Why Big Cities Like Madrid Need To Be Redesigned

Why big cities like Madrid need to be redesigned

In 1950, 30% of the world’s population was urban. By 2050, it is expected to be 68%. Thus, urbanization is one of the great challenges of the century.

Aerial view of Madrid.

Metropolitan areas are currently in a process of transformation. His rapid development in recent decades It hasn’t always been planned. This shows alarming figures in terms of low density, isolated growth and speed of transformation.

As data of this accelerated behavior, the artificial surface increased more than 50% in Spain between 1987 and 2005. This means that it has grown in less than twenty years half of what it had grown until 1987.

In other times, the construction of metropolises followed new guidelines in times of strong transformation. After the Industrial Revolution, classic urban responses were given such as you widen them. and innovative as industrial colonies The model villages and later others that proposed new urban models.

Now we meet again in a transition moment, in this case, ecological. To this end, there are different perspectives to respond to the metropolises that have emerged from uncontrolled urban expansion.

highly populated

Currently, the urban sprawl It is a challenge of the first order worldwide.

Last year, cities were already home to 55.71% of the world’s population. Cities, especially those in developing countries and emerging economies, will face unprecedented levels of urbanization.

In 1950, 30% of the world’s population was urban. The United Nations predicts that in 2050 68% of the population, more than two thirds of humanity, will be urban. Therefore, it is expected that the urban population of the planet double in 2050.

All this makes urbanization one of the main challenges of our century.


An urban world has many consequences for sustainability. The consumption of natural resources will be concentrated around urban areas, especially those related to energy and land. In addition, the way in which new cities or developments are built will be key.

Urban sprawl is commonly used to describe physically growing urban areas. Dispersion is described as the physical pattern of low-density expansion. The development of large urban areas is irregular and dispersed with a tendency to discontinuity.

Urban sprawl is identified when the rate of urban growth is greater than the rate of population growth.

There are different drivers of this uncontrolled growth. Two key factors are the rapid growth of the car use and the preference for single family homes. This was reinforced with the rise of mass consumption in the 20th century. The rigid separation of houses, shops and workplaces in so-called zoning also favors growth.

But the main reason why it has become a trend is that there are no restrictive regulations. Nor are sustainability criteria used for urban development.

no planning

Most of the land development is unplanned, informal settlements. And when there is planning, it is characterized by weak land use, or misapplied. On other occasions, directly due to the lack of coordination and collaboration in planning.

The expansion of cities is a matter of critical importance due to its effects. Its uncontrolled growth threatens both the natural environment such as rural and increases greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

From international institutions there is an agreement on the prevention and containment of urban sprawl, as indicated at the United Nations HABITAT III conference in 2016. planning with sustainability criteria must take into account the challenge of urban sprawl. Therefore, it is necessary to stop its increase and study the dimension of the problem in each territory.

Recomposition of Madrid

A paradigmatic case is the Metropolitan Region of Madrid. This area is unique at European level because it does not have territorial planning and because it has suffered a very strong transformation in the last decades.

The Community of Madrid has gone from 64,808 anthropized hectares in 1990 to 126,220 hectares in 2018. This represents a growth of 94.76%, as the researchers Córboba and Morcillo point out. That is, they have doubled artificial surfaces in less than thirty years.

This exacerbated growth has been carried out with a small population increase. The Metropolitan Region of Madrid therefore needs planning that allows for a new territorial configuration. This means establishing new strategies taking into account the current ecological transition scenario.

future planning

A first step is the overcoming of the municipality when it comes to planning. Is about planning the metropolitan space, which has been forgotten in the last fifty years, with flexible and integrated responses.

The project of the future Metropolitan Region of Madrid should seek a better economic balance. This means compensating for economic activities in the south and east, relative to north and west. It should also bet on greater social sustainability, balancing the endowments, facilities and green areas in these areas.

It should also mean greater environmental sustainability, especially reducing air pollution, through the limitation of the use of the private vehicle, and metropolitan contributions to climate change, which are related to the development model. Is about balance environmental inequalities from the north and west with those from the south and east of the region.

In general, you should bet on strategies of growth containment and use the precautionary principle. This means protecting natural spaces, preserving productive soils for agricultural uses and rehabilitating before growing.

Likewise, it is necessary to address the key issue of the region in relation to planning: Mobility. Public space and the city exist in relation to mobility. To improve mobility we have to promote all forms of soft mobility (pedestrian and cyclist), as well as public transport, reducing the role of private vehicle.

Added to this is the review of ongoing developments in relation to the environment. Transversely, it is necessary to rethink housing models and limit territorial inequalities at the urban and metropolitan level.

An ecological transition towards new ways of living and consuming, as we are seeing, means facing many challenges.

It is necessary to respond to climate change with energy and environmental planning. This requires revising current urban planning to include sustainability criteria. Above all when we are going to live in an increasingly urban world.

*Alexandra Delgado Jiménez, Professor of Urban Planning, Nebrija University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.