Sustainable Development : Old Havana, Cuba’s Historic Preservation Jul22

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Sustainable Development : Old Havana, Cuba’s Historic Preservation

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This report uses primary research conducted by Portland State University planning graduate students during an Education Abroad course. The goal is to describe various aspects of Old Havana, Cuba’s sustainable development, current urban planning practices, and unique historic preservation program. Topics are outlined briefly below. Click on the “Learn More” links to read a more in-depth analysis.

Authors: Derek Dauphin, Katie Hughes, Lina Menard and Liz Paterson. Films by Clarke Leland. This research was funded in part by the Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

History of Havana

1_History of Havana - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin
 
Cuba’s history as a Spanish colony, a bustling port city, and an ostracized and isolated island nation all play a critical role in our understanding of housing, sustainable development, and historic preservation in Havana Vieja today.

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Urban Form

2_Urban Form - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin
Old Havana’s urban form remains largely untouched since its time as a Spanish Colony between its founding in 1519 and 1902. The country’s unique politics during the 20th century resulted in streets that retain their pre-automobile connectivity and narrowness. As a result, today’s Old Havana is aesthetically pleasing, walkable, and well-shaded even on the sunniest day.

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​Office of the City Historian and Habaguanex

3_Office of the City Historian and Habaguanex - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin
Habaguanex is one of the profit-generating organizations formed by the Office of the City Historian in its efforts to restore and redevelop Old Havana. The organization was granted legal right to operate restaurants, museums, gift shops, and hotels, the profits from which it reinvests in further historic preservation and construction projects with autonomy from the country’s national government.

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Economic Updates

4_Economic Updates - Source Katie Hughes​ Photograph by Katie Hughes
Starting in the 1990s, internal and external forces resulted in the need for adjustments to how Cuba administered its economy. The result has led to a host of problems and innovations that continue to shape policies and development in Old Havana.

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Materials and Building Reuse

5_Materials and Building Reuse - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin
Old Havana is full of examples of official and informal reuse of materials and repurposing of buildings. In both instances, limited resources have led to the reuse of collapsed buildings as fruit markets (pictured), facades covered with salvaged tiles and bricks, and collapsed Spanish colonial buildings reconstructed with cinder blocks, plywood, and corrugated aluminum plates. Reusing local materials and buildings in place of importing new materials for buildings greatly reduces resource use as well as carbon emissions from transport.

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Dynamics of Density

6_Dynamics of Density - Source Liz Paterson Photograph by Liz Paterson
Overcrowding of Old Havana residential space has compromised health and safety. The restoration process has involved decreasing density and relocating many residents to neighborhoods outside of Old Havana. However, relocations create problems as well.

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​Spatial and Social Stratification

7_Social and Spatial Stratification - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard
 
Economic changes including a new law allowing Cubans to buy and sell their homes may lead to a generation stratified by income and segregated by a variety of social factors.

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Conclusions

8_Conclusion - Source Katie Hughes Photograph by Katie Hughes
Havana’s Office of the City Historian has successfully kick-started a process to address dire and urgent urban housing needs and building improvements. However, distribution of benefits to Havana’s most vulnerable residents remains a challenge.

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History of Havana

Cuba’s history as a Spanish colony, a bustling port city, and an ostracized and isolated island nation all play a critical role in our understanding of housing, sustainable development, and historic preservation in Havana Vieja today. Read more about Havana’s history by exploring the gallery below.

Map of New Spain

Although people lived in Cuba for 5000 years before Christopher Columbus’s visit to the Caribbean Islands in 1942, the written history of Cuba begins with Spanish Colonialism of the area we now call Havana Vieja (Old Havana).In the 16th century, Spanish sailors created a settlement at a natural seaport on a finger bay located on the north side of the island of Cuba.

