Revitalising Barcelona’s industrial Besòs district through healthy urban planning

Barcelona City Council has awarded Bax & Company the opportunity to create an urban redevelopment strategy for one of the city’s biggest industrial districts. The neighbourhood surrounding the industrial zone is one of Barcelona’s most deprived areas, with a life expectancy 12 years below more affluent parts of the city. Our strategy imagines an Innovation District that will provide the residents and businesses of Besòs with high quality jobs, plentiful green spaces and healthy street design.

30 years ago, a landmark regeneration project saw Barcelona’s Besòs river turned into a vibrant green place where its residents walk, cycle and play. The neighbouring Besòs industrial district will now receive a similar treatment. Following an open competition, Barcelona City Council has chosen Bax & Company to develop a strategy to reinvigorate the district  to guide regeneration towards more green space, high-quality jobs and streets that support healthy and social lifestyles.

Home to more than 45,000 people, the neighbourhoods surrounding the Besos industrial district is one of the more deprived areas in the city. Economic changes in the city have led to reduced opportunities for its residents, with worse socioeconomic conditions leading to an average life expectancy 12 years lower than more affluent parts of the city.

For decades, regenerating the Besòs area has been recognised as a priority for the city. Earlier this year, Bax & Company was awarded the chance to steer this process. Working alongside architect Honorata Grzesikowska, Bax & Company has developed the Besòs 22+ Strategic Urban Study, a bold vision to revitalise the 153 hectare district with high-quality jobs, healthy design and plentiful green spaces.

The Besòs industrial district (right) next to the Besòs river in Barcelona


22+ will turn an area around half the size of Central Park into a new hub of innovative industry and wellbeing for the city. It unites the main conclusions of previous studies of the area, notably the Masterplan Urbanístic i Econòmic del Districte d’Innovació de Barcelona by Ramon Gras and the team at Aretian – into a single overarching strategy for health. Drawing on Europe’s best contemporary examples, it will rethink how people and business move, operate and live in the area. The Strategy includes:

  • ‘Green axes’ will provide passageways of trees and parks that will double overall green space in the region.
  • A polycentric design will lead to the creation of not one but three vibrant hubs in which communities can meet and organise events.
  • Changes to the road hierarchy will encourage cycling and walking without disrupting industrial activity.
  • And a focus on high-quality green jobs will help to reduce the area’s growing reliance on the logistics industry.

“The Besòs area is a 20 minute cycle from our Barcelona office. It’s an important part of the city, and when we were selected to build its redevelopment strategy, we were thrilled” said Sebastiaan van Herk, CEO at Bax & Company. “The strategy pulls together expertise from all across the company. From healthy urban planning to greening, mobility to energy, this was truly a consultancy-wide effort to improve life in a district right on our doorstep”.

Led by Bax & Company’s Healthy Cities team, the 22+ strategy was praised by the city for its focus on health. Weaved throughout the proposal for mobility, street design, road hierarchies and industrial strategy is a focus on promoting healthy lifestyles. Walking and cycling, time in green spaces, and hubs for community engagement will all contribute to making Besòs a healthier place to live and work. 

“Residents of Besòs suffer from higher levels of obesity, diabetes, and mental health issues than the rest of the city. We saw the area’s regeneration as an ideal opportunity to put healthy living at the heart of the district’s design. The 22+ strategy means that this one-off regeneration will improve wellbeing for at least three generations of Besòs residents.” said Marta Rofin Serra, Lead for Healthy Cities at Bax & Company.

Explore 22+

Woman riding bicycle on bike lane in city park.

Greening streets for active travel and play

Access to green space plays a significant role in physical and mental health outcomes in cities. The 22+ initiative aims to double the green space available in the Besòs, from 2.5m to 5m per 100m2

This will be achieved through the creation of 7 new green pathways, known as ‘Green Axes’. Connecting the district’s riverside park to the planned Sagrera Park, the Axes will provide pleasant pathways for walking and cycling through the district. Public spaces will be established along the Axes, ranging from small gathering areas for family picnics, to expansive green spaces for longer walks.

The Besòs River, the source of the area’s regeneration in the 1990s, also plays a role. The strategy proposes building new bridges across the river to improve connectivity between riverbanks, improving access to the riverside park and making cycling and walking more attractive. 22+ envisages a vibrant Besòs riverfront where cafés, restaurants, businesses and cultural institutions line the riverside.

Top view Solar Cell on Warehouse Factory. Solor photo voltaic pa

High quality jobs and green power in a new ecosystem innovation

In recent years, the Besòs industrial district has been increasingly dominated by large logistics centres for e-Commerce. While these businesses are important sources of jobs, their large footprint and lack of interaction with local neighbourhoods requires a rethink for how industry is integrated in the area.

The 22+ Strategy does this by reimagining the role of urban industry, proposing an ecosystem for local production and innovation. The proposed strategy aims to attract innovative companies, relocating the storage and logistics activities that have come to dominate the district to outer locations. 

22+ also envisages a green energy transformation in the region, creating a source of low-cost renewable energy that will act as a competitive advantage for the region. The Strategy aims to generate 84.9 GWh annually using photovoltaic panels. This will qualify the Besòs region as one of Europe’s ‘positive energy neighbourhoods’, generating 112% of its local energy needs.

Friends sitting at sidewalk cafe in town square

A polycentric design featuring multiple community hubs

A central innovation of 22+ is its polycentric design. Rather than concentrating all important services in one core, the polycentric design will create three centres, ensuring that all residents can access important services nearby. This will also help the formation of strong local communities. The three ‘nodes’ of the polycentric design are located next to public green spaces that can host sports, leisure or cultural activities for the area’s residents.

Each of these hubs will also host a variety of shared services, including a Materials Laboratory which will promote circular uses of waste in the region, car-sharing services, a logistics hub with a cargobike distribution system for last-mile delivery by pedal, as well as stations for shared bikes.

cargo bike

Reimagining roads for active mobility

Currently, 68% of Besòs residents rely on their car for work, with only 10% walking and cycling. 22+ drew on Bax & Company’s extensive experience in mobility for people and goods to reorient the ‘road hierarchy’ that balances the needs of the area’s industry with active forms of mobility. 

The solution is a road layout with three tiers: main arteries for large vehicles supporting industry, a distribution network for smaller vehicles within each polygon, and large ‘superblocks’ in which walking and cycling take priority. 

To encourage the use of sustainable forms of transport, six micro-hubs were included in the strategy, complete with biking facilities, public transport, bicycle parking lots, and comprehensive options for charging electric vehicles, car-sharing, and other services. Cycling infrastructure will be upgraded, and new lanes will be designed for cargo bikes to enable sustainable last mile delivery.

Next steps in the Besòs District

Following the submission of the study, Barcelona City Council will take the 22+ strategy forward into their planning process. 

“We’re excited to watch the Besòs Innovation District grow and develop over the coming decades. We hope the Besòs development will inspire other cities to address their own industrial regions, showing that careful urban planning can plant health and prosperity at the heart of any regeneration project” said Sebastiaan van Herk.

Learn more about urban revitalisation

Learn more about out work on the Besòs 22+ Strategic Initative from the team: