Malecon of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Malecon of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Societies cannot be understood without a discussion of urbanism and the role it has played in their development. Urban culture is tied to the history of cities and the inhabitants who have shaped the world. At the same time, the development of cities is closely related to demographics, transportation systems and urban hierarchy. In the Caribbean, divergent historical experiences affect the models of urbanization.

During the conquest, the Spanish, French, English and Dutch empires brought with them an established urban discourse that viewed the city as the epicenter of social, political and cultural advances. In many towns and cities in the Caribbean, this philosophy was demonstrated by city centers that consisted of a plaza surrounded by the religious powers and governmental institutions, along with the most notable commercial establishments and the residences of certain prominent families.

Various towns in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti are examples of this urban model. Some differences in the designs are notable, however. Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos (1988) notes that while the plantation was the main economic activity in the colonies of England, Holland and France in the late 17th century, the Spanish colonies of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were characterized by the construction of forts to defend the coastal cities.

In contrast to the Spanish colonies, the urban dynamics in the English, Dutch and French colonies in general display smaller dimensions built around ports and forts. In the Haitian city of Port de Paix and the Jamaican city of Port Royal, many of the main streets are wide boulevards.

Infrastructure also varies from one colony to another. For example, Dutch cities, such as in Curacao, have many canals for transportation and drainage. The churches that proliferated during the Spanish colonization were less common in the other colonies, as evangelization was not a priority in the colonial policies of the other colonizing countries.

The Population and Urbanization 

Rapid urbanization, in other words, the construction of housing and the surge in tourism in recent decades affected the Caribbean region so much that the urban population increased from 36.5% in 1960 to 57.5% in 1990. The Caribbean, like Latin America, continues to show uncontrolled urban growth due to increased population and natural disasters, among other factors. Some of the problems caused by this unstoppable growth are an increase in urban poverty and the construction of housing in areas at risk of natural disasters. Given these problems, Caribbean urban areas must focus on preserving their identity without affecting the social and economic patterns of the towns and cities.

Author: Carmen Graciela Díaz
Published: December 27, 2011.

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