THE OPINION: URBAN PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY AT 22@

by Carla Escolà Costa,

Successful urban transformations are the ones that best match the expectations of the society they serve. A well-known example is the Eixample of Cerdà. Cerdà faced with a majority demand for livable, healthy spaces with the highest possible environmental quality in order to escape from a pandemic and confined reality. He found support with operators willing to fund a new way of life, and had the sensitivity to do so by ensuring urban quality for all.

The urban transformation of Barcelona 22@ is also a success story and was able to tune in to the city's expectations: it started in a Barcelona that was finally one of the world's reference cities, and was able to turn a declining productive urban fabric into an innovative district.

The city council has in recent years has proposed to adjust its development to the newest expectations based on sustainability. Environmental sustainability in a context of climate emergency, social sustainability in a context of housing emergency and economic sustainability in a context of economic emergency.

The vitality of Barcelona 22@ innovative district depends on many factors, but fundamentally on the ability to implement this triple sustainability.

The new regulation promoted by the City Council begun with a collaborative process: the pact 'Towards a Poblenou with a more inclusive and sustainable 22 @', in which we participated and signed as 22@ Network Urban planning commission, and which is based on sustainability parameters.

The new regulations are currently in the process of allegations analysis, and an initial approval expected by October. Without deepening into the level of detail of the allegations we presented as 22@ Network, I share some reflections in terms of triple sustainability below.

In terms of environmental sustainability, this is a goal shared by all the agents in the district: from the residents who live in it, especially the youngest, to companies that only wish to occupy buildings with an environmental certification. Just as Cerdà found a society willing to escape the unhealthy conditions of the past, today we have the challenge of avoiding a future loss of habitability.

The new Plan incorporates some interesting points, such as the inclusion of green roofs and / or photovoltaic roofing surfaces, the treatment of soil and open spaces, among others, but could go further than that, for instance  by linking environmental sustainability with the economic incentives following  the footsteps of Law 8/2013, on urban rehabilitation, regeneration and renovation. For example, maximal building surface increases in buildings that meet ambitious environmental criteria, such as being energy positive.

The pact already incorporated other interesting elements to be explore in an environmentally sustainable way, such as a guide of criteria to define objective parameters based on quality, which could serve as support for municipal quality committees and competition drafters. There is also a 22@ quality seal to encourage innovative and sustainable developments and create district community.

At the level of social sustainability, housing densification proposed by the Plan is positive, both in social sense and to promote the mixture of uses in the district. The inclusion of social housing should not prevent the generation of free housing for people who work in the district and cannot access social housing. This is a major handicap to achieve the 15 minutes city and promoting sustainable mobility: pedestrian traffic is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

The re-densification in housing has gone hand in hand with the introduction of new areas of open spaces, squares and urban gardens for the new inhabitants. This has occurred to the detriment of road spaces, in line with the reduction of the progressive road surface that was successfully implemented in many fabrics in Barcelona, in this case with a change in urban planning. This is not the first time that these processes have been innovated: the previous plan provided for the deconsolidation of urban land to make transfers, which ended up modifying the general urban planning regulations. We hope that this solution does not end up delaying the regulatory process.

With regard to economic sustainability, it is clear that urban plans do not bear fruit without agents willing to invest economic resources in them. In this sense, it is necessary to give the maximum guarantee of legal security to those who have recently invested in assets in the district, some of whom had been processing Urban Improvement Plans long before the license stop begun. It is also necessary to balance correctly the transformation and license costs so there are enough operators willing to invest in them. 

Another aspect to highlight about economic sustainability is the promotion of innovative activities such as 4.0 Industry. The published documents of the new Plan identify the Consolidated Industrial Buildings (EIC) as the framework where innovative industrial activities can take place without any need of urban transformation. 

This is one of the key factors in guaranteeing the success of the future evolution of 22@ as an innovation district: without this transformation procedure to implement these activities they are more likely to appear in the district, since they often cannot take place in buildings with too high rents. It is a way to implement in the district what Europe is marking as a way for the future: technology, digitalization and sustainability. 

In short, a critical mass of innovation, sustainability and social mix may maintain and strengthen the success of a 22@, that is and must continue being a benchmark in the world on how cities can bring economic, social and environmental value through innovative urban planning. 


JORDI PARÍS

Architect, partner of PICHarchitects

Member of the Town Planning Commission of the 22@ Network.

 President of the Cambra d’Empreses de Serveis Professionals a la Construcció 

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