Barcelona: the walking city


Barcelona: the walking city

London Living Streets

Barcelona is blessed with amazing natural infrastructure: backed by mountains, flanked by two rivers and with a horizon stretching across the blue sea of the Mediterranean.


My wonderful guide, Carlos Orti of Barcelona Camina, took me up to the mountains by funicular train for a strategic view across the city.  Here we found locals picking the tender stems of wild asparagus. Whilst the foragers were picking out the delicate green shoots of spring, we were picking out the crucial points of infrastructure in the city.


In the late 19th century, the ancient city walls, which were creating a cauldron of disease, were demolished and Eixample or 'Expansion' was built between the old city and the surrounding small towns of Sants, Gràcia, Sant Andreu, etc. Ildefons Cerdà was the visionary, pioneering, Spanish urban planner whose street layout is characterized by long, straight streets; a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues; and octagonal city blocks. Cerdà considered traffic and transport along with sunlight and ventilation in coming up with his characteristic octogonal blocks. I was told that the street design was to have facilitated a tram network. 


The core idea was that the city should breathe and the growing population could be spread out equally, as well as providing green spaces within each block.


Unfortunately, Cerdà had not anticipated that the streets would become polluted and congested with cars and motorcycles. The wide avenues became one-way, motor-traffic-dominated speed drags. Random parking of motorcycles and cars blocked the safe passage of pedestrians and cyclists. 


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