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News blog3 May 20234 min read

Barcelona going green during the pandemic - Chris Knight

 Barcelona going green during the pandemic - Chris Knight

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"After COVID-19, urban planning will need to adapt to the needs of citizens during a pandemic, as well as making cities greener and climate resilient. Barcelona shows the way

More room to go for a walk. Cleaner air to breathe. Better lives for people of all ages.

These are just a few of Barcelona’s goals as it regenerates itself with an eye to the next 30 years. The city of more than 1.5 million people is working to cut pollution, but also to create a lifestyle that encourages young people to stay and makes it easier for older people to take care of themselves.

“Barcelona has a very clear strategy,” says Alex Saz-Carranza, a European Investment Bank loan officer for Spain. ”The city’s new plan is addressing mobility, energy efficiency, social cohesion. All of these issues will help the city prepare for the future, but also come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The impact of climate change has been a major factor in recent years for urban planning, but the pandemic has added more challenges, especially on issues related to the health sector and the dense city life. Public spaces need to be organised in a way that allows people to socialise while keeping a safe distance apart.

The European Investment Bank approved a €95 million loan in 2020 to help Barcelona complete around 40 projects, with a focus on climate action and social inequalities. The city will redesign streets to make more space for pedestrians and bicyclists, improve energy efficiency in buildings, and add more social, cultural and sports outlets.

Superblocks for better living

A quarter of the loan is dedicated to regenerating nearly 200 000 square meters of land and creating “superblocks” that carve out large areas of car-free public space. The new spaces will let residents get around quickly and safely while doing business more easily:

  • Pedestrians will be given priority in many parts of the city
  • Low-speed zones will limit vehicles to 10 kilometres an hour
  • Nurseries, schools, sports centres, a library and a care home will be built or renovated
  • All new buildings will be designed to have nearly zero emissions
  • New bus lines and bicycle lanes will persuade people to keep their cars off city roads and reduce emissions
  • A tree-planting programme is being accelerated.

The city will become more resilient to climate change, while helping people follow social-distancing guidelines.

No traffic zones

Barcelona is among several cities in Europe, including London and Paris, creating no-traffic zones and encouraging bicycles and more street life. The moves have accelerated this year during the pandemic and the new need for social distancing. Cities are responsible for about 75% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The European Investment Bank is helping cities develop long-term solutions in sectors such as green transport, energy efficiency, affordable housing, education and health care. Over the past eight years, the Bank has invested more than €150 billion to build better cities.

The Barcelona project is similar to a €201 million financing deal, also in 2020, to help Milan make public buildings more energy efficient, make it easier for city residents to walk around and use public transport, create more green open spaces and help the economy recover from the pandemic.

Looking for a climate bank

Barcelona is a leading example of the way to fight climate change and address environmental emergencies. The city’s climate plan runs to 2030 and it calls for a big reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and poverty. The city plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

 “Barcelona residents are quite proactive and have a long track record of participation,” says Leonor Berriochoa, a senior engineer in urban development at the European Investment Bank. “There is a lot of public engagement on climate and social issues. People like to contribute and give their opinions and make cities livelier.”

Barcelona chose the European Investment Bank to finance these projects because it wants to work with a climate bank, Berriochoa adds. “They want green financing and this is what we provide. We can help them meet their climate goals.”

The EU bank’s Saz-Carranza says Barcelona has been one step ahead in green investing for a number of years. “It’s a very green city. It thinks a lot about climate change and adaptation.”

The European Investment Bank plans to team up with more cities and help them carry out climate resilience and other plans. These urban projects show how the EU bank does much more than just finance infrastructure. Today, the European Investment Bank is focusing more resources on urban regeneration, encouraging businesses and people to stay in urban areas, reducing cities’ emissions, and improving people’s health and lifestyles by making it easier to walk, ride bicycles and use trams and metros.

Cities must listen to residents and they must make changes, says the EIB experts. Otherwise, businesses will close and people will leave."



Publication date
3 May 2023