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As Madrid Plans Urban Forest, Citizens Fight to Plant Their Own Trees

An unsanctioned resident tree-planting initiative is challenging the Madrid government to work with, not against, local efforts. 

Residents in the Madrid suburbs of Barajas have built up this micro-forest over 12 years. But city officials have removed components of the forest that they say threaten public safety.

Residents in the Madrid suburbs of Barajas have built up this micro-forest over 12 years. But city officials have removed components of the forest that they say threaten public safety.

Photographer: Emilio Parra Doiztua/Bloomberg

Tucked between highways and new homes in the Madrid suburb of Barajas is a micro-forest of the sort some urbanists dream about. Planted informally by citizens on unused, derelict ground, the 1,500-tree woodland is gradually populating a small pocket on the fringe of the Spanish capital with birds, insects and greenery that could help boost the area’s biodiversity and moderate its summer temperatures.

The problem is that the forest, called Bosque Urbano, is illegal, as it sits on land owned by local authorities. “By law, only the Madrid council can plant trees,” says Luis Calzada, a co-founder and volunteer for the project, who started receiving complaints over the group’s guerrilla gardening after elections brought in a new mayor in 2019.