Some Lessons from Barcelona

Barcelona: Day Twenty-two

Great streets are places that feature women, and children. Barcelona reminds us of that. And here are a smattering of other things I learned and observations about the city.

A Different Type of Density
Ildefons Cerda was the engineer responsible for the unique layout of the new part of Barcelona; Eixample. The intersections of streets throughout these parts of the city feature an octagonal reserve which allows four street frontages to face directly onto the intersection, which in most instances meant that cafes and bars could take advantage of the open space of a streetscape bordered by 4 and 5 story buildings. The effect is quite unique – allowing light and air to permeate otherwise congested streets. I’m undecided about whether this is good design or quirky.

Another feature of Cerda’s work is that most city blocks feature an internal courtyard largely accessible by residents of the buildings, although some are open to the public. Good or bad, it’s a pattern of development that was adopted wholeheartedly in the early part of the 20th century. There seems to be a genuine attempt by Cerda to integrate public and private open space in an otherwise densely populated area.

Pedals are Better than Pistons
Amsterdam may be the city of the bicycle, but here in Barcelona, the motorcycle is king. Gone are the banks of bikes clinging precariously to bike racks (and anything else stationary in the street), replaced instead with row upon row of Piaggios, Peugeots, Hondas, Yamaha’s and Suzuki’s. Motorcycles are probably better than cars. They take up far less space, they use less fuel and do less damage to the roads, but they are noisy. Bicycles are much better.

Pedestrian Priority
I want to know, how do they manage to coordinate the pedestrian lights in such way that if I walk at a consistent speed, I need never have to wait at an intersection? More to the point, why don’t we do this in our cities? (Relax, the question was rhetorical).

Let It Go
I wonder if the legacy of the 1992 Olympic Games has been as poorly handled in Barcelona as the 2000 Olympics were by the New South Wales Government? Certainly the precinct looks like it’s just waiting for the next big thing – but what?

Architects Should Design Buildings
I don’t like Antoni Gaudi’s contribution to architecture. But Barcelona has much to be grateful to him for, and the Banco Ondulante (Undulating Bench) at Park Guell is beautiful, and comfortable. Although I understand Gaudi didn’t design it anyway, one of his understudies did. Although Park Guell itself is a bit of a shambles I think. Perhaps he should have stuck to designing buildings… or not.

I’m sorry to be leaving Barcelona after only three days. I think there is a lot more I have to learn here (and to appreciate, perhaps?).

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