Geo Week News

March 25, 2024

Exploring Barcelona's Urban Innovations: Superblocks, Sustainable Mobility, and Future GIS Possibilities

This article provides a glimpse into Barcelona's urban innovations, emphasizing GIS in municipal asset managment.

Abstract: This article provides a glimpse into Barcelona's urban innovations - i.e., superblocks, sustainable mobility, and future GIS possibilities - emphasizing GIS in municipal asset management. It explores Barcelona's pioneering efforts in social interaction, energy efficiency, and mobility, particularly within semi-pedestrianized superilles.


Effective collaboration within municipal offices and between the government and private sector is essential for the smooth operation of municipal activities. The absence of such interoperability presents major issues for traditional municipalities and governmental entities; the core of e-municipality and e-government applications lies in the interoperability infrastructure.

The driving force in this article explore how web services technologies could form a robust interoperability infrastructure for e-municipality. The recommendation is for municipalities to leverage web services, not only to cut costs, but also to elevate service quality and effectively augment revenue streams. E-municipality epitomizes a forward-thinking municipal entity that strategically conducts communication, business transactions, and service delivery in a sophisticated electronic environment.

“An interoperability infrastructure is at the heart of e-government (OeE, 2003).” - Akinci, Halil. (2004), p.1

Interoperability is the key to seamless communication and collaboration among diverse applications. The absence of this capability and infrastructure poses significant challenges for traditional governments and municipalities while hindering efficient updates, leading to negligence or reliance on auxiliary archiving mechanisms.

Every local council is distinctive with its unique priorities. In the realm of digital transformation, a universal solution does not exist, so tailoring strategies to each council's specific needs and leveraging GIS ideas ensures a more effective and customized approach.

“The use of geospatial data and analyses is growing beyond the traditional project-based, desktop driven geographic information system (GIS), challenging institutions to provide common infrastructure for more effective shar-ing of geospatial data and associated services (Keating et al. 2002, 2003).” – Witkowski, Marc & Rich, Paul & Keating, Gordon. (2007), p.60

Elevating Geography: The Entrepreneurial Impact of GIS Technology in Municipal Asset Management

Entrepreneurial use of GIS technology is elevating geography from basic applications to interconnected environments, facilitating efficient sharing of geospatial information across organizations. This strategic advantage enhances collective understanding and enables informed decision-making.

“GIS helps store, manage, analyze, manipulate and display data that are linked spatially. In essence, GIS relates database records and their associated attribute data to a physical location in "real" world coordinates, thereby creating a "smart map". – Vanier, Dana. (2004). p.10

Municipalities, facing aging infrastructure and budget constraints, find leveraging information technology, including GIS and asset management systems, crucial for improving efficiency in asset management processes. Improving asset data availability and consistency across various systems facilitates seamless integration, enabling smooth information flow and exchange among parties and eliminating access deficiencies. 

GIS technical literature in the context of civil engineering and municipal infrastructure covers five crucial categories: 

  • GIS usage surveys
  • Data conversion challenges
  • Domain-specific applications
  • Advanced implementations
  • Systems integration

Advanced implementation entails the synergistic use of technologies like expert systems, artificial intelligence, or 3D visualization in conjunction with GIS, specifically addressing the management of municipal infrastructure. In this context, municipalities prioritize leveraging GIS and asset management systems for efficient infrastructure management amid aging assets and budget constraints.

Also, research examples specifically addressing municipal infrastructure management in this context are limited. Advanced implementation of the potential of GIS when integrated with other applications, particularly in municipal asset management.

Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability: Barcelona's Innovation in Social Interaction, Energy Efficiency, and Mobility Strategies

Urban sustainability relies on social interaction, something that is challenging to measure spatially with existing GIS data. Digital information is reshaping urban design, impacting how people experience cities and altering measurement approaches for physical and social qualities of urban spaces. While small-scale spatial understanding of downtown social interaction is studied in various disciplines, measuring it geospatially remains challenging. 

Barcelona's semi-pedestrianized superilles provide a unique context for studying the interplay between urban design characteristics and social interaction, utilizing a Social Interaction tool to assess and enhance human qualities in these innovative urban spaces.

Figure 1. |Theoretical framework for measuring social interaction. Dashed categories are newly added. Source: Speranza, Philip, (2018) p. 46

Analyzing Barcelona's framework for measuring social interaction diagrams involved visualizing them as city blocks, which were then shifted to the experiential context of streets. This process revealed that this innovative scale of urban data collection naturally prompts the exploration of new scales in urban data analysis and visualization.

