Introduction and Demographics
As you may know, Santo Domingo is the capital of a paradisiac Island located at the heart of the Caribbean; The Dominican Republic. In the last years the country has suffered a massive population shift from the rural areas to the urban centres having an impact in the urban development of the capital. Even though censoring is still considered to be a challenge for the country´s administration, it could be said that the capital city has 3 million inhabitants loose. This means that almost one third of the country´s population live within the limits of the capital city.
Among the city´s inhabitants, 65% live in urban slums occupying only a 19% of the city land. Population growth in these marginalised neighbourhoods accounts for 10% while the capital city as a whole is growing at a 6.5 rate. Therefore, a significant increase in the number of slums can be seen in the capital of the Dominican Republic. This is undoubtedly considered to be a major challenge for the urban development of Santo Domingo. For this reason, the problem of slums needs to be addressed since it is directly linked to other poverty related issues.
Slums are seen as a failure of urban city planning as well as a result of poor policies. This means that slums are a consequence or a result of a lack of attention towards human basic needs on part of the government. In Santo Domingo, there are some neighbourhoods such as Los Guaricanos, Herrera and La Barquita among others, where slums are the common landscape. These areas are characterised as being violent and unstable, since the urban poor living under these conditions have nothing to lose. In addition, Dominicans living in slums do not have the necessary infrastructures providing them with sanitation and water. These two basic services are considered to be a main problem in slums having severe consequences in the inhabitants. A vast number of children are continuously at risk of health related problems. Therefore, uncertainty in these areas prevails.
From a more technical perspective, the structure of the slums is not considered to be specially consistent and adequate. Particularly, in Santo Domingo, where climate plays an important role, houses should be adapted to weather conditions and they should be built in areas where the probability of a flood or of a landslide is low. Nevertheless, if you analyze the location of slums in Santo Domingo, you could observe that a great amount are built in highly insecure and vulnerable areas. Therefore, slums in Santo Domingo should be improved and start to be seen as an integral part of the city instead of being treated as a separate part of the urban development of the capital.
Upgrading slums in this paradise is therefore a priority. It is important that this process confers a benefit to the most direct stakeholders; the urban poor. For this reason, voices as well as concerns need to be heard. A social and political platform pushing for their needs could be implemented following already existing models. In South Africa, India and Brazil, a project is being put into practice by the IBSA Working Group on Human Settlements. The main aim is to improve the living standards of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. This project counts with a platform aimed at helping the three countries to learn from each other’s experiences and to have a constant discussion. A direct transfer of Knowledge is being made hence enhancing South–South cooperation. The Dominican Republic and specifically Santo Domingo could therefore draw lessons from this platform and learn from experiences and policies put in place in developing countries where also slumming is a major issue.
Apart from the social and political platform, the project introduces the concept of prefabricated houses as a form of upgrading slums from a more urban and technical point of view. Modular prefabricated houses seem to be the solution to reducing inequalities in urban cities. These houses take under consideration the communities’ needs and are considered to be adjustable to accommodate a family.
What is more, they would serve as a barrier to weather conditions such as humidity and heat as well as to insects. This is considered of crucial importance in Santo Domingo since Dengue and Malaria are still frequent diseases. Blocks tend to be light and cheap as well as recyclable. Hence, this has benefits in both monetary and environmental terms for both the urban poor, the environment and the government.
Prefabricated houses therefore seem to be an appealing solution to the problem of slums with a wide range of advantages. Nevertheless, it is essential to integrate the idea of slum upgrading in the production sector of the economy in order to make the project more feasible. In the Dominican Republic there is an association, which deals with the country´s construction sector, namely the Asociacion Dominicana de Constructores y Promotores de Vivienda. Through this association, construction as well as material companies such as Metaldom or Sinercon could be introduced in the production phase. These Dominican companies by being involved in the project could therefore contribute to the development of the country.
The labour force could be provided by the communities affected. By employing the urban poor, these people would be keener on being involved in the project but also capacity building would be enhanced by allowing these part of society to learn and to contribute to the construction of their own houses. Socio-economic development will also be promoted. The population being employed would contribute to the rising of the sector. This is considered to be crucial since Dominicans do actually need to have a reason to be proud of.
Therefore, a common benefit could be seen in the city of Santo Domingo. The government would be seen as accountable for addressing urban planning demands, the urban poor would be considered as an integrated part of society and the private sector would participate in the socio-economic development of the country.
The temperature as well as the sunny year-round climate makes the island ideal for practicing sports. One cannot talk about the Dominican Republic without talking about baseball. After the American league, the Dominican baseball league is the most important. Almost 500 players are members of American baseball teams. Therefore, a major baseball event held in Santo Domingo could be an excuse to develop the aforementioned urban planning scheme able to cope with the challenges of the capital city. Jose Alberto Pujols, a famous Dominican Baseball player coming from an difficult area of Santo Domingo named Cristo Rey, could take the lead and be a push for the project by sharing his life experiences. Seeing him as a national idol who has faced urban challenges could actually be a motivation and a driving factor to develop this new urban plan.