Development continued to the west of the Bay of Havana since the location was ideal for trading. However, in 1762 the British took the hill on the other side of the bay and attacked Havana. They captured the city and held it for nearly a year before relinquishing Cuba back to the Spanish in exchange for the Florida Peninsula.Spanish Colonial architecture was built and maintained despite the fact that the area, now called Havana Vieja, is flat and prone to flooding and damage from tropical storms.

1_Map of New Spain - Source Wikipedia Image from Wikipedia

 

Havana as a Trading Port

Because of its location between Europe and the new colonies, the Bay of Havana became one of the world’s busiest trading ports in the 17th and 18th centuries. Although Cuba’s varied landscape supported a variety of different crops, Cuba’s main exports were sugar cane and its products such as rum and refined sugar. Cuban sugar barons imported slaves from Africa to work on plantations in the labor-intensive sugar industry.

Unlike the British, French, and Dutch colonists who settled the colonies as families, Spanish colonists were primarily single men who mixed with native people and slaves, creating a complex ethnic mix on the island. As a port city, Havana has been a place of innovation and change for hundreds of years.

2_Castillo de la Real Fuerza - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

 

Patchwork of Prosperity and Poverty

As a trading city, Havana was home to the full spectrum of fortune: the savvy (and lucky) amassed great fortunes while others were impoverished or enslaved. Havana’s wealthiest citizens had grand mansions built for themselves in Havana Vieja and later in suburbs such as Vedado and Miramar.

Meanwhile, poor residents of Havana crowded into close quarters along the back streets of Old Havana and the surrounding neighborhoods.In the early 20th century American influence and financing brought skyscrapers and automobiles to Cuba, forever changing the landscape and highlighting socioeconomic differences among residents. Stark inequalities set the stage for revolution.

3_Green House - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard

 

Revolution and Redistribution

In 1959, when the communist revolution triumphed in Cuba, wealthy residents fearing loss of their power and prestige fled the country, leaving their mansions to be reassigned. America placed a trade embargo on Cuba (called “the blockade” by Cubans), refusing to trade with countries that traded with communist Cuba.

Havana, which had been a major trading hub for centuries, was restricted to trading with Venezuela and the U.S.S.R. Under the new communist government, housing was assigned to each family based on household size. Several mansions in wealthy suburbs such as Vedado and Miramar were transformed into schools or apartment buildings. Home improvement and repair was provided by the government.Additionally education, healthcare, and a food ration were guaranteed to each resident.

These policies led to reduced housing segregation and virtually no homelessness, but with the focus on the people rather than the place, there was little investment in buildings or infrastructure.

4_Plaza of the Revolution - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard

 

Peak Oil and The Special Period

When the U.S.S.R collapsed in 1991, Cuba’s main trading partner disappeared and the country suddenly and immediately entered the Special Period. With extremely limited access to cheap fossil fuels, Cubans applied their ingenuity to meet basic needs. Bicycles and massive buses reduced gasoline use.

Meanwhile, Cuban agronomists became permaculture experts and food ration cards continued to ensure a basic level of nutrition. Residents learned to live with blackouts or, in extreme cases, within the constraints of “light ups.” The determination to “resolverlo” [problem-solve] enabled Cubans to leverage valuable resources.However, with resources directed to immediate survival, maintenance of buildings and infrastructure was deferred. Buildings that had been maintained for hundreds of years despite the harsh tropical climate began crumbling quickly when they were not repaired properly.

5_Collapsed building - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard

 

Historic Preservation and Habaguanex

In 1980 Havana was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its aesthetic beauty and cultural significance.; approximately one third of Havana’s buildings were constructed before the 19th century and two thirds were built before the 1950s.

However, lack of resources during the Special Period halted restoration of Havana’s built heritage. Deferred maintenance of Cuba’s oldest and most elegant buildings created health and safety problems as these buildings collapsed, injuring or killing residents.

In order to preserve heritage buildings and sites, while developing sustainable tourism, Cuba created an innovative model to leverage tourism for historic preservation. Habaguanex is a corporation that partners with the Office of the City Historian to operate tourism activities in Old Havana and utilize the funds for construction and restoration projects.

