The river running through Madrid, Spain’s capital, has been restored to health as part of an ambitious infrastructure scheme that turned out to be a model for restoring damaged ecosystems while improving access to nature in urban spaces.
“The main thing you need [for such a project to come to life] is political conviction,” explains José María Ortega, the city’s general coordinator for urban development. Costing a whopping $4.5 billion – Madrid’s annual revenue – “not every city can afford to take on that debt, so it’s important to be creative and find financing wherever possible.”
The massive Madrid Río complex project started in 2004 with the burying of the M-30 used by more than 250,000 vehicles daily. Above it, the Madrid Río Park – a lush riverside park extending over 7.5 kilometers – was built. The park plays an important role in helping the city adapts to rising temperatures with trees offering relief to some 700,000 immediate citizens who can take cover in periods of extreme heat. Finally, the heavily polluted Manzanares River was restored, notably with the lifting of dams built along the river in the 1950s. Consequently, mallards, herons, and egrets have built nests in the area, and migrating wagtails, kingfishers, and cormorants stop on their way to Africa. Foxes and endangered otters now call the Manzanares home. “This project is, in many ways, one of unification. It’s allowed the city to reconcile with nature, stitching communities together.”