For most of its history, the Dominican Republic was overwhelmingly rural; in 1920 over 80 percent of its populace lived in the countryside, and by 1950 more than 75 percent still did. Substantial urban expansion began in the 1950s, and it gained tremendous momentum in the 1960s and the 1970s. Urban growth rates far outdistanced those of the country as a whole. The urban population expanded at 6.1 percent annually during the 1950s, 5.7 percent annually during the 1960s-70s, and 4.7 percent annually through the mid-1980s.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the country was not only largely rural, but the urban scene itself was dominated by smaller cities and provincial capitals. In 1920 nearly 80 percent of all city dwellers lived in cities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Santo Domingo, with barely more than 30,000 residents, accounted for only 20 percent of those in cities. By contrast, in 1981 Santo Domingo alone accounted for nearly half of all city dwellers; it had more than double the total population of all cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants. Cities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants--nearly 80 percent of the urban population in 1920--constituted less than 20 percent by 1981.
Santo Domingo approximately doubled its population every decade between 1920 and 1970. Its massive physical expansion, however, dated from the 1950s. The growth in industry and urban construction, coupled with Trujillo's expropriations of rural land, fueled rural-urban migration and the city's growth. The republic's second and third largest cities, Santiago de los Caballeros (Santiago) and La Romana, also experienced significant expansion in the 1960s and the 1970s. Santiago, the center of traditional Hispanic culture, drew migrants from the heavily populated Cibao. La Romana, in the southeast, grew as a center of employment in the sugar industry as well as a center of tourism and the site of the country's first industrial free zone.
Population growth and rural-urban migration strained cities' capacity to provide housing and amenities. Nevertheless, in 1981 nearly 80 percent of city dwellings had access to potable water; 90 percent had some type of sewage disposal; and roughly 90 percent had electricity. The proportion of homes with piped, or easy access to, potable water, however, actually declined by nearly ten percentage points in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, there was an estimated housing deficit of some 400,000 units. The need was greatest in the National District. Squatter settlements grew in response to the scarcity of low-cost urban housing. In Santo Domingo these settlements were concentrated along the Ozama River and on the city's periphery.
Public housing initiatives dated from the late 1950s, when Trujillo built some housing for government employees of moderate means. Through the mid-1980s, a number of different government agencies played a role. The Technical Secretariat of the Presidency (Secretaria Técnica de la Presidencia) designed a variety of projects in Santo Domingo. The Aid and Housing Institute and the National Housing Institute bore primary responsibility for the financing and the construction of housing. In general, public efforts had been hampered by extreme decentralization in planning, coupled with equally extreme concentration in decision making. The primary beneficiaries of public projects were usually from lower income groups, although they were not the poorest urban dwellers. Projects targeted those making at least the minimum wage, i.e., the lower middle sector or the more stable segments of the working class.
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