When nature blossoms in the street

  • Sustainability
  • Green spaces lower stress levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Madrid has many green spaces and parks such as Monte del Pardo, Casa de Campo, El Retiro, El Capricho, and La Quinta de los Molinos.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),  every inhabitant needs between ten and fifteen square metres of green space to guarantee a minimum standard of living. Not only does nature provide a physical release but it also boosts mood and mental well-being. Currently, more than half the world’s population lives in cities, a percentage that will increase to 70% within fifty years, according to figures from the United Nations. If we combine these two figures, it’s easy to see that one of the biggest challenges facing cities is to create, expand and promote green spaces.

This is partly an aesthetic question but also, more than that, landscape is a question of well-being. To counter the frenzied pace of life marked by society, throughout history, spaces have been created to enjoy the outdoors and vast recreational areas, such as the historical recreational estates,  have been turned into city parks, places where you can forget about tarmac and cars for a while. The Fuente del Berro estate, the historic gardens of El Capricho, or the Quinta de los Molinos park are places that have endured over time with a single shared mission: to offer a natural space to improve the quality of life of city dwellers.

Green spaces offer a whole host of benefits in different aspects of our life, so including vegetation and plants, even in small spaces, is a way of improving our surroundings. Therefore, creating vertical gardens, urban allotments or  rooftop gardens is a way of recreating those feelings of freedom and the enjoyment of nature in a simple and accessible way.

Allowing nature to flourish and thrive in cities offers a series of undeniable benefits. Green spaces reduce stress and the risk of cardiovascular disease (such as heart attacks or respiratory disorders). Furthermore, international organisations have established a vital ratio: for every 0.1% increase in green areas close to homes, premature deaths fall by 4%. This is also confirmed by  a study published in the British journal The Lancet, which has used scientific studies from Barcelona’s Global Health Institute, the University of Colorado and the WHO itself. If these recommendations are implemented, up to 43,000 premature deaths could be prevented each year in a thousand European cities in 31 countries, according to the study.

Greenery in the streets also stimulates creativity (beauty begets beauty, so to speak) along with mental and affective capacities. According to the WHO, city-dwellers spend 90% of their time indoors (almost as much as bears, who spend between five and six months hibernating), something that could be reduced with the enjoyment of green areas to walk, spend time together, do sports, etc.

And if that were not enough, cities that have plenty of natural spaces counteract emissions and lower ambient temperatures, improving the surroundings and the environment. The metaphor of the ‘lungs of the city’ is highly apropos when referring to large city parks.

From urban allotments to large city parks

Up until the 1950s, all kinds of vegetables were grown on the banks of the River Manzanares. This practice died out as customs and uses changed in the city, but gradually the people and institutions of Madrid are recovering this link to nature.

 Madrid City Council has more than three hundred urban allotments registered: 54 are community allotments, 221 belong to the Network of Sustainable School Allotments and 40 are in municipal centres. Even the Hotel Wellington, located in the heart of the Spanish capital, has allocated more than three hundred square metres of its rooftop to growing ingredients for the exquisite food served by its kitchens.

Madrid has invaluable green areas, such as Monte del Pardo, Casa de Campo, el Retiro, El Capricho and La Quinta de los Molinos, and it is committed to creating more spaces, such as the Bosque Metropolitano that will stretch over 75 km in the city, helping to improve air quality, conserve biodiversity and adapt better to climate change. It is a belt of woodland that will surround the city, supported by the green areas classified by urban planning regulations, where more than a million trees will be planted, including native species with the potential to absorb 170,000 tonnes of CO2.

Another major initiative is the Arco Verde project promoted by Madrid’s Regional Government to bring nature to citizens by connecting the three biggest parks in the region with other natural spaces, surrounding the Madrid ‘Anillo Verde’ cycle path. This project will connect 25 municipalities in the wider Region of Madrid with the three major Regional Parks (Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, Curso Medio del Río Guadarrama and Sureste) creating a huge green corridor that will envelop the city of Madrid and the municipalities in its metropolitan area, to the delight of hikers, cyclists, and lovers of the great outdoors and clean air… We might even say that Madrid is swathed in green .

Even so, there is a great deal still to reforest, plant and grow. Various experts have proposed the 3-30-300 rule to regulate green spaces in cities, suggesting that all citizens should be able to see at least three trees from their homes, enjoy thirty percent trees in their neighbourhoods and live within three hundred metres of a large natural space.

These are still challenges facing the city of Madrid, according to a study by Barcelona’s Global Health Institute  (ISGlobal), which analyses the situation of numerous cities in Spain. It notes, for example, that Madrid has lots of trees on its streets, but they are unevenly distributed, which is also the case with its green areas (which occupy more than three million hectares), very few and far between in the centre of the city. Undoubtedly, Madrid is becoming greener, but it is still working to become greener still, reorganising its landscape planning to continue promoting nature.

The long periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic brutally reminded us of something we were close to forgetting: just how essential nature is for healthy human development. The poet and activist Thoreau wrote in the late nineteenth century: ‘There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.’

5 March 2024


Madrid Nuevo Norte

5 March 2024

for Madrid Nuevo Norte