 

To date the Office of the City Historian has redeveloped 4.5 square miles of Old Havana with a focus on historic buildings along the main tourist corridors.

6_Plaza Vieja - Source Lina MenardPhotograph by Lina Menard

 

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Urban Form

 

Gallery

1_1_Havana in the 1840s with Plazas - Modified from Learn NC Modified from Learn NC map

Havana in the 1840s

This map was likely drawn sometime in the 1840s after the construction of Havana’s first railway station, Villanueva in 1839, but before the construction of the massive El Vedado suburb to the west of Old Havana in 1859. The major road axes of Old Havana are clearly visible and the city’s five plazas have been labeled. Much of the city’s urban form remains intact to this day.

1_2_Old Havana alley cafe - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Comfortable Streets

Like many streets in Old Havana, this one benefits from a good sense of enclosure, narrowness, nice building facades, potted plants, and outdoor cafe seating. This street is unique in that old cannons with a chain strung between them have been used to block access to vehicles during certain hours.

1_3_Teniente Rey Brasil near Plaza del Cristo - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Pedestrian Dominated Streets

Even streets such as this one which are not closed to cars are often overwhelmed by pedestrians in a city that is both highly walkable and the subject of an embargo by the US government which restricts import of automobiles. The result is that within Old Havana, most traffic is foot and bicycle traffic. When cars drive through these streets, pedestrians begrudgingly move aside, but quickly the street scene returns to its non-motorized frenzy. This street, like many in Old Havana, connects directly to the Capitolio (the building in the background) — Havana’s capital building.

1_4_OReilly Street - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

O’Reilly Street

One of the corridors connecting Old Havana’s plazas, O’Reilly Street will be redeveloped by the Office of the Historian to provide safe and attractive shopping and commercial opportunities. Even without renovation, the street has an excellent sense of enclosure, trees from pocket parks peak out every few blocks, and traffic is largely limited to pedestrians or bicycle cabs. Balconies allow residents to enjoy the street space and breezes on hot days.

1_5_Plaza Vieja - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Endless Arcades

Plaza Vieja provides an excellent example of the contiguous arcades prevalent in Old Havana. While these arcades provide shade and cool breezes on the many hot days the city experiences year round, they also shelter pedestrians during tropical storms serving a similar function to the arcades found in US cities such as Portland.

Plaza Vieja can be criticized for the massive stretch of pavement in the middle of the square with only a fountain (which is rarely operated) in the center. As most days are sunny, the center of the square is rarely used except as a site for exercise in the cool mornings and during the evenings when the sun has gone down. Removable tables with umbrellas could easily be deployed by nearby restaurants and cafes to make use of this space during the days without ruining its use during cooler times of the day.

1_6_Mercaderes - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Urban Green Space

Within the mostly redeveloped tourist areas, there are large numbers of old trees with massive canopies. This greenery combined with the narrowness of the streets which allows buildings to shade the street surface dramatically cuts down on urban heat island effects.

Due to limited resources, including air conditioning units and the energy to operate them, temperature control in many of the buildings still involves passive systems including shutters and shaded courtyards.

1_7_Lamparilla - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Pedestrian Only Streets

This is one of the few streets in Old Havana closed entirely to automobiles. A narrow road has been broken down into a pedestrian walkway (left) separated by planters from comfortable outdoor dining (right).

During midday when the sun is overhead, low cost retractable awnings along the building on the right can be extended to ensure that the street maintains its cool, shaded atmosphere for customers. The trees of a pocket park can be seen in the background.

1_8_Balcony - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Eyes on the Street

2-4 story buildings with balconies line nearly every street in Old Havana and create a multi-dimensional social space. People watch, talk, and in some cases transfer buckets of water or goods from the street to the balconies above them. Streets are made safer through constant supervision by residents.

