Madrid plans to cover all unused space with plants

Madrid has been enduring the effects of climate change in the past years and is determined to find solutions to adapt to the challenges of rising global temperatures. The city is seeing more blisteringly hot days with temperatures up to 40 degrees, more severe droughts and heavier floods.

One of the measures Madrid is currently planning is filling up as much space as possible with plants and trees – vacant lots, city squares, river banks and regular city streets. Even roofs will be covered with greenery, which does not only serve decorative purposes, but also helps insulate buildings (some pilot programs had temperatures go down more than 4 degrees) and reduce street noise. Replacing paved areas with plantings can absorb and store water to help the city cope with the more frequent heavy rain, which can then be used to supply all the gardens with as much water as they need.

‘Industrial-scale’ tree planting is an important way to fight pollution, and research shows that nature-based solutions can result in multiple benefits for health, economy, society and for the environment. They are also more efficient than more traditional approaches, according to Tom Armour from Arup, the design and engineering firm that helped the city of Madrid create the plans for integrating nature into the concrete.

The city has already started to take measures to combat pollution, such as banning cars from central streets – one plan takes 24 of the busiest streets and redesigns them for walking – although experts are a bit skeptical about authorities following through on such a daring idea, as it might interfere with other traffic goals. They also ban traffic or make public transit free on especially smoggy days, and they plan to ban diesel cars in the city center completely by 2020.

Susana Saiz, project manager at Arup, points out the importance of choosing the right plants for Madrid’s arid climate. She warns that people should not idealize ‘green areas’ as actually being green all the time, for they may be brown at certain times in the year. The point is to let nature go through its regular cycles, not to force these structures to look a certain way.

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