Smart Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona

Those elegant old Modernist lamp posts along Barcelona’s main shopping avenue, Passeig de Gràcia (Spanish: Paseo de Gracia), are about to become communication towers in disguise. The Gaudí-designed paving tiles that span the widened sidewalks will be hiding the latest technology and miles of fiber optics beneath their ornate surfaces. It’s all part of an ICT master plan to install “smart” infrastructure throughout the city, starting in the most heavily trafficked areas.

By late November, Passeig de Gràcia will be fully equipped with sensors to measure noise levels, air quality, wind, pedestrian flow, water quality in the ornamental and drinking fountains, natural light, ground vibrations, and traffic flow. With all those data points and connectivity, the city will be able to remotely regulate and control the environment, “calm” the traffic, reduce energy consumption, and bolster sustainability and efficiency.

One example is the installation of 300 new LED lights along the length of the avenue whose sensors will adjust their light levels according to the natural light and the number of pedestrians walking by. The city expects to save up to 60% on its current electricity bill.

Another example is the irrigation system for the abundant greenery and flower beds that will be fine-tuned to avoid the all too familiar sight of sprinklers full on after a rain storm, or spraying liberally on paved ground. In two pilot projects, in the 22@ district and the neighborhood around Born’s Cultural Centre, the city has already seen a 30% saving over the past few months from using sensors and new lights.

Josep Ramon Ferrer, Barcelona’s Smart City director, sees these innovations as part of an inevitable progression. Just as the public couldn’t imagine being in an urban environment where there is no water, electricity, or sewers, he says, in the future, it will be inconceivable not to have smart technology. Once the Paseo de Gracia plan is completed, every new public works and redevelopment project around the city will have a smart component, connecting it to the growing smart sensor grid.

Passeig de Gràcia’s own transformation has been decidedly discreet. The only clues to its technological metamorphosis are eight cupboard-like metal boxes along the street that house the communications hardware to gather the data, and send it to a central computer system. The data itself will be entirely accessible to the public, and available in real-time. Since trash containers will also have sensors indicating how full they are, in order to streamline waste collection, it may be an unintended boon to the illegal trade in recyclables that currently plagues Barcelona. The overall budget for the avenue is 7.5 million euros, with 400,000 euros of that for the fiber optics and network of sensors.

Barcelona has been polishing its smart city credentials for a while. In September 2011, the city launched the “Barcelona as a people city” project, which promoted the use of technology as a means to spur economic growth and improve the welfare of its citizens. Its initiatives included:

  • Open data for individuals and companies
  • Sustainable city growth in the areas of smart lighting, mobility (e-vehicle) and residual energy (heating and cooling networks)
  • Promoting alliances between public, private and academic partners
     Providing innovative, smart services

In late March this year, Barcelona was awarded the newly forged Capital of Innovation (iCapital) prize, worth 500,000 euros, by the European Commission for “introducing the use of new technologies to bring the city closer to citizens.”

So Passeig de Gràcia’s quiet transformation to a smart avenue is the latest and most confident iteration in the city’s charge toward “smart everything.” But judging by the almost invisible nature of the technology’s presence, and the multiple benefits it potentially offers to quality of life and to trimmer budgets, it will be widely welcomed.

Article first published as Smart Avenue, Barcelona, on UBM Future Cities

Originally published at on May 29, 2015.



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