The selected projects will go on show in a major exhibition, due to open in Barcelona in May 2010, which will then travel to key cities around the world. The best projects will also be featured in a book to be published by Actar. The project is supported by the Spanish Ministry of Housing, the Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona City Council, and the publishing house Actar.

Montreal Launches Bixi the Pedal Powered Public Transit

Bixi is the name of Montreal’s new bike-sharing program. If I had my way every city in the world would have a system like this. Way to go Montreal!

The city joins Paris, Barcelona, and Lyon with the installation of its own public bike system, named Bixi, making 2,400 bicycles available to the public at more than 300 locations across six Montreal boroughs.

Starting next spring, residents will be able to borrow bicycles from one station and drop them off at another.

“You grab it, you ride it, you bring it back,” Montreal’s mayor Gerald Tremblay told The Canadian Press. “It will become an emblem for Montreal.”

Bixi may be a more health-friendly means of transportation, but it’s also environmentally friendly. The bikes, which were made in Quebec, are composed entirely of recycled aluminum and the parking stations run on solar power.

The entire operation cost $15 million and was paid for by Stationnement de Montreal, a company that manages the city’s on-street parking.

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