The City of Madrid is full of surprises. If the complexities of today’s urban life with large cities full of historical and modern buildings and a busy metropolis of high density neighborhoods and bustling urban traffic are to be avoided for the pristine countryside and open rural spaces, think again. Madrid is full of abundant huge green parks, magnificent tree-lined boulevards, flowers, emblematric green-scapes, vertical gardens, a boating lake, and an enormous sprawling parkland making the Capital of Spain one of the world’s leading examples of urban beautification and a Green Renaissance in our 21st Century.
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For the entire press release, read after the jump.
GREEN MADRID: A CITY IN THE GARDEN
At 650m above sea level on a high continental plateau, Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe. The Comunidad de Madrid—in the center of which lies Madrid in a rough triangle—covers 7,995 sq. km, less than 2% of Spain’s territory. The City’s population is roughly 3.2 million while the estimated metropolitan area is calculated to be 5.84 million.
Madrid, its streets populated with trees, has the second highest number of aligned trees in the world, with 298,000 units, only exceeded by Tokyo. Green areas are constantly and continuously growing also surpassing the European average. Since 1997, green areas have increased by 16%. At present, 8.2% of Madrid’s grounds are green areas, meaning that there are 16m2 of green area per inhabitant, far exceeding again the 10m2 per inhabitant recommended by the World Health Organization.
“Green and manicured are the words that best describe Madrid,” states Mr. Narkiewicz-Laine. “Every direction you look in the city appears to be worthy of a picture postal card.”
The most central and attractive Green Area of Madrid is the Parque del Buen Retiro, an enormous manicured stretch of greenery that once constituted the eastern fringe of the city and was also the preserve of royalty and nobles. With its sculptured gardens, artificial lakes and roaming paths, the park is a wonderful green escape from the modern metropolis. Down the hill from the Retiro is the is the idyllic Real Jardin Botanico, a botanical garden packed with exotic plants.
Equally green is the Campo del Moro, which slopes away west of the Palacio Real, while the nearby Parque del Oeste is abundantly green and visually enticing. The Casa de Campo, west of the Manzanares, with its tree-lined boulevards is lovingly referred to by the locals as “the lungs of Madrid.”
In order to reduce pollution, Madrid’s city authorities have considered introducing a London-style congestion charge, but to day such a plan has not been enacted. Over four million vehicles enter and leave the capital everyday. The resulting cloud of pollution that settles over Madrid on a windless day is known locally as the “grey beret.” Spain’s obsession with diesel-fuelled cars (which produced seven times more pollution than cars running on unleaded petrol) only exacerbates the problem.
One obvious measure to stem pollution has been the current pedestrianisation of many inner-city streets, among them Calle de Arenal and some 40 hectares of streets in the barrio of Huertas, which have been closed to all but local traffic. Madrid’s constant investment in an already impressive underground metro system—one of the 10 longest in the world and the third longest in Europe—ensures that Madrid’s high pollution levels can no longer be blamed on inadequate public transport. Since 2000, more than 100km have been added to the network, drawing an ever-growing number of satellite towns into the system.
While garbage is collected in the Capital every night, recycling is, unfortunately, optional and largely ignored.
Beyond the city, the planned upgrading of the M-501 through the west of the Comunidad de Madrid has been hugely controversial. Environmentalists argue that the road expansion threatens 13 nesting pairs of the endangered Iberian Imperial Eagle, as well as destroying woodlands the shelter 10% of Spain’s endangered species and possibly the world’s most endangered cat species, the Iberia lynx.
While Madrid may also be endlessly expanding into previous nonurban areas and open lands, steps have been taken for compensation. Among these are ambitious plans, directed by Madrid’s Mayor, to reforest 15,000 hectors of land around the Comunidad de Madrid. Within metropolitan Madrid, 6km of the M-30 beltway have been recently driven underground to be replaced by the Parque de Manzanares, 500,000 sq. meters of landscaped greenery in southwestern Madrid that the Mayor calls a “giant green carpet.”
THE VISIONARY MAYOR
The success of Madrid as one the world’s foremost green cities is directly attributed to the astute leadership of Madrid’s Mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who has become affectionately known by the locals as “The Pharaoh” just for the sheer size and audacity of his visionary infrastructure projects. Mayor Ruiz-Gallardón is one of Europe’s most popular politicians and easily won the last election winning 34 out of the 57 seats.
“The Mayor,” states Mr. Narkiewicz-Laine, “is a modern-day Daniel Burnham with the same ‘make no little plans’ civic ventures and civic aspirations. He has determined that his city, the combination of stunning old and new architecture and feel-good contemporary.
“In all of Europe,” continues Mr. Narkiewicz-Laine, “one cannot find a more spectacular and agreeable green urban setting than Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Santa Ana, or Plaza de Oriente. Throw in such outstanding city parks (the Parque del Buen Retiro, in particular) and areas such as Chueca, Malsaña, Lavapiés, and Salamanca, which have their own enduring green and truly urban personalities, and you understand the dynamics of how a city harmoniously coexists and benefits from its open green spaces.”