CORONAVIRUS

Madrid to reopen small city parks, but not El Retiro

Starting today all green areas in the capital will be open to the public with the exception of 19, while more than 19 kilometers of streets will be pedestrianized on weekends

The closed gates to Madrid‘s El Retiro park.
The closed gates to Madrid‘s El Retiro park.Óscar Cañas / Europa Press

Madrid City Hall announced on Thursday that small parks in the capital’s 21 districts will be reopened on Friday, May 8, in order to avoid crowds forming during the hours that Spaniards are permitted outside to take exercise during the coronavirus lockdown.

All parks in the city, a total of 170 covering 250,000 square meters will be reopened, with the exception of 19. Large green areas like Casa de Campo, El Retiro and Madrid Río will remain closed. All recreational areas and sport fields in the reopened parks will also be off-limits.

According to Deputy Mayor Begoña Villacís, only “the smallest” parks will be opened to help “guarantee social distancing” measures. Despite the recent relaxation of Spain’s confinement measures, which are among the strictest in the world, the Spanish capital has not reopened its parks, meaning that people coming out onto the street for walks or to take exercise have found themselves surrounded by other citizens, making social distancing difficult.

From tomorrow [Friday] we will reopen all parks in Madrid. Children’s playgrounds and sporting areas will remain closed as well as these 19 green areas in the city.

In a bid to address this problem, the local government also announced that sections of 29 streets will be pedestrianized on weekends starting Saturday. This represents a total of 19.4 kilometers, or just 0.21% of the 8,900 kilometers of roadways in Madrid.

Under the new rules, selected streets will be open to pedestrians from 8am to 10pm, but only on weekends and public holidays. The list includes Paseo de la Castellana (1,656 meters); Avenida de Menéndez Pelayo (1,620 meters); Arturo Soria street (1,490 meters) and Valmojado street (1,260 meters). (See complete list below.)

These thoroughfares have been selected according to the recommendations of local police, based on whether they are wide enough to allow social distancing, and how the move would affect public transportation and traffic. According to city authorities, 49 bus routes will be affected by the initiative.

The leftist opposition group Más Madrid has said the move is “insufficient” and has called for all municipal parks to be open. But Villacís explained on Thursday that while there is great demand from the public to open the parks, the city will for now “go one step at a time.” “This local government has decided to open district parks, not all parks, only those in districts that provide relief [to crowding],” she said at a press conference. The Ciudadanos (Citizens) politician, who governs Madrid in a coalition with the Popular Party (PP), said that the recent relaxation of the coronavirus confinement measures had made people overly enthusiastic and was creating “excesses that we cannot allow.”

Other Spanish cities like Valencia and Seville reopened municipal parks on April 26 to avoid crowding in the streets when children in Spain were allowed outside for the first time. Barcelona followed suit the following weekend, opening 70 of the 146 closed parks.

The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, from the PP, however, has opted for a slower pace. “The battle has not yet been won, we cannot lower our guard,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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