Innovative Spirit

Nine Innovators to Watch in 2019

These big thinkers are set to make news this year with exciting developments in transportation, energy, health, food science and more

(Catt Small, Dandelion, Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, www.meowwolf.com, Sana Health, Mabel O. Wilson)
smithsonian.com

There’s a lot of hot technology out there, maturing fields in drones, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality, as well as futuristic tech like quantum computing and nanotechnology. But it all needs to be incorporated into industries that are solving real problems. Here are nine innovators who are working to bring practical advances to 2019’s most exciting technology.

Salvador Rueda, Barcelona Superblocks

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(Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona (BCNecologia))

Barcelona’s superblocks have been a long time in the works. And Salvador Rueda, Barcelona’s director of urban ecology, has been advocating for them for even longer. But Rueda has done much more than advocate; he’s designing the city’s 2015 urban mobility plan that pairs the existing five superblocks with another three in the works for 2019—and much much more beyond that.

“I want to change the public space for citizens,” says Rueda. “Not only for movement … it’s important to include the citizens’ rights in the uses of public space. It means entertainment, the kids, the children playing in the public space, the interchange, the culture, the knowledge and the art, in the public space, even the expression and manifestation.”

A superblock is a grid of city blocks that are closed to traffic, requiring cars to travel and park on thoroughfares around the outside of a neighborhood, while the interior streets are reserved for pedestrians, community centers and green space.

The results are clear: economic activity and accessibility have gone up while noise and pollution have gone down. In El Born, Barcelona, for example, economic activity went up more than 50 percent. Others experienced more modest growth, but every superblock there saw 75 percent reduction in noise levels. 

In 2019, Rueda is revising the 2015 plan to make it more palatable to residents, many of whom aren’t inclined to change their habits. To do so, the blocks will be implemented gradually, slowing down the interior blocks rather than cutting them off completely. That will be followed by streets that are on the same platform as the sidewalk, rather than distinct levels, and eventually adding plans for deliveries and car sharing services. In the end, Rueda expects the superblocks to usher in a new urbanism model focused on public space, with a network of green space across the city and reduced heat and pollution. And he’s working with other cities—notably the Basque capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, to implement superblocks across the whole city.

About Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst blends a love of storytelling with a passion for science and the outdoors, covering technology, the environment, and much more. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Wired, Outside, Make: and Smithsonian.

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