Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Ciudad Colonial, or the “colonial city” of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The tour was led by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB), one of the leading funders of downtown revitalization throughout Latin America. I was thrilled to be back in my element. Almost twenty years ago I spent a year traveling around the world as a Watson Fellow (quite honestly the best gig I have ever had!). I puddle jumped my way through thirteen countries to study downtown revitalization as it was being practiced in Spain and former Spanish colonies. Yet despite all of my travels, this was my first visit to Santo Domingo.
The downtown is of modest size – 9,000 residents – and is about 5 km square. As one of the first Spanish colonial outposts in the New World, the city follows the Law of the Indies. These were the planning ordinances that the Spanish Crown set for its colonies. These laws were themselves modeled on Roman planning practices that were developed during the expansion of the Roman Empire in Europe.
I was thrilled to see the effort to revitalize the City Center taking shape. The effort has received significant support from the IDB and according to my guides, almost $30 million dollars has been invested in streetscape improvements intended to both beautify and make the very narrow colonial streets safer for pedestrians. The improvements were quite impressive and certainly have made an impact on the street.