Impressions of the green side of Madrid

Field work gave me a lot of good material to analyse, but it also offered an interesting insight to the green side of Madrid.

When I think about Madrid, ”green” is not the first adjective coming to my mind. The capital of Spain is known for its extremely hot summers, surprisingly cold winters, and sparkling night life, not for green landscapes. Neither is Spanish food culture known for being vegan or even vegetarian friendly. Actually, I even own a Spanish cook book with a comment: “Please notice that some dishes in the vegetarian food section contain meat.”

However, when I arrived to Madrid for my field work, I quickly noticed that the city has also a green side. The city has surprisingly many vegetarian or vegan restaurants and shops selling ecological products. City bike trend has clearly entered in the city as well. There are more parks and green areas than I remembered, and seemingly both locals and visitors love them. Retiro Park and huge park of Casa de Campo are popular places for spending free time or doing some sports. Many different events are organised in the green areas, the most important being San Isidro, the festival of the patron saint of the city in May, during which people gather to have a picnic in the park of San Isidro.

There is also a wish to have more green in the city. My respondents spoke about new projects such as turning River Manzanares back to its natural state, and constructing a green routes from one park to another. There are plans to restrict the use of private cars in the city centre, and widen the possibilities to use bikes. Some of the plans have already been put in practice. For example, every Sunday half of Paseo del Prado, one of the main esplanades of the city, becomes a car-free space. This practice has been very popular among the citizens, and there is plans to widen it to other main streets.

In Madrid, the citizens are invited to participate in developing their city. They can make suggestions and vote for their favourites through a special channel called “Decide Madrid”. According to my informants, the channel has lately become quite popular. Interestingly, also many citizens how own a car have participated in initiatives proposing restrictions in the use of private cars in their own neighbourhoods.

Of course this doesn’t mean there is no conflicts when it comes to new plans. Also, as some of my respondents pointed out again, the power of the cities is limited especially when it comes to climate change mitigation. They can do great things, but still action is needed in the state and international level.

Working in the field was a great experience. Apart from the topic of my research – the cooperation networks of cities – I learned a lot about the practical side of the climate change mitigation and adaptation. It was not that easy to find respondents, but all the people I met where extremely friendly, helpful and devoted to their work. Naturally there is still a lot of work to do, but I’m sure I will get interesting results out of the material I gathered in Madrid.