Madrid’s climate inequality: temperature readings reveal 15-degree difference between rich and poor barrios

Author: Leah Pattem

A group of local activists launched the citizens’ initiative #termometrada on Saturday with the aim of regularly reading temperatures in 169 locations around Madrid. Measurements will be taken at various times of the day: at sunrise, two hours after sunset, and at 5pm, when heat peaks across the city. Readings are taken electronically, at head-height and in the shade. After several minutes, the reading will settle and can be recorded.

So far, the group has discovered that readings can differ up to 15 degrees depending on the presence or absence of green areas. At sunrise on Saturday, the highest temperature recorded was on Plaza Lavapiés (31.5°C). On the same day, the lowest was in the lush and wealthy area of Pozuelo: (16°C). By midday, the hottest temperature recorded by neighbours was in front of Mercado de la Cebada (37.5°C) – the square infamous for being inaugurated without any green space, despite plans having included a vine canopy.

Plaza Cebada void of trees or any green space, as had been promised

The city’s officially recorded maximum that day was 32°C, recorded by the AEMet, most likely by the city’s main thermometer in Retiro Park, which delivers the most favourable results.

Retiro Park, where the city’s central AEMet thermometer takes official readings

‘One of Europe’s Greenest Cities’

Madrid’s travel writers often boast the surprising fact that Madrid is one of Europe’s greenest capitals. This fact is surprising because it requires a stretch of both the imagination and geographical limits. The ‘lung’ of Madrid skewing Madrid’s data is the pretty Casa de Campo which may be dense with oak and pine trees, but it sits to the west of the city, nowhere near the city centre, meaning the daytime cooling effect of Madrid’s greenery is almost negligible on the city.

That is why, despite Madrid being one of the greenest cities in Europe, we are also the 4th city in the world with the highest deaths due to heatwaves. Last year, 1,243 heatstroke deaths were recorded. But even including the Casa de Campo, Madrid has just 9.5% tree cover.

Map from Madrid City Council demonstrating the Urban Heat Island Effect

Heat built up during the day in Madrid’s urban areas is released slowly throughout the night. When you walk through the city at night, you might notice the side of you nearest a wall feeling warmer, for example. This explains why Lavapiés, one of the least green barrios in the city, was so hot on Saturday morning, even before the sun had risen.

The Urban Heat Island Effect

The Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) is a heating phenomenon that occurs in urban areas due to the presence of unnatural materials, unshaded spaces and a concentration of pollution. In Madrid, the UHIE is getting worse year on year, and it accounts for a premature mortality rate of 12%.

Worse still, in the last four years, Madrid has lost a fifth of its adult trees. Data published by the council shows deforestation of up to 78,616 trees in Madrid’s streets, plazas and parks. The town hall claims the number of trees lost due to Storm Filomena was 21,785, meaning 56,831 were intentionally felled by the right-wing PP-run council, who began another four-year term in May this year.

In February, during the municipal election campaign, Madrid celebrated the completion of what politicians called “the largest asphalt operation in this history of Madrid”, celebrating the tarmacking of our city.

Large parts of Lavapiés are losing their historic cobblestones to be replaced with black tarmac

The city council of Madrid itself are predicting that city temperatures will continue rising rapidly, and yet is simultaneously imposing climate crisis oppression, such as shutting down neighbourhood crisis meetings in squares.

If Lavapiés, a barrio with almost no green space, represents the future of Madrid, then madrileñes could be seasonal climate refugees within a decade. On the other hand, the Pozuelo model – with trees, swimming pools and low-rise housing – will bide us some time.

Thanks to the #termometrada citizens’ initiative, Madrid’s climate crisis can no longer hide behind favourable temperature readings. With the truth finally out there, the conclusion is clear: we ALL need more trees.


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