International News from World: In the centre of bustling and busy Barcelona there is unusual quiet: just the babble of children playing in a small playground and the sound of the birds. There is virtually no traffic and the space where cars would have parked is given over to play areas, trees and even a running track.
Superblocks is a radical plan to reclaim the streets from the noise and pollution of traffic, one that could save hundreds of lives that might otherwise be lost because of heavily polluted air. It also hopes to act as a blueprint for other cities.
There are just six superblocks so far, but Barcelona plans hundreds of others. They are made up of nine existing blocks joined together into an area which bans all but essential vehicles – which are limited to 10 kph (6mph). Parking for residents is underground.
Some residents are opposed to the plan, either because they want to have their cars outside their homes or because they run local businesses and feel that trade will be affected by cutting off traffic flow.
But the idea is proving popular with other cities such as Seattle, which is considering introducing something similar.
“Cars take up 60% of public space across the city,” explained Barcelona’s deputy mayor for urbanism Janet Sanz in a recent BBC interview.
“As soon as you redistribute that space and rebalance the situation, you are supporting groups that until then have had no access to that space.”
It is not just traffic that Barcelona has a radical plan to shake up – it is also leading the field when it comes to the guardianship of citizens’ data – something that is becoming more of an issue as cities collect it via sensors, CCTV cameras and even telecom networks.
Under a plan initiated with other cities including Bordeaux, Edinburgh, Florence and Manchester, Barcelona is determined that citizen data – defined as personal or non-personal information generated in the digital public sphere – should be recognised as a public and individual asset and should be used solely in the public interest.
“We believe that technology has to be at the service of citizens to improve the quality of life in cities and not to create digital exclusion,” said the city’s commissioner for digital innovation, Michael Donaldson.
“Smart doesn’t just come from the intelligence provided by the technology but also from the citizens, their experience, their knowledge which can be gathered to make better public decisions.”