Pool drama brings Madrid’s climate crisis to the surface

Author: Leah Pattem

Pool tickets go on sale online 49 hours before doors open. Within two or three minutes, all 585 tickets to the city centre’s only public outdoor pool, Peñuelas, are gone.

Over the past few weeks, a conspiracy theory grew that a few people were monopolising tickets, booking them quickly and then selling them off to their friends. The theory appeared partly true when a 400-strong neighbourhood WhatsApp group called ‘Peñuelas pool’ hit the headlines, with members being called a “mafia of families”.

The smear led by El Confidencial had spun that the parents were looking for cheap summer childcare, where they could send their kids to the pool all day for just €2.25 and know that they’d be safe. This, at the cost of less savvy locals being able to use the pool, including elderly and disabled people.

Even though some residents are indeed booking experts, the idea of the group was simply to resell unwanted tickets. And even though the administrator of the group was forced to close the group “due to media and political pressure,” tickets are still impossible to obtain:

Pool ticket availability at Peñuelas vs Casa de Campo two days ahead of doors opening

The situation raises bigger questions around the demand versus supply of public swimming pools in Madrid. Firstly, why are tickets non-refundable? You can book tickets 49 hours in advance, but if your plans change, there is no system in place to return your ticket and give it to someone else, thus leading to the creation of the ‘Peñuelas pool’ WhatsApp group.

Secondly, some people use the pool for just a couple of hours – people rarely stay for the full five hours their ticket allows them – but there is a set number of tickets and therefore no turnstile system. As a result, most pools rarely reach full capacity.

There are 17,644 pool tickets available across the municipality of Madrid for each shift. Before Covid, pool tickets would entitle you to a full day at the pool and cost €4.50. In 2020, at the dawn of various new Covid-related protocols, pools closed for an hour in the afternoon for cleaning purposes. This meant that there were now two turns per day which, in one sense, doubled the number of daily pool tickets available to 35,288 and halved the price.

However, there are 3.34 million residents in the municipality Madrid. In 2022, more than 4.5 million domestic tourists and 4.6 million international tourists visited the city of Madrid for more than one day. This year, there are expected to be more. Some hotels have private pools, but many tourists head for the municipal pools.

Demand for public outdoor pools is huge, but it has not expanded since 1992, when the last pool was built. Also in 1992, Madrid also had a quarter of a million fewer residents competing for relief from summer heatwaves by the pool, and significantly fewer heatwaves compared with today.

In the whole of Spain, Madrid’s ratio of pool places to population is the most unequal. Madrid is also the region with the most private swimming pools (14,127) per person, according to Catastro.

Madrid needs more swimming pools –­ the private ‘Urban Wave Beach’ set to be completed in 2025 in the outskirts is not the answer. We also need for Madrid to have not closed Stella, a kitsch outdoor pool complex near Moncloa which sits abandoned. We need more accessible and efficient booking system, and Madrid also desperately needs climate refuges beyond outdoor pools.

In 2019, Barcelona launched a network of free climate refuges for its population. There are currently 227 spaces within five- or 10-minute walk of all residents. In Madrid, there are none.


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