October 29, 2020

The greatest experts in superblocks criticize that Madrid plans the first project in a still non-existent and isolated neighborhood


The superblock pilot experience planned by the Madrid City Council for this fall will not take place in the Salamanca neighborhood, as advanced by the urban planner José María Ezquiaga, one of the experts appointed by the mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, but in Los Berrocales , a neighborhood still under construction to the southeast of the capital that will inaugurate its first development in spring 2021.

Why has the city council chosen a new and isolated neighborhood on the outskirts of the city instead of an existing one, to experiment with an urban concept whose objective is to recover public space for pedestrians? According to José Luis Infanzón, general director of Public Space in Madrid, Los Berrocales has been chosen, where 22,000 new homes will be built, because “of the urbanization projects approved years ago and that paralyzed the crisis (such as Los Cerros or Valdecarros), it is the most advanced. ” On the other hand, Infanzón argues, it has the advantage that it will be organized in a grid, which facilitates the grouping of apples into larger units (superblocks). But he himself advances the main obstacle that has led from the Salamanca district, also designed in a grid, to another that does not yet exist on the outskirts of the city. “In the consolidated city there is usually a rejection of change”; “Removing parking is not easy, and you have to change the routes of the buses, which have been doing the same for years. In a new neighborhood it is different because almost everything can be done from the design,” he argues.

However, the urban planners consulted agree that the Los Berrocales plan does not serve to “experience the concept” of a superblock in the capital, as the council defines the project, but that it must be carried out in the existing city, progressively and, above all, “with great humility”, consulting each step with the neighbors and taking into account that the measures can be easily reversible if they do not work, as explained by the urban planner José María Ezquiaga.

Together with Salvador Rueda and Juan Herreros, Ezquiaga designed the Madrid Centro Project, which intended to recover up to 70% of the public space in the streets of the central almond with the model of superblocks. His plan, drawn up for the Madrid City Council, was kept in a drawer. Until in July of this year, the Villa Agreements, approved by consensus among the five political groups of the municipal plenary session, rescued the idea.

It was about dividing the city into large cells (about 500×500 meters each) made up of 12 blocks of buildings and independent of each other, with their own facilities and local commerce. Only resident vehicles, along with pedestrians and bicycles, could circulate through its inner streets, while passing traffic and public transport would drift to the margins.

The objective is to improve urban quality, giving priority to pedestrians, reducing air pollution and noise pollution and favoring the “15-minute city” model, in which a citizen has the possibility to learn, work, rest and stock up on basic services within a radius of half a kilometer from home.

But in an area still uninhabited and without great possibilities for the neighborhood economy to prosper, because “the population density in new areas is too low for there to be trade on the ground floor of buildings,” Ezquiaga warns, this model it would fail to demonstrate the effectiveness of the measures these planners advocate for the city.

For his part, Salvador Rueda, author of the superblock launched in several central neighborhoods of Barcelona, ​​judges that “to trust an approved project for urban development for a few years, and after the situation we are going through, it is not acceptable “. “You have to do it now in the city already built, not in the new one. In the new one, of course,” he ditch.

Although experts celebrate that Los Berrocales has been designed with these criteria of pedestrian priority, “because the superblock in itself makes sense” insofar as “it allows to have the urban quality conditions that everyone deserves”, Rueda reiterates that for Demonstrating that it works should be done in the inhabited city and also ideally not done in isolation. “The superblock model is not a single superblock, it is a network. Because when it is effective it allows aligning the entire perimeter of the superblocks and freeing up that public space.” He also proposes to apply it in urban fabrics of different morphology, and especially in spaces where there is a mixture of income. “This favors maintaining various activities that low incomes do not allow – precisely – because they do not have the ability to buy.”

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