Thursday, May 25, 2006

Living Above The Tree Line

Madrid, at only 650 metres above sea level, is not a place where trees don’t grow. It is, however, a city that is losing its tree cover at a frightening speed as a result of the actions of the city’s administration. The main culprit is a project that was always presented as being environmentally friendly – a decision to bury a substantial section of the M30 (the inner ring road) where it runs on either side of the River Manzanares. It’s really a project to expand the number of lanes on the road, something that could not be done on the surface without losing the river or demolishing buildings. Apart from turning the area of the river into a vast dusty construction site, the project has also involved the removal of thousands of mature trees in a city not renowned for its greenery. The standard response of the administration to any protests about this is that the trees were not healthy anyway. The companies carrying out the tree massacre will probably be the same ones paid to plant tiny saplings in their place when they have managed to find the river again. No environmental impact assessment of any kind was carried out for this project – again fairly standard practice, and probably what also permits the placing of an escape chimney for traffic fumes in the middle of a public park.

As if this wasn’t enough, another project has recently been unveiled to ‘reform’ the Paseo del Prado, one of Madrid’s principal avenues and of course home to the museum of the same name. But here there was a difference, as soon as it became clear that the plan involved removal of some of the very well established trees in the Paseo, a row began that drew in the aristocracy in the form of (Spanish born) Baroness Thyssen. The Thyssen family donated their art collection to Madrid and the museum hosting it is more or less opposite the Prado. The Baroness declared that she was prepared to tie herself to one of the trees that was under threat. So the right wing government of Madrid found itself in direct confrontation with the aristocracy, and the plan is now under review. One consequence of all of this is that every campaign in the city is now looking for a baroness to get them onto the front pages of the national press.

Sometimes in this city you can get the feeling that there is no administration at all, but when it comes to the art of transferring vast amounts of public money into private hands there is no doubt they are up there with the best. Some estimates of the number of trees lost recently to all these great works put the figure as high as 40000…there can’t be many left.

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