Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Madrid’s mayor, is a dreamer. His dream was to create a €3bn underground tunnel to hide part of the city’s ugly M-30 ring-road and allow madrileños better access to the city’s two parks, Casa de Campo and Parque Retiro. Now the tunnel is down and running, the mayor has had another idea to get the locals breathing clean air: a 1 sq km park near the River Manzanares, which runs through the city. It will be free of cars, and have bike lanes, 8,000 trees and even an artificial beach.
Well, that’s the idea. It may be this was just an empty promise made before local elections in May. But the mayor is determined to get the capital’s 3.2m people out of their cars to reduce smog.
Culturally, Madrid was long regarded as stuffy compared to hip Barcelona. But it has undergone a renaissance. It now attracts more international theatre, dance and music, and will be the seat of the new Royal Spanish Ballet.
But some problems remain. Starting a business can be difficult. A 2006 World Bank report gave Spain a ranking of 102 out of 175 for problems setting up a business (175 being the worst). The UK scored 9, Japan 18. The culprit: red tape. Any entrepreneur must also struggle just to afford to live here (€4,225 sq m to buy on average, or €1,000 a month to rent).
But Madrid has huge pluses: all the major employers are here; eating out is cheap (€30 per head at a good restaurant) and there is a plethora of cheap public transport and a 24-hour nightlife.
For some, the madrileño urge to party is a downside. Despite a 2002 law banning drinking on the street, riots erupted in May when police tried to clamp down on a botellón – or mass drinking session – after neighbours were fed up with the noise. But madrileños can escape the weekend’s racket by driving an hour north from the city to the beauty of the Sierra de Guardarrama or south to Castilla La Mancha.
Population: 3.2 million.
International flights: Madrid airport has 4,800 international flights to 150 destinations each week. Europe’s gateway to Latin America needs to deliver a long-haul network heading East.
Crime: murders 63; all robberies (break-in figure not separated), 106,633 (2006).
State education: state education has a bad reputation. In 2005-2006 only 58 per cent of 16-year-olds passed their basic exams. Madrid falls below the average in terms of state education. But Complutense University is one of the best in Spain, with an international reputation, and IESE business school in Madrid and Barcelona is one of Europe’s top MBA schools.
Health care: 73 per cent of city’s 21,061 hospital beds are public, a high number by Spanish standards. But, controversially, waiting lists are not clear: authorities say patients wait 46 days after an “anaesthesia test”. Local government refuses to disclose any information about this test.
Sunshine: annual average, 2,328 hours.
Temperatures: in January, the average temperature is 5C, in July 24C.
Wired: Wi-Fi points at airports, cafeterias, hotels. Internet is widely available and very cheap in locutorios (Internet cafés) around €1 per hour. Mobile coverage 100 per cent.
Tolerance: gay-friendly. In suburbs, women might get sexist remarks.
Drinking and shopping: between Thursday and Saturday, it’s no problem to get a drink after 01:00. Has a reputation as a party city at weekends. Opencor convenience chain and local shops open until 21:00 or later.
Transport: taxis are cheap, €0.87 per km, and friendly. Metro €6.40 for 10 journeys, buses charge the same and are plentiful.
Local media: local paid-for dailies are good but dull. Thriving lively free press. Television is a dreadful mix of chat shows and soaps.
International media: all international papers, magazines available in city centre.
Green space: 35 per cent is green space.
Access to nature: it’s at least an hour’s drive to the countryside, but worth the trip.
Environmental initiatives: two central plants convert 300,000 tonnes of organic rubbish taken from 60 per cent of Madrid homes into 34 billion litres of bio-gas to power 250 local buses. The city council plans to offer tax breaks/reduced parking charges for cars which use less contaminating fuel. There are plans to ban cars that cause highest environmental damage from a zone in the city centre.
Monocle metrics: great variety and good prices. Madrid is well connected to the Americas and offers sprawling apartments for homebodies. It also has enormous scope to put its 24-hour lifestyle to work.