Urban Renewal in Madrid: Questions of urban renewal as integral part of comprehensive urban development policies in Madrid - the example of the Lavapies area

This paper examins the importance of city renewal in Madrid, as well as its instruments and effectiveness, using varied literary sources and personal interviews. In addition the specific renewal of the Lavapiés area for illustrative purposes is discussed.

Urban development and renewal in Madrid

Around 5 million people live in the autonomous "Comunidad" Madrid region and around 3 million in the city itself. Approximately 20% of housing in Spain’s capital was built after 1940. Real estate speculation, horrendous rents and an enormous construction boom characterise a city centre that is rapidly losing its population. Most people own their own properties. The currently differing political ideologies of the national government (PSOE) and regional government (PP) have also led to problems in urban planning. The state, Comunidad and city governments are all trying to increase the number of affordable rented accommodation on the market, sink prices and decrease the number of empty properties through special programmes and financial securities. At around 12%, the amount of subsidised housing in the city is low. Public subsidisation means improved terms of purchase in Madrid and as a result subsidised rented accommodation only makes up around 1% of the total. The city’s current "Plan de Vivienda" scheme is hoping to improve the situation.

The last amendment to the "Plan General de Ordenación Urbana" (PGOU), dating from 1997, contains the important targets, norms and regulations for both urban development and renewal, whilst the "Plan de Vivienda 2005-2008" lays down the rules for subsidised accommodation. The "Ley de conglegacion de renta" from 1964 determined extremely low rents, which made letting and thus the renewal of property of little interest. The selling of property led to the domination of "multi-party ownership" (many different property owners in one building) until the law was repealed in 1983. It was only after the country’s return to democracy that left-wing political parties began to try to save dilapidated houses. Up until the end of the 1980s the city bought and renewed more than 100 buildings and provided renovation subsidies in an attempt to stop the financial impairment of the city centre. The election victory of the PP at the end of the 1980s and the start of property speculation led the city to follow a more financially lucrative policy of demolition and rebuilding.

It was only in 1994 that the city started to designate renovation areas in which special financial aid is made available over a period of five years. The first real steps forward in city renewal didn’t happen until the mid-1990s. According to a joint study by the city and the university, much too much money was still invested in the renewal and expansion of the road system between 1979 and 1999 and much too little attention paid to improving inner-city life. Nowadays city renewal still plays second fiddle to more profitable new construction, but the sector is growing as many developers recognise the state of the market and the desire of many citizens to live in the city centre.

Civil participation plays an integral role in larger projects and in the process of defining new ARI, but this works to differing degrees of success. The first pedestrian zone came into being on the initiative of local businessmen in the Calle Huertas and this has now been developed into a pedestrian area right through the city centre from the Palacio Real to the Parque del Retiro. Even though the city would like to invest more money in the renewal of public space, the results that have been achieved with the support of the EU’s URBAN-cohesion programme are rather impressive. After years of policies dominated by the importance of motorised transport, not unsubstantial areas could be won back for pedestrian use.

The Lavapiés redevelopment area

Lavapiés is a district in the centre of Madrid. Originally built as a Jewish settlement outside of the city in the 12th century, it was encompassed by the city in the 17th century and is still seen as a multi-cultural, lower class immigration district. The industrial revolution and huge population increase in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the area becoming increasingly densely populated. Solid buildings from the 17th century were extended to incorporate today’s substandard, “backyard” housing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The neglect of this district led directly to the problems that it faces today: An ever-ageing population, a large number of poorly ventilated and dark substandard flats, a lack of open space and local infrastructure, a decrease in economic muscle, the domination of wholesale trade, a lack of integration, social marginality, etc.

Since 1997 Lavapiés is one of the latest city renewal projects in Madrid encompassing an area of approximately 35 ha. and 20,000 inhabitants. An office was opened to help the city, Comunidad, Spanish state and EU coordinate their efforts to renew housing and local infrastructure, as well as to invest in social programmes and other projects. Particular weight was given to projects designed to eradicate substandard housing and to renew housing standing empty in the area.

Whilst individual projects could be brought to a successful conclusion, the problem of substandard housing could not be solved. Some of the buildings have been repaired but living conditions in the area could not be improved either with regard to the state of the housing or the social network available. Local institutions and people living in the district accuse the authorities of investing time and money in superficial beautification and a few showcase projects whilst failing to improve everyday life for the inhabitants. A "Rehabilitación Integrada" must not only include constructional and historical aspects, but also the social, functional and education needs of the population. Integrated perspectives and improved coordination between the authorities is necessary and participatory measures must be made better use of.

Finally, the basic ideas for renovation for two particular buildings are presented that were carried out as part of a dissertation in the department of urbanistic and landscape planning at the Madrid Technical University. It is shown how more flexible regulations for the renewal of backyard housing would reduce the loss of properties as well as enable cheaper reconstruction or the building of new housing and
so solve the problem of substandard accommodation.


Always considering the differing initial position in Madrid - hardly any rented accommodation, almost exclusively multi-party buildings and very few city housing developments - one could say that the city’s uncomplicated system of applying for subsidies and its policy of investment in public space (such as 100% support for the renovation of facades as part of the PAA) are worth discussing in Vienna.

Negative examples for Vienna, however, are the Lavapiés district with its lack of integration and social inadequacies and the problems that have arisen in San Cristobal de Los Angeles as a result of the shortsighted sale of city housing developments for short-term profit.