TUES 25 MAY 2021


The Barcelona superblock: lessons for our cities and the health of their residents


While current urban designs for new suburbs in cities across Australia are an improvement on post-war suburban residential developments, the result is still one that leaves suburban residents highly car dependent, with limited public transport (PT) access and scant opportunity to walk or bicycle to local amenities. As a consequence of Australian cities pursuit of urban sprawl, work journeys continue to lengthen in time and space, traffic congestion worsens, transport emissions rise, and inequality of economic and health outcomes for those living in these suburbs continues to grow relative to the whole population.

Researchers from the Transport Health and Urban Design Research Lab at the University of Melbourne ( collaborated with researchers from Spain to explore the co-benefits associated with an urban model that may have utility if applied in Australia. The research undertaken in Barcelona, Spain and recently published in Environment International demonstrates that substantial health benefit for the whole population can be attained if large “superblocks” (400m x 400m) are created from relatively dense residential blocks of 150m x 150m, which are currently surrounded by normal busy streets.

The co-benefits associated with creating these superblocks is considerable. The research highlights opportunities to reduce premature mortality rates and increase life expectancy through reductions in air pollution, noise and heat and increased access to green space, and transport-related physical activity. The economic effects of transforming the existing urban form are also impressive, estimated to be 1.6 billion euros, mainly coming from the increase in life expectancy, a 20% reduction in premature mortality, and a 13% reduction in overall burden of disease.

The paper presents the results in more detail and explores how such a model might be relevant to or applied in Melbourne and other sprawling Australian cities.

Mark Stevenson

University of Melbourne

Professor Mark Stevenson is an epidemiologist and Professor of Urban Transport and Public Health at The University of Melbourne, Australia. Professor Stevenson is a National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) Fellow, an Honorary Professor in the Peking University Health Science Centre, China and an advisor for injury to the Director General of the World Health Organisation.
Prof Stevenson has worked on numerous national and international projects that have directly influenced urban transport policy and worked with both Federal and State Governments in Australia and internationally. He has led many research groups and is internationally recognized in the field of transport safety and public health. He leads a cross-disciplinary team in the Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne focused around urban design, transport and population health.

Robyn Pollock

Robyn Pollock, is an architect and urban designer with a passionate commitment to the quality of the built environment and to design education. She has 30 years professional experience in cities across Australia and in Britain.  Robyn provides urban design advice to the Level Crossing Removal projects, she is in private practice (VAST Environments) and lectures at the University of Melbourne.

Thanh Ho

University of Melbourne

Thanh Ho is an architect, urban designer, and educator in architecture and urban design. He obtained his Master of Science in Architecture from Politecnico di Milano (Italy) in 2012 and has been working as an architect and university lecturer in Italy and Vietnam since then. Thanh is currently a PhD Candidate in Architecture at the Melbourne School of Design (MSD), University of Melbourne. His research project investigates the relationship between urban design and walking in the context of multi-layered cities in Asia. Broadly, his research interests include urban design, urban morphology, active transport, and health.