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The rebellion of schools that have been planted against cars | Ecology | Climate and Environment


Barcelona lives a protest unusual that does not stop growing. Are schools that have stood against the contamination and the noise that surrounds them, caused by the traffic, and demand that the City Council eliminate lanes of traffic from their surroundings. The mayor Ada Colau has put in place a plan to pacify school zonesBut these schools see the pace and intensity of the performances as insufficient.

Half of the city centers exceed pollution levels during school hours recommended by the European Union. And there is scientific evidence that pollution affects the health and cognitive development of children. The families, hand in hand with the schools, have said enough. Every other Friday they simultaneously cut the traffic in front of the centers at the exit of the school. On December 11 there were 17 schools. Last Friday, more than 50, and schools from two other cities, Badalona and Sabadell, joined. The Catalan Society of Pediatrics and the ISGlobal institute support their claims.

The revolt of the schools began in the Eixample, the central district of Barcelona. The black pill, they call it, because of the pollution caused by 350,000 cars that cross it daily (as many as the two ring rounds). With the exception of last year, for the pandemic and mobility restrictions, the Eixample systematically exceeds the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter that fixes the World Health Organization (WHO).

It was almost two years ago when a group of neighbors concerned about pollution created the platform Eixample Breathe. They premiered on Twitter in May 2019 and hosted talks with experts in schools. Guille López, spokesperson for the platform, explains it, who also points out that, personally, his vision of the city changed to have children and take them to school. In the school of López’s children, the families say that they make the journey there in silence: the traffic noise is such that it is impossible to speak.

The push for this movement by asking for less traffic came when, with the help of the technology company Lobelia, Eixample Respira published the map of the city’s schools that showed that more than half supported excessive pollution limits. From there, they were contacted by other schools and discovered that two centers were already periodically cutting off traffic. The Joan Miró school is one of them. “That cars occupy most of the public space is unsustainable, the pollution and noise are unbearable. It is no longer a struggle of the schools, it is one of the neighborhood and the city ”, defends Guillermo Rojo, from the downtown families association, where the entire school council, with the management and teachers, has adhered to the manifesto that calls for pacifying environment.

The pandemic stopped the movement, but “the chupup I was there and we decided to make the first cut before Christmas ”, says Guille López. It was a success and was not rejected by the neighbors or the merchants. “It is the health of our children,” insists López, who applauds the program for the Colau schools, but demands “that the streets of the basic network have only one private lane. “If the Government wants to transform the city with school environments, it must dare to take out more cars,” he says. From the City Council, the Deputy Mayor for Urbanism, Ecology and Mobility, Janet Sanz, responds that “it is not possible to intervene in all schools at the same time”, that removing lanes “requires technical work that is not immediate”, but that “ the plan has no going back ”.

The spokesperson explains how they have come up with “a protest formula that has a very low cost of execution and a very high impact.” “Because all families pick up their children, on Fridays you go more relaxed, you don’t have to travel, and the cut lasts only half an hour.” To facilitate adhesions, they have published a guide with the necessary steps and notifications.

The Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and Pompeu Fabra University published in 2015 the largest study conducted at that time on how pollution affects cognitive development. They followed 3,000 children from 40 centers for a year, explains the epidemiologist and ISGlobal researcher Jordi Sunyer: “We observed that children who are in courtyards and classrooms where there is more pollution, especially from traffic, had a lower growth in cognitive function of those who studied in less exposed schools ”.

“The known impact had a lot to do with respiratory and cardiovascular health. But it goes much further, because it affects well-being, training for opportunities and managing life. We have to protect children for their future projection, that is why it is urgent to protect the school environment in a radical way ”, agrees Sunyer.

From the Catalan Society of Pediatrics, the coordinator of the environmental health work group Ferran Campillo, points out that not only children in metropolitan cities breathe polluted air. “In big cities the source is traffic, which has the added bonus of noise and accidents; elsewhere they are industrial sources, agricultural fires, biomass boilers … ”, he explains.

Pediatricians, says Campillo, see the consequences of which studies on the impact of pollution on children’s health warn. It indicates that initially respiratory pathologies were studied, but warns: “It goes much further, they are days lost from school, that children exposed to pollution have worse cognitive performance … it is a situation of injustice, individual and collective.” “It is the occupational health of children, they are exposures that can affect their health, their quality of life and their opportunities, we need drastic measures”, he concludes.

Meanwhile, the schools add adhesions and seek to export their movement to other cities. They have even translated the website into English. “The school revolt has the potential to be the children’s Fridays for Future,” says Guille López.


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