1_9_Malecon - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

The Malecón

The Malecón is composed of a seawall (to the right of the photographed area) with wide a sidewalk for pedestrians, a wide 4-6 lane motorway that is one of the city’s busiest roads, and then a row of buildings of various ages that are battered and destroyed by the salt water mists and waves colliding with the seawall. Currently, no crosswalks exist to help pedestrians travel from the city blocks to the left across the busy road to the Malecón’s pedestrian area on the right.

This is particularly interesting when one considers that the broad walkway along the seawall is one of the most heavily used public areas for residents from the city’s dense Old Havana and Centro districts.

1_10_Salt water pitted brick on Malecon - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

The Power of Salt Water

The natural forces that are slowly breaking down Old Havana’s historic buildings are most violent and destructive along the Malecón, where waves breaking against the seawall create salt water mists that have eroded bricks leaving only grout (as pictured) or leaving inch-thick deposits on stone facades.

During tropical storms the waves climb over the seawall, flooding buildings along the entire coastline and creating another challenge for the Office of the City Historian in its work to restore this area.

 

 

When the Communist party came to power in Cuba in 1959, it began a concerted effort to decentralize the country. Resources were diverted away from Havana, where 80% of the population lived, to the countryside, other cities, and to the establishment of new satellite cities.

The result of this disinvestment in Havana is the city’s urban form today. Without resources, Havana did not undergo the urban renewal seen in the United States and in some of the wealthier Latin American countries. Highways and freeways were not built, “blighted” neighborhoods were not cleared, and land uses were not separated into districts (e.g., industrial, financial, commercial and residential districts).

The streets of Old Havana were laid out during the first two centuries of Spanish colonial rule following the city’s founding in 1519. The basic axes and plazas were well established by the mid-19th century around horse and carriage travel. The majority of Old Havana’s buildings pre-date the invention of elevators and many pre-date the use of iron girders that allowed buildings to grow taller than four or five stories.

As a result, Old Havana’s streets have an excellent sense of enclosure, with buildings that shade the street, reducing urban heat island effects, while providing “eyes on the street” from the old buildings’ many windows. The city’s many and often-contiguous arcades provide further protection for pedestrians from the Caribbean sun as well as tropical storms. Without urban renewal during the 20th century, the city has expanded through the addition rather than replacement of structures, creating the current dynamics of density. Building facades in Old Havana show this story of slow and steady development, with a high degree of variability in façade styles and articulation.

Nearly all buildings had balconies at one time and while many of these have collapsed due to lack of repair, there is still a great amount of outdoor space among the old buildings with laundry waving above the heads of people moving through the streets.

Old Havana’s Urban Form from Derek Dauphin on Vimeo.

 

 

These characteristics made Old Havana highly attractive to tourists even before the Office of the City Historian established Habaguanex and began its restoration program. In 1982, UNESCO certified the entire site as a World Heritage site. The Office of the City Historian established a Master Plan that has focused restoration around the city’s five plazas and the corridors connecting them. Buildings have been selected based on their importance to cultural heritage, but the general pattern of restoration is designed to improve Old Havana’s appeal to tourists. Attractive city squares with restaurants and cafes will be connected by pedestrian streets lined with shops and other commercial businesses including clubs and bars. A large public outreach campaign has been initiated by the Office of the City Historian to understand how this redevelopment work can also serve the needs of the community without causing displacement as tourist-oriented businesses raise living costs for locals.

Gallery

2_1_Older pocket park - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Older Parks

Parks such as this one are dotted throughout Old Havana providing shaded places to sit, talk, or read. Street lights and lack of structures that block views across the park serve to improve safety at night.

2_2_Park art - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Parks and Public Art

This park has a large amount of programming. Dense plantings create a more natural and enclosed setting. Street lamps improve nighttime safety, while tables with umbrellas allow people to sit and eat during the lunch hour. The large mural composed of painted tiles in the background and fountain are examples of the strong presence of public art throughout the city.