Geospatial information was gathered from on-site street addresses to identify shortcomings in the availability of social resources with the objective of assessing the viability of merging mobile data collection with cloud-based geospatial analysis as a valuable approach in urban design.

Barcelona superblock

The Barcelona superblock, proposed as a sustainable urban neighbourhood transformation strategy, focuses on reducing space allocated to cars, allowing for alternative uses to enhance liveability and sustainability. Employing a geospatial network-based approach, this study identifies optimal locations for introducing multifunctional streets. In the site prioritization process, these locations are further evaluated based on their potential impact on traffic disruption.

Barcelona's superblock design, originating from the nineteenth-century urban plan, is being considered for adaptation in various cities. While districts align well with its grid-like street network, others have irregular layouts. Geospatial modelling and network analysis, utilizing OpenStreetMap data, assess street suitability for superblock design based on urban characteristics and street network topology. This approach identifies optimal locations for multifunctional streets within the superblock framework.

Figure 2. |The superblock design is further developed into similar urban configurations such as miniblocks or linear blocks. Source: Eggimann, Sven. (2022) p.407

Barcelona's semi-pedestrianized superilles offer a unique context for studying social interaction and testing innovative methods to measure the human qualities of urban spaces. The research employs on-site mobile technology integrated with GIS and digital visualization to analyze the connections between physical environmental factors and social interaction.

Figure 3. |. Left: Barcelona’s example blocks, superilles and interior streets. Right: Two superilles measured 2014. – Source: Speranza, Philip (2018), p.42

Urban designers have the potential to enhance larger-scaled traditional planning approaches by gaining a deeper understanding of human-scale qualities in spaces. Integrating on-site data with GIS-based analysis unveils patterns not typically accounted for in traditional GIS planning techniques or captured by conventional behavioural science methods.

Social interaction and other urban phenomena measured on-site exemplifies an emerging “bottom-up” method of urban design, harnessing the power of small-scale geospatial information systems (Speranza 2014).” Speranza, Philip (2018), p.59

Barcelona's Urban Ecology Agency has introduced an innovative urban model called Supermanzana (superblock) in recent years. This model not only revitalizes neighbourhood public spaces but also reorganizes the overall urban structure. It identifies a main thoroughfare network for through-traffic, reimagining the interconnected meshes as superblocks. These superblocks feature redesigned street spaces to prioritize non-motorized mobility and diverse street activities.

Figure 4. |The Superblocks Model at the neighbourhood/ urban mobility level. Barcelona the transformation of interior street space – Source: Benavides, J., Usmani, S.., & Kioumourtzoglou, M.-A. (2022), p.84

The Barcelona superblock model exemplifies effective urban design by adhering to a practice of limiting sizes to approximately 400 m2 x 400 m2 This model prioritizes sustainable mobility goals through the concept of shared streets, where both cars and pedestrians coexist and share the right of way. This modelling system allows the estimation of policy impacts on traffic, emissions, and air pollution at high spatial resolution.

Results: Barcelona's Integrated Sustainability - Energy Efficiency Achievements and Innovations in Mobility

The demonstration site in Barcelona comprises ten refurbished buildings with a total gross floor area of 33,110 m². The refurbishment has successfully reduced the site's final energy demand by 2,767 MWh annually.

“According to SCIS calculations based on energy design data and the respective emission factors available (European factors – EN 15603), the primary energy savings go up to 5 729 MWh/yr while the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reduction amounts to 1 610 tonnes every year.” – European Commission, EU Smart Cities Information System, The Making of a Smart City: Best Practices Across Europe, 2017, p.15

In Barcelona, innovative technologies demonstrate advancements in energy efficiency and integration. Solutions include retrofitting building envelopes, optimizing HVAC and lighting, and implementing heat pumps. In energy systems, there's district heating, electrical energy storage, and smart street lighting using lamp posts for connectivity. Waste heat recovery from various sources is also employed. These strategies collectively contribute to a more energy-efficient and integrated urban environment.

Source: European Commission, EU Smart Cities Information System, The Making of a Smart City: Best Practicies Across Europe, 2017, p.15

Source: European Commission, EU Smart Cities Information System, The Making of a Smart City: Best Practicies Across Europe, 2017, p.15

Barcelona's innovative initiatives in mobility & transport include a broad spectrum of strategies. Barcelona's multifaceted approach encompasses sustainable practices, advanced technologies, and efficient urban planning to enhance mobility, reduce emissions, and optimize transport systems. 

