Barcelona Will Vote for Diagonal Redesign
In the stages running up to the integration of a new tram line, Barcelona is planning a revamp of one of its most important avenues, La Diagonal, and in a first-ever participatory process, is asking its residents to publicly vote on the proposal they like best. Apart from incorporating the tram that will link two existing lines at either end, the move supposedly aims to reduce car traffic by 70%. That sounds like heaven to any city dweller, but the plan is not without its dissidents, who warn that opening such a complicated urban planning decision to public debate is a mistake. Amidst the squabble, what will prevail? Boulevard, Promenade, or None of the Above?
Owing its name to the slant at which it cuts through the city from west to east, the 50-meter wide, 11-km long avenue was projected in the late 1800s by urban planner Ildefons Cerdà on his rationalist grid that characterizes the Eixample neighborhood. As this diagonal artery and commercial hub prepares for the makeover, these are the options laid on the table by the mayor, Jordi Hereu:
Proposal A suggests a similar configuration to the existing one, with a central avenue for tram, buses, taxis, and a two-way lane for cars and motorbikes, flanked by pedestrian walkways with bike lanes and an additional lane for private transport on either side.
Proposal B, however, entails a complete transformation of the existing avenue into a “rambla”, or wide central promenade for pedestrians and bicycles, flanked by lanes for both public and private transport and wide sidewalks leading up to the building facades on either side.
Proposal C? None of the Above. If residents think its fine the way it is, they can say so too. And considering the 3-year, €70 milllion investment that it is, it doesn’t come as a surprise that prominent figures like Josep Acebillo and revered Catalán architect Oriol Bohigas, have expressed their dissent, and not only towards the idea of opening up the decision to public opinion, but everything from the redesign to the creation of the tramline that started the whole thing. Both agree that the linear tram line dividing a main artery will inhibit rather than enhance mobility. While Acebillo, former chief architect of the city of Barcelona, insists that “less is more” and worries the loss of car lanes will cause the city to lose its competitive edge against Madrid, Bohigas believes that citizens are not equipped with the technical knowledge and evaulative tools to fully understand the implications of such an overhaul. At most, he reservedly suggests that residents give their opinion based on a report that thoroughly outlines the pros, cons and costs, and ultimately involves representative on different levels towards making the final decision.
The first may seem as conservative and short-sighted as the next is next elitist, but we as city dwellers should also be wary not to fall prey to naivité. While initiatives to make the city more people-oriented is a crucial direction towards sustainable cities, it does not mean that all of them make sense, regardless. It’s exciting and its right that commuties be involved in the shaping of their cities, but experts should be there to transform those desires into feasible and grounded solutions. As for the future of the Diagonal, Barcelonians will cast their votes online and in public ballot boxes between the 10th and 16th of May. Even if the strategy is flawed, it could certainly pave the way in devising a better system for involving people in redesigning their cities, and learning in the process. We might not be experts, but the more knowledge we gain by participating, the more empowered we become as citizens, and the more responsibility we will take in caring for of our urban ecosystems.
We’d love to hear what you think.
You can listen to the FAD podcasts of Bohigas on the Diagonal redesign (in spanish)
For more info about the Diagonal project, visit the official website.