2_3_Infill park - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Infill Parks

Making use of the ground cleared by the collapse of a building, this park is notable for having children’s play equipment, a rare resource in Old Havana even though it has many children.

2_4_Modern pocket park - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Modern Pocket Park

This more recently created pocket park provides the community a number of opportunities to meet and socialize. During December, the park hosts one of Havana’s many menorahs.

 

 

One effort that has improved livability for residents is the improvement of park space. A small number of the city’s collapsed buildings have been replaced with “pocket parks” – small parks that are opportunistically included in the urban fabric. These spaces provide places to walk dogs, to sit in the shade, and to catch up with neighbors and they are an excellent example of materials and building reuse. Because they are replacing collapsed buildings, these pocket parks are often located in some of the lowest income areas of Old Havana. More recently, the Office of the City Historian has begun to focus redevelopment efforts on the Malecón, the seven kilometer stretch of seawall, roadway, and buildings that lie between Old Havana and the Strait of Florida to the north. Prior to the 1950s when the seawall was built, waves and tropical storms so frequently inundated this area that the Spanish did not build along the waterfront until the end of the 19th century. Salt water from frequent storms floods the Malecón approximately once every 10 years, causing significant damage. Meanwhile, salt water, sea mists, and storm winds have weathered many of the Malecón buildings to the point of collapse. Again the Office of the City Historian is driven by two forces: the beautiful oceanfront properties along the Malecón represent high value real estate for tourists and foreign investors, but they also provide options for more high-quality housing. Historic buildings are being renovated and new buildings are being built where old buildings have collapsed.

The Malecón of Old Havana, Cuba from Derek Dauphin on Vimeo.

 

 

References

  1. Coyula, M., & Hamberg, J. (2003). The Case of Havana, Cuba. Understanding Slums: Case Studies for the Global Report on Human Settlements.
  2. Lotti, M.T. (2012) Presentations to PSU faculty and students.

 

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Office of the City Historian and Habaguanex

 

Gallery

1_1_La Reunion Farmacia - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

La Reunion Farmacia (1 of 2)

This pharmacy restored by the Office of the City Historian serves as both a museum (pictured) as well as an active seller of medicinal herbs to neighborhood residents. One of the more unique elements of the historic redevelopment work done by Habaguanex is the retention and in many cases expansion of services for local residents. Parks, medical facilities, community centers, and schools are commonly added to renovated buildings, but come at the cost of residential density.

1_2_La Reunion Farmacia - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

La Reunion Farmacia (2 of 2)

Stained glass lights adorn the ceiling of the restored pharmacy which still serves the community with medicinal herbs. The Office of the City Historian has developed an educational program to create the highly skilled craftspeople needed to restore the city’s remarkable building stock. This year will mark the first graduating class from the program.

1_3_Cultural Center - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Cultural Center (1 of 2)

One of the Office of the City Historian’s first redevelopment sites, this three-story building holds beautiful theaters for cultural events and looks out on the Malecón and the waters of the Strait of Florida beyond.

1_4_Cultural Center - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Cultural Center (2 of 2)

Doors of the upper theater with stairwell below. One of the Office of the City Historian’s first redevelopment sites, this three-story building holds beautiful theaters for cultural events and looks out on the Malecón and the waters of the Strait of Florida beyond.

1_5_Belen Community Center - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Belen Community Center

A portion of this historic convent has been converted to a community center serving the low income residents in the surrounding section of Old Havana. On the ground floor are services for elderly residents (exercise equipment, games, sewing machines) and on the second floor the middle school aged children picture take part in the Office of the City Historian’s “Classroom in the Museum” program learning about the city’s unique cultural heritage in one of the restored buildings. Down the corridor to the left is a preschool for local children too young to enter primary school.

1_6_Courtyard off Plaza Vieja - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Courtyard off Plaza Vieja

The buildings of Plaza Vieja have been restored inside and out. The Spanish brought with them Moorish architecture including courtyard homes to deal with the hot sunny climate of the Caribbean.