Figure 7. | Barcelona Mobility and Transport: Navigating Sustainable Urban Connectivity, Source: European Commission, EU Smart Cities Information System, The Making of a Smart City: Best Practicies Across Europe, 2017, p.16

Barcelona pioneers innovative mobility solutions with strategies like developing clean fuels infrastructure, promoting car-sharing with electric vehicles, and optimizing bicycle and urban freight logistics. Additionally, the city embraces advanced ICT solutions, including traffic control systems, smart home technologies, and predictive weather metering, enhancing urban efficiency and sustainability.

Figure 8. |Barcelona ICT: Unveiling the City's Technological Landscape Source: European Commission, EU Smart Cities Information System, The Making of a Smart City: Best Practices Across Europe, 2017, p.16
Figure 9. |Space for pedestrians, Accessibility, Air quality, Acoustic comfort, Liveability Index in public Space.- Source: López, Iván, Jordi Ortega, and Mercedes Pardo. (2020), p.4
Figure 10. | Pedestrian space in Barcelona before and after Superblocks. – Source: López, Iván, Jordi Ortega, and Mercedes Pardo. 2020. p.10

Geospatial Revolution Down Under: Unveiling the Integral Role of GIS Technology in Australia's Local Government

In Australia, the surge in adopting spatial technology seems to parallel the increasing recognition of the value of GIS technology, showcasing a notable trend toward technological integration and awareness within the country.

The understanding of spatial technology's value owes much to the contributions of geospatial professionals within councils. To keep up with technological advancements, these professionals must expand their skill sets. This underscores the importance of ongoing investment in training and development for geospatial personnel, ensuring they are adequately prepared to capitalize on future opportunities in the field.

“We recognise that in many instances the spatial data generated in local government serves as a foundation for the information that we will use to create Australia’s national foundation spatial data sets”.  Kouparitsas, Alicia. 2013, p.10

The impact on both government and the community is immeasurable. The solution's user-friendly online map contextualizes information, translating data into clear visual presentations. This enables confident and timely decision-making across all organizational levels and departments, the streamlined workflows of the system consolidate information from various applications into a single interface, allowing users to operate seamlessly across multiple platforms.

In the Australian context, GIS plays a crucial role in mapping service coverage for councils. It offers a clear understanding of areas served with piped water, the configuration of water distribution networks, the extent of sewerage networks, the presence of drainage systems, and areas in the town lacking electricity. This comprehensive mapping capability enhances the planning and management of essential services, contributing to more informed decision-making by local authorities.

Barcelona's Strategic Positioning for FDI: A Catalyst for Future Growth and GIS Exploration

In the 2024 fDi European cities and regions report, Barcelona is strategically positioned for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), demonstrating alignment with the evolving cross-border investment landscape. Recognized for proactive policies, robust infrastructure, and commitment to facilitating seamless cross-border opportunities, Barcelona actively promotes a conducive environment, fostering continued economic growth and collaboration on the European stage.

‘In the FDI strategy category, Barcelona once again won the favour of the judges for its articulated investment promotion strategy, as the city continues to grow its tech cluster and embrace industry 4.0.”   fDi European Cities and Regions of the Future – Website -2024 

Figure 10. | 2024 iteration of fDi Intelligence’s flagship European Cities and Regions of the Future ranking. – Source: fDi European Cities and Regions of the Future (2024) p.26

Barcelona's Business Support Office guides investors through due diligence and supports reinvestment for small and medium enterprises, earning the top spot for FDI Strategy among major cities in the current ranking. This accomplishment not only reflects the city's current achievements but also hints at a promising future, suggesting a need for further studies and exploration of increased GIS possibilities in Barcelona.


The Superblock model in Barcelona shows potential benefits in reducing road traffic and improving local environmental conditions. However, optimistic assumptions and challenges like traffic diversion should be considered in future implementations. A comprehensive evaluation approach, measuring unintended impacts, and integrating with broader traffic reduction policies can enhance the model's effectiveness in transforming urban spaces.

“Superblocks not only modify a city’s physical and functional structures, but they also modify its mental barriers, which are based on car-centered city models. Cities needs to change their coordinates towards a low-carbon transition when the movement of people and things are major contributors to GHG.” – López, Iván, Jordi Ortega, and Mercedes Pardo. 2020 p. 14

This article explores Barcelona's urban innovations, spotlighting superblocks, sustainable mobility, and the future possibilities of GIS. The narrative unveils the city's advancements in municipal asset management, social interaction, energy efficiency, and mobility, with a specific focus on semi-pedestrianized superilles (superblocks). With Australia embracing GIS technologies, readers are urged to delve into the evolving GIS landscape for a deeper understanding. The broader perspective of GIS applications links local and global innovations, prompting readers to seek detailed insights for comprehensive knowledge.

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