The city of Barcelona has one of the highest population density levels in Europe, but is also considered one of the most livable cities in the world. How can this work? The answer is in the great urban planning.

Follow the experience of one of our Social Media Interns, Anna (Community Development Major), as she offers us her insight into the livability of Barcelona.

Walking the city of Barcelona is easy and invigorating. I can reach the sky on the hilltop in Parc del Carmel, the tan buildings of the city spreading out below me like wings towards the sea. I can bury my feet in the sand, stroll up La Rambla, wander through the rustically beautiful and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, and parade among the palm trees and luscious greenery of Parc de la Ciutadella.

Laughter and chatter reverberate off the ancient stone walls, street music echoes through squares, and skateboard wheels ricochet off cement barricades. Street art decorates closed shop doors and palm fronds rustle in the breezy current that flows off the Mediterranean sea. The city pulses with culture and history.

As I enjoy my walk in Barcelona, I remember how difficult it would be to cover so much of a city on foot in the United States. Most U.S. cities developed during the age of the car. By contrast, the more historical European cities developed and expanded to serve people on foot.  This put grocery stores, hospitals, schools, and social centers within walking distance of homes.  Zoning in most US municipalities often rules out development of offices, stores, or restaurants close to homes. To get around, many U.S. citizens move from an enclosed and private home, to an enclosed and private vehicle, and finally to an enclosed and private workspace. While there are exceptions to the car-centric culture of the United States, the associated isolation of a society with low pedestrian numbers discourages physical activity and is destructive for social cohesion, street culture, and small business, local economy.

A pedestrian-centric life means going face to face with more people from different ways of life and different cultural backgrounds. It means more connections with neighbors and new faces each day. It means a slower mode of transport, giving people the opportunity to observe and appreciate their surroundings; to be excited and inspired by the place they live. Walking and bicycling gives people time to look through store and restaurant windows, meaning more attention for businesses and a more vibrant local economy.

Barcelona’s rich and deep history enhances a pedestrian paradise. Born from an Iberian settlement, Barcelona has experienced rule under many governments. The heart of Barcelona, still present today in the Gothic Quarter, was born in 10 B.C. as Roman Barcino. The city gradually expanded around this core, approving Ildefons Cerdá’s plan in 1859 to connect Barcelona’s old city with surrounding towns through a liveable and efficient expansion called the Eixample. The Eixample was a grid plan that recognized the need for sunlight, natural lighting, ventilation in homes, greenery in people’s surroundings, effective waste disposal, and ease of movement.

I am amazed by Barcelona’s walkability. Consequently, I was surprised and inspired to learn that the city is not satisfied: Barcelona has a plan to reduce traffic by 21%. The city plans to achieve this through the creation of “superblocks”, nine square blocks around which traffic will flow. Inside superblocks, only pedestrians, bicyclists, residents parking their cars underground, and shop deliveries will be allowed.

It is an exciting time to be in Barcelona. The citizens are reclaiming the streets and the already vibrant and thriving street culture promises an exciting future. Now is the time to join a study abroad program in this Mediterranean paradise called Barcelona.