The war over Madrids Cornisa Park intensifies I avoid looking

The war over Madrid’s Cornisa Park intensifies: “I avoid looking at the works, my heart falls at my feet”

Fallen branches, downed fences, machines that come and go, felled trees or scattered pallets. bushes and mud. Lots of mud. It is the image with which those who walk daily through the Parque de la Cornisa find themselves, one of the few green lungs that have survived in the central district of Madrid. This has been the case for almost five months since the conversion work on the site began on September 9th. The noise of the excavators surprised local residents, who denounced week after week that the reform was not necessary. They feel despised by the municipal council, with whom they have not met since October, despite the promise of councilor José Fernández Sánchez (PP) to form a common working table. The war to “save” the Cornisa has intensified by the day and this Wednesday several neighborhood groups presented their demands in plenary. All proposals except one were unanimously approved.

Granite benches lying on the ground at the site of Parque Cornisa under construction in Madrid's Centro district on January 18, 2023.Granite benches lying on the ground at the site of Parque Cornisa under construction in Madrid’s Centro district on January 18, 2023.

Fernández admits over the phone that “there was still a lack of communication” but that once the reform is complete residents “will see a significant improvement”: “We just want them to be able to enjoy the surroundings because there is little in the center Green spaces.” This first phase of the works – there are three in all – in which 825,000 euros have been invested, was due to end before 2023, but is being postponed to March due to a lack of materials.

Meanwhile, at five o’clock in the afternoon, about twenty people gathered at Calle Mayor number 72. Some were neighbors, like Carmela Gómez, who founded the group Vecinas Corniseras shortly after the work started to “save the park”. “I avoid seeing her because my soul falls on my feet,” he lamented. Others approached in signs of support. “Let’s save the cornice, not one tree down. No to logging,” it said in black letters on one sheet. Irache Arellano, 58 and a flight attendant until two years ago, held him on the left: “The first time I came [hace 23 años] I was impressed. All those trees and full of life. I thought it would be a happy neighborhood.” He, like many others, learned of the start of work through the press, and a series of phone calls and unanswered questions began. ‘They cut, they cut. What happens? What do we do?’ we said to ourselves. We decided to mobilize and let the rest know what had happened,” he recalls.

The proposals, presented “through the mediation of PSOE, Vox and the Mixed Group through three initiatives” and voted in plenary, are those that the neighborhood groups have been demanding since September: stop the felling of trees and that the existing ones remain in their place; replace already felled ones; more prairie area; to install neither a stage nor granite steps; Replace ground cover plants, a sort of alternative to grass, with a variety of grass, another type of plant used in flower beds; to preserve the park in its natural environment and its facilities and equipment; and create a permanent dialogue table with neighborhood associations. All voted unanimously in plenary, except for the last one, which Vox, PP and Ciudadanos voted against. The result is not binding but is a small victory for local residents after months of uncertainty dominated their talks. “The applications are evaluated with the technical team, but everything that has been approved will be carried out because we think it can be done,” says Fernández, adding that not all citizens are against the project.

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Some neighbors, like Gómez, have been able to follow the progress of the reform through the media and have been demanding for months that they be taken into account. The project’s technical team met with the neighborhood associations twice, once on the day the transformation started and again on October 26th. Since that day, Gómez has denounced the administrative silence of the municipal administration: “They give us various excuses or they don’t answer us directly. We’ve been used to that contempt since the movement’s inception.” Residents, for example, learned from an interview with the Cadena Ser City Council that he plans to call a meeting with them later this month.

“We don’t understand anything at this point,” lamented the woman. Finally, about five hours after the intervention on the radio, he received an email: the technical team would meet with the residents on January 31st. They don’t know if the government team will attend.

More trees

One of the main criticisms against the project is the loss of green spaces. Before work began, there were 203 trees in Cornisa Park, most of them in good condition. Now it’s 28 fewer. The board defends that they withdrew because they were in poor condition due to storm Filomena. “The square reform project does not envisage further felling of trees unless unhealthy specimens are found or pose a danger to passers-by during the process,” said a spokeswoman for the city council. The filing for the first phase of the project states that the reform “envisages only the planting of 18 trees”, without mentioning the felling carried out. Also that the contractor must “protect the existing tree and shrub specimens” in addition to replacing them if they suffer damage.

Until a few months ago, the park had a modest basketball court, a children’s area, a few tables spread out behind the basilica, a small self-cultivated garden, and two large lawns. Most of the floor was sand. According to the project, plans include expanding the sports area, moving the children’s area to the center of the park, building an amphitheater as a stage next to the lawn area and an area for dogs, placing granite steps, and demarcating a center space, another shaded for group activities and another with equipment for the elderly and a space for petanque. This is what the city council defines as “use zones”.

One of the felled trees in Parque de la Cornisa, in the Centro district of Madrid, on December 1, 2022. One of the felled trees in Parque de la Cornisa in Madrid’s Centro district on December 1, 2022. VECINAS CORNISERAS (NEIGHBORS CORNISERAS)

“It breaks the rhythm of the citizens. This zoning guides you and tells you where to be based on usage. There is no recovery like before,” criticizes Gómez. For Arellano, “it destroys the coexistence that has been built around the park.” In the afternoons she liked to chat with the older people in the neighborhood. The little ones rushed to the children’s area, and the youngsters met at the picnic area. At the weekend there are Zumba, skating or Tai Chi groups.

At half past six in the evening, where you used to hear the screams of children or the crash of basketballs, there was not a soul on this Wednesday. Just a few passers-by, six empty wooden benches, an excavator, a few workers and the metal fences surrounding the enclosure. The tai chi group has moved to a different area: “Everyone goes where they can on the small green that stays in the middle.”

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