A city of “firsts”, Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, literally laid the ground rules for urban planning.
Its UNESCO Heritage protected colonial town, founded in 1498, was built in a grid pattern that became the model for almost all town planners in the New World.
Santo Domingo also gave the New World its first institutions— Saint Mary of the Incarnation Cathedral, Saint Francois Monastery, Saint Thomas Aquinas University and Nicholas de Bari Hospital.
The city has since grown from that seat of Spanish power to what is now the largest city on the Caribbean— and it is once again in the process of city planning to accommodate its population of over 1 million people in the short, medium and long term.
The city council of the National District has drawn up a Territorial Ordinance Plan, with the consensus of over 285 institutions, to address Santo Domingo’s rapid growth over the last 15 years.
The plan addresses climate change adaptation and mitigation, which has co-benefits and knock-on effects for air pollution, but, on joining the BreatheLife campaign in May 2018, the city council also emphasized specific plans improve the city’s air quality.
“The plan to 2030 is to work in collaboration with the relevant agencies to improve the urban mobility system to reduce emissions from combustion vehicles and improve the solid waste recycling to reduce emissions from municipal landfills,” said Director, Strategic Plan for the National District, Jesús D’Alessandro.
This includes expanding the urban mobility system to improve connectivity and ensure that the city is “walkable” and that public transport stations are reachable 10 to 15 minutes away on foot.
It would also include building new, predominantly residential urban clusters in territories.
The city is also working with the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Partnership for Healthy Cities to make cycling more appealing for its residents, with a focus on preventing non-communicable diseases and road injuries while reducing air pollution from vehicles as more people shift from cars to bicycles.
The latter, traffic pollution, is a problem shared by Santo Domingo with other growing cities around the world; in 2009, when the Ministry of the Environment carried out the first Inventory of Pollutant Emissions in the country, it found that the National District had the worst air quality among the country’s territories.
The biggest air pollutant generated by human activity was found to be carbon monoxide (CO), coming mainly from mobile sources (i.e., motor vehicles), while most of the emissions from fixed sources came from electricity generation, oil refinery and the manufacture of non-mineral products.
The Santo Domingo Action Plan that emerged from the Bloomberg partnership would improve physical cycling infrastructure, better connecting coastal bike lanes to the rest of the city and would produce data to comprehensively chart the use of the existing cycling landscape, along with several other complementary measures.
Other actions Santo Domingo intends to take that have direct impacts on air pollution include:
• Implementing an incentive program and educating the population to correctly sort and put out their trash, washed (for non-organic waste) and on predetermined recycling pickup days;
• Developing modern solid waste recycling plants;
• Delivering an education incentive campaign to ensure that citizens with limited resources are familiar with and use more efficient and less polluting methods to cook their food;
• Working with the central government to improve access to electricity and thus avoid growth in the use of domestic generators;
• Working with the central government to raise awareness of and promote the generation of and markets for renewable energy;
• Working with the government to reduce losses in the energy distribution system;
• Undertaking a comprehensive incentives and sanctions campaign to get industries to reduce their emissions;
• Delivering an integral education campaign for the industrial sector in the form of a system of certifications that certify non-polluting production processes;
• Implementing an educational campaign to create awareness in the population about the health impacts of air pollution and the effects of their actions and choices on air quality.
Half of the Dominican Republic’s formal jobs and half of its resources are generated in the 92 square miles that make up this teeming capital city, giving Santo Domingo’s efforts significant potential impact as this pioneering city charts a course towards healthy air.
Follow Santo Domingo’s clean air journey here.