1_7_Courtyard Restoration - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Courtyard Restoration

This courtyard villa is being restored. Local workers informed us that this building has been under restoration since the last 1990s. The slow pace of work at this site shows that funds are not distributed equally among projects even in the most heavily touristed areas.

1_8_Salsa in the Street - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Salsa in the Street

On one of the most redeveloped streets in Old Havana near Plaza San Francisco, salsa musicians travel the streets stopping for tourists to enjoy some spontaneous dancing for a small fee.

 

 

Prior to the early 1990s, a handful of government organizations was granted authority to run a small number of businesses within Old Havana. This model was changed following two events in the early 1990s: (1) The collapse of the Cuban economy following the dissolution of its central trading partner the Soviet Union, and (2) International publicity the city received in 1993 when a UK journalist witnessed firsthand the collapse of a building on Plaza Vieja followed by a second collapse that night of a building along the Malecón. Council State approved Law Decree 143-93 which created Habaguanex, which took over all publicly-operated business activities in Old Havana. Habaguanex partnered with The Office of the City Historian to redevelop Old Havana. From the outset Habaguanex was given unique autonomy. The profits it generated from operating businesses could be directed toward further historic preservation and new construction without oversight from national government agencies. Habaguanex has the ability to establish development projects with foreign investors independent of the Ministry of Foreign Investments (MINVEC). According to Scarpaci (2000), Habaguanex generated US $5 million in gross revenues in 1995, more than $10 million in 1999, $40 million in 2000, and was projected to generate $200 million in 2002. The organization employs 3,000 construction workers, operating through Cuban business partner “Fenix” and real-estate agency “Aurea.” Habaguanex redeveloped Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Earnest Hemingway’s former residence, the Ambos Mundos Hotel, and Havana’s former stock market, the Lonja de Comercio, on Plaza San Francisco. The latter involved $12 million in Spanish investment. Restored buildings include not only tourist-oriented uses, but also housing for Old Havana’s residents. Additionally, some funding is used to create housing outside of Old Havana for residents displaced by the restoration process. (Read Dynamics of Density to learn more about housing needs in Old Havana.)

Gallery

2_1_Plaza de Armas - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Plaza de Armas

One of the first sites Habaguanex restored, Plaza de Armas was the site of military parade grounds and lies just south of the city’s original fort. The plaza retains its wooden tiles (to soften the sound of parading horses), but the center has been filled with a park surrounded by booksellers. Along the edges are cafes and arcaded buildings including the one pictured here which was once the US Embassy and now serves as a library.

2_2_Music in Plaza de Armas - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Music in Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas was one of the first plazas to be restored by Habaguanex. The square’s trees provide shaded places to sit and read books purchased at the many booksellers or the library housed in the former site of the US Embassy. Around the outside of the square are cafes and restaurants, and programming such as this music add to the popularity of this public space with tourists and locals. In the background, on a building currently being restored, murals hang describing the history of the plaza and the nearby fort.

2_3_Plaza de Catedral - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Plaza de Catedral

Another early restoration site, this plaza contains a cathedral, a courtyard villa converted to a restaurant (pictured on the left), artist spaces, and the headquarters of the Office of the City Historian (not pictured). When this picture was taken, a stage was being built for a free nighttime opera performance. The plaza is a popular site for cultural events year round.

2_4_Lonja de Comercio - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Lonja de Comercio

Havana’s former stock market, the Lonja de Comercio and the Plaza San Francisco were restored by Habaguanex with $11 million in support from Spanish investors. Habaguanex has a unique autonomy, independently establishing partnerships with foreign investors to carry out restoration and new development work. The building and plaza are surrounded with modern and historic public artwork.

2_5_Artists Villa - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Artist’s Villa

Venezuelan artist Carmen Montilla’s courtyard villa was restored and repurposed as an art gallery displaying her works and the building’s own unique architecture. Located just off Plaza San Francisco, tourists can visit the site for a small donation and view a large collection of works.

