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Thursday, 14 November, 2019

A “Living Open-Air Classroom” on Renewable Energy

At a new urban park in the Dominican Republic, visitors can stroll in the sunshine, enjoy a fresh breeze, and soak up the sound of falling water—all while learning about how sun, wind, and water are converted into clean energy. The Renewable Energy Theme Park, which Dominican President Danilo Medina inaugurated on November 7, will serve as a “living open-air classroom,” as the project’s architect described it.

At the opening ceremony, Minister of Energy and Mines Antonio Isa Conde explained the project will help people “understand exactly what renewable energy is, the energy of the future, in the Dominican Republic and the world.”

The park is a circular oasis set in the middle of a vast “model city” called Ciudad Juan Bosch, located just to the east of the capital in the municipality of Santo Domingo Este. The housing complex is a public-private venture designed to offer affordable housing to first-time home buyers.

Besides serving as a green space for residents, the theme park provides a learning space where, the Energy Minister said, young people can begin to appreciate nature and the importance of “preserving the integrity of the planet.”

“Educating children and teaching them about renewable energy means creating better citizens for the future, having people who can help take the country to a better place,” he said.

In a recent interview, Deputy Energy Minister Ernesto Vilalta, who led the team that built the theme park, underscored the link between sustainability and good citizenship and stressed the importance of instilling positive messages at an early age.

“The best educator in a home isn’t the parent, it’s the child,” Vilalta said, adding that children are the ones who will likely remind their parents to turn off the lights or buy energy-efficient bulbs.

The park showcases four sources of energy—sun, air, water, and biomass—and includes a fifth area that demonstrates how environmentally friendly solutions can apply to a rural setting. The technology throughout the park ranges from a simple energy-efficient cookstove that might be found outside a typical country house to a sophisticated SmartFlower solar array with 12 petal-like panels that move as they track the sun. Water channeled through the park generates electricity on a micro scale, while a biodigester located in the rural exhibit serves as a reminder that organic waste can also be turned into energy.

With a total capacity of around 118 kW, the park will run on the electricity it produces, most of which will come from solar photovoltaic panels. An 18-meter windmill provides a visual focal point, but the wind in this area does not always blow hard enough to power the turbines.

At the entrance to the park, a visitor center will include a permanent exhibit on renewable energy, as well as gathering spaces for large groups. Visitors will wend their way through the theme park via a wide, 600-meter-long pathway that is accessible to wheelchairs.

Architect Francis Santana, whose background includes designing ecotourism trails, left many of the site’s natural features intact; in one place, the entrance to a small cave is visible amid the rocky terrain. She also incorporated native trees and plants along the route—including rosa de Bayahíbe bushes. A member of the cactus family, the endangered plant’s delicate pink blossom is the national flower of the Dominican Republic and appears on the national currency.

“The park is meant to teach in a way that is enjoyable,” Santana said as she walked a visitor through the site the week before the official opening. Although the place is expected to draw outside visitors—no entry fee will be charged, at least at first—the architect hopes it will also become a local hub for residents of Ciudad Juan Bosch. She envisions them meeting there for morning workouts, taking walks in the evening along paths lit by solar lamps, or even gathering there for a birthday party. “The residents will never by excluded,” she said.

Ciudad Juan Bosch—named after the country’s first democratically elected president after the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo—is a virtually self-contained city with its own schools, hospital, churches, fire station, shopping areas, and other amenities. Located about 25 kilometers from downtown Santo Domingo, it has bus service to the metro system, and a new highway under construction is expected to provide quick access to the National District.

More than 10,000 apartment units have already been built, out of the 25,000 planned, and about half of the finished units are now occupied. The government planned the complex to help address the country’s housing shortage, and private companies competed to develop different sections. Residents purchase their apartments, with the government providing financial incentives depending on applicants’ income and circumstances—for example, whether they are single heads of household or senior citizens living on a fixed income.

Like the housing development itself, the Renewable Energy Theme Park is a public-private undertaking. A joint initiative of the Ministry of the Presidency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines, it received additional support from other public and private sources. Deputy Energy Minister Vilalta said the project had a budget of around US$2 million, not including donations. Private companies donated the renewable energy equipment and will provide maintenance, he said.




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