Improving urban planning with superblocks

Compared to a normal city block, there is little or no motorized traffic in the Superblock. Credit: Empa

Rising heat, noise and air pollution, and shrinking green spaces – due to climate change and population growth, cities are facing more and more challenges. How can we approach them? “A crucial factor is urban planning. The design and use of street space influences the quality of life of residents and has the potential to significantly improve the urban climate,” says Sven Eggimann, researcher at the Empa. In a new study published in Natural durabilityhe investigated which urban developments offered potential for the implementation of so-called Superblocks and where this principle could be applied.

Interior qualities

A typical Superblock, as found for example in Barcelona, ​​consists of 3×3 blocks, each separated by (outer) streets. Inside the blocks, the streets are free of through traffic. This makes it possible to rethink this interior space in order to use it in alternative ways. Since the streets of today’s urban areas make up a significant portion of the total land area, this urban design offers great potential. In European cities, the share of streets is usually between 15 and 25%. “The redesign of street space within Superblocks provides new opportunities to adapt cities to climate change by using it to implement heat mitigation measures,” says Eggimann.

Wanted: Ideal Superblock Locations

Of course, not all existing cities can or should simply be redesigned according to the “superblock principle”. This is why Sven Eggimann has developed a methodology to identify urban areas that really lend themselves to a Superblock design. It is thus possible to identify urban configurations similar to that of Barcelona, ​​taking into account factors such as the topology of the road network and the population density. Eggimann applied this approach to various cities around the world to assess how many streets could actually be transformed using the Superblock principle. He also took into account that the redevelopment should not disrupt traffic in the city too much. Therefore, he excluded for example Superblocks crossed by a main road.

The results ranged from a few percent to over a third of a city’s streets that could be redesigned. Interestingly, cities with less gridded street layouts than Barcelona would also be suitable for Superblocks. However, cities such as Mexico City, Madrid and Tokyo have shown the greatest potential. “The study shows that many cities have the opportunity to redesign at least parts of their neighborhoods and streets along the lines of Superblock design. This presents an opportunity to make urban neighborhoods more attractive by focusing on people rather than vehicles. More space for green and pedestrians would be an important step towards more sustainable and livable cities,” says Sven Eggimann.

The researcher sees potential in this urban design also for Switzerland: “Swiss cities also face a variety of challenges due to the ongoing climate change and urbanization. The question of whether these should be raised with the help of Superblock design should definitely be looked at in more detail.”

The superblocks that are currently transforming Barcelona could also work in Australian cities

More information:
Sven Eggimann, The potential for implementing superblocks for multifunctional street use in cities, Natural durability (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00855-2

Provided by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology

Quote: Improving urban planning with Superblocks (2022, March 17) retrieved June 12, 2022 from

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