2_6_Courtyard Restaurants - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Courtyard Restaurants

Many of the courtyard villas have been restored and repurposed as high end restaurants such as this one. These unique spaces offer natural light inside and out, allow for breezes on hot days, and offer passersby a view inside the historic structure. Nearly all restaurants for tourists in Old Havana also feature outdoor seating spilling out into plazas, streets, and alleyways in front of the restaurants.

2_7_Plaza Vieja Cafe - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Plaza Vieja Cafe

One of many buildings on the Plaza Vieja that have been repurposed, this one holds a cafe in the lower floor and housing in the upper floor. This pattern of business on the ground floor with residential upper floors is common throughout most of Old Havana’s plazas. Other buildings in the plaza hold a medical clinic, primary school, art college, planetarium, brewery, and courtyard restaurant.

2_8_Plaza Vieja Planetarium - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Plaza Vieja Planetarium

One of the unique features of the redevelopment work carried out by Habaguanex is the creation of public services in areas that support high levels of tourism. When restoration is complete, those members of the community with legal claim to their homes can return. When they do, they can benefit from these services.

 

 

Habaguanex is operated as a profitable business internally. As an experiment in private business ventures, the organization has surprised much of the city with its effectiveness. When the Office of the City Historian established plans to renovate Old Havana’s final unrestored plaza, Plaza Cristo near the Capitolio building, it estimated 10 years would be required. Through a model developed at Habaguanex in which private businesses are involved in the selection and renovation of spaces for their businesses, this time has been cut in half. This model has led the government to reconsider the role of the burgeoning private economy within the larger public economy as economic updates take place. With the ability to contract private construction crews on public works projects and share tourism lodging between private hotels and public boarding houses, the lines between public and private activities are blurring. Most recently, the Office of the City Historian will begin charging a tax on all businesses, private or public, that reside in Old Havana, similar to taxes on businesses located in New York City or other major global cities.  

Havana, Cuba’s Habaguanex as a Model from Derek Dauphin on Vimeo.

External Links

 

Sources

    1. Scarpaci Jr, J. L. (2000). Winners and losers in restoring Old Havana. Cuba in Transition, 10, 289-298.
    2. Betancourt, R. (2012). Presentation to PSU faculty and students in Havana Vieja.

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Economic Updates

 

Gallery

1_Organiponico in East Alamar - Source Katie Hughes Photograph by Katie Hughes

Organiponico in East Alamar

We visited an organic farm on the outskirts of Havana that is experimenting, successfully, with the co-op model. More than 100 people are employed at the co-op and they have a profit-sharing model for all of the employees.

2_ Taxis - Source Katie Hughes Photograph by Katie Hughes

Taxis

Many Cubans are able to become private taxi drivers now. You can witness many old cars in Havana that are serving the tourist population.

3_Fruit and Vegetable Stand - Source Katie Hughes Photograph by Katie Hughes

Fruit and Vegetable Stand

A few years ago, there were no stands on the streets in Havana. Now, many corners have small fruit and vegetable stands run by individuals.

4_Small Scale Businesses - Source Katie Hughes Photograph by Katie Hughes

Small Scale Businesses

Cubans are taking advantage of being able to have their own small business and meeting a dire need of many Cubans- fresh food.

 

 

Cuba lost close to one third of their gross domestic product (GDP) in one year, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With about 50% less fuel than they had been receiving and no access to credit from organizations like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund, Cuba was forced to re-evaluate their economic policies. Cuba faced several problems during this time: hyper-centralization, a state-centered and top-down approach to governance, and a bloated bureaucracy. The government decided to update their economic model using several strategies, some of which are ongoing or have just recently been put in place.

