Madrid is one of several major cities, from Bangkok, Thailand to Medellin, Colombia, that are attempting to re-green themselves.
The Madrid effort comes just ahead of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global push to revive natural spaces lost to development.
The municipality of Madrid has launched a drive to connect a series of existing woodlands, creating a 75km-long green belt around the city of 3.3 million, suburban escape officials call the Bosque Metropolitano or Metropolitan Forest.
Madrid’s green belt, which is about 80 per cent complete, will contain millions of trees, many of them native holm oaks, elms and willows. In 30 years, the forest will be able to absorb 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Walking and cycling trails will course through the forests, which officials say could be connected by “ecoducts”, ribbons of wilderness that run between factories and homes.
While only 20 per cent of Madrid’s green belt is missing, completing the circle will involve regreening already developed land, which requires planning approvals and compensation for landowners.
Once complete, the forest would cover 35,000ha. It would help the city improve its air quality, counter climate change and create a wealth of recreational opportunities for residents, says Silvia Villacañas from Madrid’s urban planning department.
Silvia Villacañas said: “For us, this decade is going to be a crucial one in order to develop this great green infrastructure. We will not have other possibilities to re-plan this (project). This is our last chance.“