BSC captures the local patterns of human mobility in Barcelona with the collaboration of the Barcelona City Council and Vodafone

06 May 2021
The 15-minute city projects aim to give population access to essential urban services within a 15-minute walk or bike.

By 2050, cities are projected to absorb more than two-thirds of the growth in global population, with 68 percent of the world’s population living in urban areas. Therefore, making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable has become a global priority.

Taking into account that human mobility within cities is recognized as a key area of policy intervention to achieve this goal, researchers from the Department of Computer Applications in Science and Engineering (CASE) at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) have published a study on PLOS ONE which aims to improve the understanding of the relationship between human mobility and urban amenities in the context of polycentric and 15-minute city planning strategies. The 15-minute city projects aim to give population access to essential urban services within a 15-minute walk or bike in order to increase mobility within residential areas.

Thanks to the collaboration between public and private entities, the Barcelona City Council and Vodafone enabled BSC researchers access to aggregated mobile phone data of Barcelona in order to capture its local patterns of human mobility.

To exemplify how local mobility models help understand urban phenomena, the study was based on different aspects such as the accessibility to local services in the neighborhoods, jointly with data from the Spanish population census as well as mobile phone data to identify local mobility patterns. Moreover, the researchers compared how the found patterns differed when analyzing a current problem that affects Barcelona and many other cities in Europe: the rise of rental prices, which are linked to over-tourism and gentrification processes. One of the key insights obtained was that the presence of tourists in some areas drive the prices down but a better access to tourist attractions can also push rental prices upward.

Overall, the results of the study revealed that there is a wide variability in the relationship between human mobility and accessibility to local urban amenities. However, the researchers pointed out that this relationship at a global level does not necessarily explain human mobility patterns at the local level.

“Based on our study we can see that Barcelona is not a monocentric city, but rather a polycentric city with diverse functional areas that is in line with the idea of the 15-minute city,” explains Eduardo Graells-Garrido, lead author of the paper. He also highlights that “the findings contribute to inform spatially targeted urban policy interventions which would seek to reduce local levels of mobility and move closer towards this 15-minute city by identifying the specific set of urban amenities requiring intervention in each neighborhood”.

In order to go further with this research, the study devises four lines of future work. First, not only focus on the origin and destination patterns of Barcelona residents but also integrate the several types of visitors and tourists in a common framework. Second, include other variables into the model apart from population and demographics. Third, incorporate time into the model in order to enable the measurement of effects of public policy changes and urban interventions. And finally, apply multi-city analysis to compare different ones and advance on the path to creating inclusive and sustainable cities.


Caption: Origin-destination flows between neighborhoods in Barcelona.


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250080