I spent two years in Tarragona. It is a relatively small town, about an hour south from Barcelona on the east coast of Spain. It is a wonderful town, it was my home for two years and it will always be a home for me!

I can speak about life in Tarragona for ages, and catalan culture, however I want this short post to focus on the city as an exemplar of good urban design. I will try to do this through images and basic descriptions…

Tarragona, originally the Roman capital of the Iberian Peninsula, Tarraco, is still a major port city in Spain. It is home to a thriving petrochemical and shipping industry. The town built on a cliff and is comprised of the old quarter, whose walls (3 out of 4) are still intact, and newer developments which extend radially to the south and west from the old quarter.

The main attraction of the town, for tourists and locals alike, is the Plaça de la Font (pronounced: pla-sa day la fawn) which was the ancient roman hippodrome. There are bars, restaurants and some shops, and almost every one of the town’s multitude of public activities occur there.


Placa and castells

The port is still thriving. There is an active industrial port and also a private sporting port.


The new main street, called Rambla Nova (pronounced: rahm-blah no va) hosts the vast majority of the towns shops, restaurants and cafes. It is an excellent example of street design; wide pavements, then a single lane of traffic and a wide walking space which is always full of children, adults and the elderly as well as magazine vendors, monuments and exhibitions.




Elsewhere in the world, this street would never be allowed to be built… why? The street’s centrality draws in traffic, but the design doesn’t accommodate it. It does take motorists a long time to traverse the rambla. However, there is plenty of parking and because there are numerous ingress and egress points, most driving routes would only take you along the rambla for a short amount of time and drivers find other ways around.

Tarragona is a place for the people. Drivers are courteous, there are plenty of trees and shade to protect from the sweltering spanish sun and there are many places to sit down, take a nap, relax and spend time. For anyone that wants to understand the concept of a ‘pocket park’, I suggest first taking a look at Tarragona.


Serrallo (pronounced: Seh rye you) is the old fisherman’s village. It used to be an independent village but has since been absorbed by the city proper. It is an excellent example of how waterfront can be integrated with built form and I still argue that this is one of the best examples for how to design a waterfront. There is plenty of space and the shared surface provides an immediate level of safety and sense of sharing. In fact, children playing unsupervised was not uncommon here. Plus, you can eat some of the best fish in Europe here.


What I like about Serrallo, as an exemplar of good urban design, is that there are no big projects in the area. There are no constant efforts to attract people here because the area has been designed and has evolved for the people. This is a concept that is lost over and over again in modern planning: people need to come first. When priority is given to the users, the place evolves around them and actually becomes a place.

When working in the Port Dundas Charrette in Glasgow, I was constantly referring to Serrallo. When there is an issue of interaction between water and the built from, Serrallo is an excellent example because it was designed with the right priorities in mind. While many professionals at the Port Dundas charrette knew that the canal front needed to be treated in a certain way, they could not prioritise the development projects in a way that would result like Serrallo has.

Finally, Tarragona is a very walkable city. Let’s forget ped-sheds and dictionary definitions of walkability. Tarragona is easy and safe to move around in, and the architecture, pleasing places, the trees and the constant buzz of activities on the pedestrian oriented public spaces make it a place that encourages people to move around. That is the definition of walkable and Tarragona is a great example!


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