The new Superblock concept created by the Barcelona Agency for Urban Ecology (BCNecologia) presents an exciting opportunity to rethink urban planning by putting people at the center and using health and wellbeing as the driving forces for design. The model shifts focus from motorized vehicles to create citizen spaces, improve public and active transport, and reallocate space previously used by cars for greenspace and community use (i.e. public gardens, performance spaces, etc.).
In the face of rapid urbanization worldwide, and the social, mental and physical impacts of city life, this model can contribute to creating healthy and thriving urban areas. The new Superblock is capturing the attention of cities and being evaluated for adaptation and implementation, nationally and internationally. The Superblock is scheduled for implementation throughout Barcelona, and is the focus of this commitment. Over the next three years, the Barcelona Centre for International Health (ISGlobal), in collaboration with BCNEcologia and the Barcelona City Council, commits to provide scientific evidence and expertise in epidemiology, health impact assessment modeling, and impact assessment indicators to optimize the Superblock model for population health.
The Barcelona City Council has embarked upon an ambitious plan to improve the quality of urban space and quality of life for its inhabitants. The Superblock is a key element of the new urban ordinance that will allow the city to reach the objectives outlined in the Barcelona Mobility Plan 2013-2018, including the reduction of motorized trips by 21% and compliance with environmental quality parameters for NOx and PM10 (per the European Union Directive) and greenhouse gases (Kyoto Treaty). The City Council has designated 10 million Euros towards the implementation of 503 Superblocks throughout the city. During the initial phase (2016-2018), an estimated 46 Superblocks will be created. It is envisioned that each district will implement various Superblocks, focusing on areas with the greatest density and least amount of public space. The Superblock pilot phase is beginning in September 2016 in San Martí Distrcit, and is the result of a participatory process between local government, neighborhood associations and legal entities.
ISGlobal will contribute its expertise and use the latest scientific evidence to strengthen the human health implications of the Superblock design, as well as participate in pilot testing activities starting in September 2016. This will include the development of indicators for impact assessment, which are crucial for monitoring and evaluation of the implementation results. Pilot testing activities include: participation in public debates, public engagement activities in the Sant Martí Superblock (interactive points for education and participation air pollution monitoring, active transport) and communications and media support.
Together, the two agencies will apply rigorous, evidence based criteria to the Superblock design, and engage with government officials and the public to test and refine this innovative model. We will apply the Health Impact Assessment Method and impact indicators to the Superblock model and test 4 actual Superblocks scheduled for implementation in Barcelona. HIA allows for creating and testing scenarios to measure the impact of different interventions on population health. From the 4 case studies, a general set of recommendations and indicators will be developed that will improve the Superblock design for health and wellbeing. The output will be the 4 case studies for neighborhoods in Barcelona and an optimized model that is replicable for cities worldwide.
Sept 2016: This Commitment is linked to the implementation of the Barcelona Mobility Plan (2013-2018), and therefore begins with participation in the pilot of the first Superblock in the city. These activities are focused around public engagement, communication support and expert consultation for the potential benefits of the Superblock model for health in the current city context
The Commitment will then develop by conducting a review of relevant scientific literature and data that will be used for the HIA. Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a means of assessing the health impacts of policies, plans and projects in diverse settings using quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques. HIA methodology uses demographic, health, economic and mobility data and engagement with key stakeholders to develop and test scenarios for their impact on health in specific contexts, for example increase in bicycle use for transport.
We will conduct a diagnostic test to choose 4 of the Superblocks being implemented in Barcelona to apply the HIA methodology. Through this exercise, scenarios can be developed and tested for these neighborhoods, and will be used to inform and refine the scenarios, indicators and recommendations for the Superblock model that will lead to an optimized version which can be applied to urban contexts worldwide.
Main Activities and Timeline:
Sept. 2016 to Dec. 2016: Pilot the first Superblock in Sant Marti District; Review of literature and evidence applicable for the HIA; Diagnostic and Selection of two Superblocks for Sant Marti District for HIA.
Jan. 2017 to June 2017: Diagnostic and selection of two Superblocks for Sant Marti District for HIA; Design of HIA Scenarios; Design of indicators for health impact and Urban Ecosystem applicable for the Superblock model.
July 2017 to Dec. 2017: Design of HIA Scenarios; Design of indicators for health impact and Urban Ecosystem applicable for the Superblock model; HIA Sant Marti.
Jan. 2018 to June 2018: HIA Sant Marti, Refinement of HIA scenarios and indicators based on testing; Diagnostic and Selection of two Superblocks for Eixample and Les Corts for HIA; HIA Eixample and Les Corts; Comparative analysis of indicators.
July. 2018 to Dec. 2018: Refinement of HIA scenarios and indicators based on testing; HIA Eixample and Les Corts; Comparative analysis of indicators.
Jan. 2019 to Sept. 2019: HIA Eixample and Les Corts; Comparative analysis of indicators; Finalization of optimize Model and dissemination.
The Superblock Implementation at the neighborhood level is being done through the Barcelona City Council though its Urban Mobility Plan (2012-2018). Thus the timeline is subject to modification.
Healthy cities are prosperous cities. Health is an indicator of and a prerequisite to achieving sustainable urban development. With urbanization occurring at historically unprecedented rates - currently 54% of the worlds population live in urban areas, and urbanization is expected to reach 66% by 2050, according to the UN creating cities to support health is of the utmost importance. Urban life offers many benefits, including economic opportunities and access to services. However, it poses demonstrated risks such as increased exposure to pollutants, sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition and stress. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) associated with urban lifestyles are on the rise. NCDs now account for the largest burden of disease worldwide, 68% of global mortality, and will cost a projected $30 trillion from 2011-2030, according to the 2011 Global Economic Burden of NCDs. Further, inequities are often exacerbated in urban contexts, contributing to poor health outcomes and leading to a cycle of entrenched poverty, according to the World Health Organization.
Barcelona is one of Europe´s most densely populated cities, and embodies many urban challenges that cities face. According to the Barcelona Public Health Agency, Barcelona persistently fails to meet recommended air quality and greenspace standards, while 57.5% of residents are exposed to noise levels considered unhealthy. Air pollution alone causes an estimated 3,500 premature deaths annually in the metropolitan area (Perez et al, 2009). These urban realities require novel, comprehensive approaches to urban planning that protect and promote the health and wellbeing of citizens.
Careful planning and construction of urban environments can mitigate these risks and promote population health. Therefore, it is crucial that health criteria and evidence be considered during the urban planning processes and in monitoring for impact. Greater collaboration between public health and urban transport and design sectors can help build common language, tools and approaches to tackle challenges posed by urbanization. For example, increasing active transport options through mobility interventions can accrue large health co-benefits in addition to reducing emissions and congestion from traffic. Multi-sectoral approaches are the key to achieving improved health outcomes and greater urban equity.