Author: Leah Pattem
In winter 2021, Madrid experienced the worst snowstorm in 300 years and lost around 80,000 trees. A year later, the city council planted 90,620 saplings, but by summer – the city’s hottest on record – 77% of them had died. Ecologistas en Acción explained: “They left the saplings abandoned and without watering at the height of summer,” rightly claiming that this mass recklessness could and should have been prevented.
In the case of the larger trees that collapsed under last winter’s snow, instead of being replanted, their plots are currently being bricked up. According to eldiario.es, current Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida has closed up and paved over 2,188 tree plots in Madrid and plans to close a further 2,044 this year. The largest number of closed-up tree plots are in the working-class barrio Puente de Vallecas.
Towards the end of last year, the council finally unfenced a new square in La Latina, but – contrary to what was promised in the plans drawn up four years ago, featuring trees, bushes and even a vine canopy – there’s not even a single weed to be seen. Moreover, the council left the square fenced off and unused for almost a year after the works were completed.
And then there’s Parque de la Cornisa, where 28 trees were felled in September last year for no reason other than aesthetics. One of the last remaining green oases of Madrid’s Centro district is currently being paved over with concrete – a devastating move for one of the hottest capital cities in Europe, second only to Athens.
Two weeks ago, the town hall completed “the largest asphalt operation in the history of Madrid”, replacing natural stone cobbles with black tarmac, which releases toxic gases and could raise summer temperatures in the city by between 2 and 4 degrees centigrade.
But it’s not just the current Madrid city council that has a vendetta against green space. In this excellent Twitter thread by local Madrid historian Tina Paterson, we can see how Madrid has been felling trees for over a century. Current Mayor of Madrid Almeida and President of the Comunidad de Madrid Isabel Díaz Ayuso are simply speeding up the tree-felling trend.
In an era when we’re more aware than ever of climate change, and where our city is becoming increasingly unlivable in summer, Madrid’s decision-makers are taking a dangerous step backwards for all of us. And the people this affects most are those who can’t escape to their rural homes in summer because they only have one home, in Madrid. These homes are in some of our poorest and most treeless areas.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, the Community of Madrid has just unveiled plans to build a new metro station next to the river Manzanares. In theory, this should be good news – after all, improved public transport infrastructure means less reliance on cars. But the regional government has gone against the original approved plans. The station will be moved slightly west to an area that means cutting down around 1,000 tall, healthy, mature trees. The reason: to avoid temporarily interrupting traffic.
In response, thousands of neighbours have come together to push back against what has been called an arboricidio (“arboricide”, or a wanton destruction of trees) in a campaign with the slogan #YoDefiendoEsteÁrbol. People are also being asked to sign a petition on change.org.
On Saturday 18 February, Ayuso’s plans to cut down over 1,000 mature trees at the river were met with resistance from around 2,000 local residents, who chanted, held hand-made signs high into the air and banged the metal fence around the trees that are scheduled to be felled. But police on horseback used aggressive tactics to intimidate protestors, as can be seen in this footage.
Yet again, as with evictions, the police are used to protect property, not people. And with Ayuso’s and Almeida’s plans to tarmac our streets, fell our trees and make our city hotter, more hostile and polluted than ever, it’s clear what they think of us: that we are a plague and a nuisance that must be fumigated out of the city to be replaced by tourists.
Last year, Madrid was ranked the city with the world’s fourth-highest highest mortality due to heatwaves, as calculated by Carbon Brief – behind São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Athens. Last summer, 1,243 people died from heatstroke in Madrid.
Madrid is experiencing a climate crisis and, as a result, residents are dying. The Madrid government cannot continue felling trees, cementing over parks and replacing natural stone streets with asphalt. We must fight back!
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