Barcelona a step ahead in liveability: study

Barcelona a step ahead in liveability: study

Barcelona has been found to be a world leader in promoting healthy and sustainable lifestyles according to a new global study.

Led by RMIT University, the study, recently published in The Lancet Global Health, assessed the lived experience against urban design, transport and health policies in 25 cities globally and found that Barcelona was ahead of most other cities on health-supporting and sustainable indicators.

Barcelona ranked highly on every indicator. More than 90% of the population was found to live in a neighbourhood with above-average walkability, and 92% of the population lives in neighbourhoods that meet the minimum population density threshold for the WHO physical activity target.

Since 2016, coinciding with the study period, Barcelona has been making a concerted effort to become a more healthy, sustainable city with the introduction of superblocks, where priority is given to pedestrians, cyclists and open space.

Despite a world-class built form, air and noise pollution have long been a problem in Barcelona, exposing residents to significant health risks.

The new series underscores the importance of reducing air pollution – the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. 

"Barcelona is showing leadership with the introduction of superblocks, which address a key component of city planning that supports health and sustainability: demand management," collaboration lead, RMIT Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti said. 

Giles-Corti noted that a new approach to urban planning was needed to achieve healthy and sustainable cities, "This study shows car-centric cities are falling short globally, in terms of being healthy and sustainable for all. The future of the healthy and sustainable city is one where people can live locally, walk and cycle and have access to amenities they need for daily living."

22 July 2022


Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'A focus on liveability: What can we learn from Barcelona’s superblocks?' The superblock in the neighbourhood of Sant Antoni, Barcelona

In Spain, the study looked at Barcelona and Vic, which was on par with several other European cities.

"It’s fantastic to see the cities in Spain are doing so well," Giles-Corti said. 

The shift in Barcelona to create a more walkable and sustainable city could provide a template for other international cities looking to improve.

"The need for reform is now palpable; and our research shows what's needed to achieve reform," Giles-Corti said.

"Climate change risk is increasingly becoming self-evident; and cities generate 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. Delivering cities where people can access local amenities by walking and cycling is a priority to ‘build back better’ post-COVID."

The authors are now calling for a 1000-cities challenge to activate a global citizen science program and incentivise collection of open data and create city planning indicators to improve the knowledge base and inform decision-making, with a focus in the most data-scarce areas. 

"As a global community we need to work with cities in low- and middle-income countries to help them learn how to create a policy environment and cities that support health and sustainability.  We hope to see Vic and Barcelona participating in this important initiative," Giles-Corti said.

The Barcelona and Vic results were recently announced at an event hosted by the University of Vic with participation from RMIT Europe

See the scorecard for all 25 cities

Read The Lancet Global Health Urban design, transport, and health series

Story: Jenny Lucy

22 July 2022


  • RMIT Europe

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.