Having just returned from a two-week trip to Spain, I’ve come to one conclusion: Barcelona has us beat. Not only is Barcelona one of Europe’s cultural hubs — boasting some of the best food, fashion, and art in the world — but their urban infrastructure is both esthetically and practically avant-garde.
La Rambla is a pulsing tree-lined boulevard that runs right down the centre of the city and is an excellent example of how pedestrians rule the Spanish streets. As you can see, people occupy more than 70% of this major urban artery, while cars are relegated to a measly single-lane on either side of the walkway.
Throughout Barcelona, public streets are as much avenues for artistic discovery as they are pathways to beautiful buildings and Medieval alleyways. One thing that really struck me was the degree to which every neighbourhood seemed to have its own soundtrack, with buskers playing on every street corner. It was also refreshing to see artists’ colourful paintings littering the city’s sidewalks rather than vendors pawning off cheap Fendi knock-offs and weird blinking plastic toys.
Another thing I admired was how even the most practical street furniture had so much visual integrity. This simple car barrier, for example, was playfully transformed into a piece of art. Rather than using a series of metal polls to bar vehicles from entering this pedestrian-only area (something that we have yet to see happen in Toronto), planners decided to spell out â€œBARCELONAâ€ with bronze statues.
Another great example of this was how street lamps throughout the city were designed based on neighbourhood and architectural period (so as not to clash with the histories and cultures of the various urban areas).
These lampposts were also designed to benefit pedestrians in that each one simultaneously functioned as a public bench. (As a side note, the bench on top was equipped with a hatch intended to be filled with coal . . . historical public seat warmers, what an idea!)
The public transportation system in Barcelona has also gotten on the aesthetic bandwagon. Every subway stop was unique and each design was seamlessly integrated into its surroundings.
Even their vents and track systems were beautiful. Here, a local artist had created a spider-web of silk ribbons that floated and dipped as air from the underground tunnels was released to the street’s surface.
And, it’s amazing how a little grass can make streetcar tracks almost completely disappear.
Streetscape aside, one of the best things I found in Barcelona was Bicing: a city supported bike-share program that costs only â‚¬6 (approx. $9) per year. Using a swipe card and PIN, users are able to borrow bikes from one of ten Bike Stations around the city. Borrowing a bicycle is free for up to 30 minutes and there is a two-hour maximum, with a penalty of â‚¬3 (approx. $4.50) per hour if you go past the allotted time period.
And finally, just because we at Spacing are garbage-can-obsessed, here’s a standard-issue Barcelonian garbage can.