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A sign in Vitoria-Gasteiz alerts drivers to the pedestrian paradise ahead.

A sign in Vitoria-Gasteiz alerts drivers to the pedestrian paradise ahead.

Photographer: Ériver Hijano for Bloomberg Businessweek
Businessweek
Urbanization

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On weekends, Calle de Postas in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, feels like a never-ending block party. Cyclists share the magnolia-shaded street with off-leash dogs and teetering toddlers. There are bustling cafe tables and families on benches eating ice cream. That’s life in this city of 200,000 in the Basque Country, where nearly half the streets have been converted into car-free zones over the past decade.

“This city is my test case,” says Salvador Rueda, a Spanish urban planner known for overseeing large-scale pedestrian conversions in Barcelona and Buenos Aires, among other places. Vitoria-Gasteiz, he says, is his “laboratory,” a city whose history as a center of auto manufacturing—it’s home to factories for Mercedes and Michelin—makes it an unlikely showcase. “If we can do something here, others can see it and replicate our results.”