Francesc Granell, 24 March 2022
When I was teaching at the Bocconi University in Milan, I met a professor of Architecture who every year brought a group of students to Barcelona to study the successful Eixample designed and set up by Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer (1815-1876) after the demolition of the city walls that enclosed Barcelona (R.O. of 6 October 1854). Taking advantage of the political changes resulting from the first Spanish general strike of 2-11 July 1855, his membership of the National Militia, his membership – albeit on leave of absence – of the prestigious Corps of Civil Engineers and his involvement in politics, Cerdà was able to see his project for the Reform and Extension of Barcelona approved (R.D. of 31 May 1860), for reasons of hygiene, comfort and ornament.
Cerdà collaborated in the implementation of his Eixample as facultative director of the company Vidal, Babot, Parellada y Compañía, and saw how the stinginess of the owners of the land undermined some of his proposals. As early as the correction of 1863, the building capacity was increased, open blocks were converted into enclosed spaces, green areas and facilities were eliminated, and even part of the two blocks that had been reserved for the Central University were removed.
For a city to prosper, it is necessary to ensure good mobility.
Despite this, Cerdà’s Eixample maintained its basic structure, allowing mobility between Barcelona and the surrounding towns, and what Joan Antoni Solans described as “the decisive years of the planning of the metropolis of Barcelona 1969-79” (Muhba edition, 2022) and, above all, the General Metropolitan Urban Development Plan of 1976, which included all the adjoining municipalities and was enriched by the massive purchases of spaces occupied by obsolete industries carried out by Mayor Socías during the Transition. It should be remembered that all this did not affect the essential mobility of the Eixample which, by the way, had been increased with the construction of the Via Laietana, linking the Cerdà grid with the port area (1926). The Olympic Games and 22@ did not interfere either.
For a city to prosper, as has been the case in Barcelona until recently, it is necessary to ensure good mobility so that economic activity does not suffer, and this is what has been threatened since Ada Colau’s municipal mandate by the anti-development ideology that the municipal groups that share her ideas are pushing forward.
It is clear that today there are problems that were not present in Cerdà’s time, such as environmental degradation, but Cerdà’s idea that the centrality of the Barcelona’s communications network should favor the neighbouring municipalities and should be very present in the anti-development ideas of Colau’s team, which is not the case when we see the superblock projects, the traffic restrictions on the Via Laietana, the tramway along the Diagonal and other initiatives that are killing Cerdà’s Eixample and, with it, the economic strength of Barcelona.