Strategies

  • Laying off state workers
  • Expanding the non-state workforce
  • Allowing Cubans to buy and sell homes and vehicles
  • Distributing land that was previously idle
  • Empowering firms and local governments
  • Experimenting with business models such as co-ops
  • The government decided to change their approach and are moving towards decreased social spending. There is also talk of subsidizing people by providing financial assistance to those who need it most, rather than directly subsidizing products as the government has historically done. It is possible that the food ration card, also known as the Libreta de Abastecimiento, which has been a staple in Cuban life for almost fifty years will be eliminated.

The Cuban government is making progress but they still face several challenges. Some challenges are internal issues, but some are out of the control of the Cuban government.

Challenges

  • Excessive restrictions, taxes and disincentives remain within the system
  • Slow nature of reforms
  • Bureaucratic hurdles remain
  • Professionals cannot self-employ
  • No access to capital
  • Centralized foreign sector (limited import and export capabilities)

 

References

    1. Betancourt, R. (2012). Presentation to PSU faculty and students in Havana Vieja.

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Materials and Building Reuse

 

Gallery

1_Collapsed Building Fruit Market - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Collapsed Building Fruit Market

In this image, the remaining exterior walls of a collapsed building have been painted and reused as the exterior enclosure for an open-air fruit market. This example is a rare one. Most collapsed structures are fenced off from public access.

2_Villa Gallery - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Villa Gallery

This villa has been carefully restored and converted to an art gallery. There are many examples of such repurposing in the touristic areas of Old Havana. Some act as museums and others sell modern art.

3_Garage Conversion - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Garage Conversion

As in many parts of the world, old parking structures with their large windows and ground level doors make bright spaces for restaurants and other commercial businesses. In this example, an Italian restaurant with inside and outside seating has found a home in this old garage building near the Plaza de Catedral.

4_Cinder Block Buildings - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Cinder Block Buildings

The site’s original Spanish colonial building collapsed leaving only the ground floor arched doorways built of terra-cotta brick. Local residents have used cinder blocks to rebuild the second and third floors of this building and appear to be living in the space. The use of cinder blocks to subdivide doorways and large rooms to create small apartments is common in Old Havana where housing is in high demand.

5_Oil Drum Plumbing - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Oil Drum Plumbing

A common phenomenon in Old Havana’s lower income areas is the use of oil drums as water storage tanks with tubing rigged to bring the water into the apartment.

6_Public Toilet - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Public Toilet

Throughout Old Havana, intact balconies are the site of repurposing innovations. Often residents use these well-ventilated areas to craft makeshift outhouses as shown in this image.

7_Windows - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Windows

Aluminum sheets and corrugated panels are used by residents throughout Old Havana to replace shutters on windows. When the cost of a single can of paint is more than half the monthly pay of the average Cuban, few can afford to buy materials to repair their homes. Instead they resort to informal markets or scavenging materials from collapsed buildings.

8_The Many Faces of the Malecon - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

The Many Faces of the Malecón

The Malecón has a mix of building types and ages. Salt water and flooding have caused the collapse of many of the shore’s oldest buildings, creating a mixture of buildings not seen in the middle of Old Havana. Buildings constructed by neighborhood work groups with basic designs sit next to 300 year old Spanish colonial structures and modern construction sites. Two new buildings were being constructed during our visit using modern methods.

9_Fill-In Development - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Fill-In Development

Originally, this doorway would lead into a large and shaded courtyard allowing light and cool breezes to flow throughout the historic villa – a Moorish innovation brought by the Spanish to Cuba. Today, many of Old Havana’s courtyard villas have been filled in with poor quality structures as depicted in this image. Such development eliminates passive lighting and cooling architectural features, resulting in cramped and hot quarters that are prone to collapse. These informal innovations are a response to the government’s struggle to provide sufficient housing for Old Havana’s residents.

10_Rooftop Shanty Towns - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Rooftop Shanty Towns

During one presentation, we were told that Old Havana is covered by rooftop shanty towns. This image depicts one of these structures, added to the top of a historic building near the Prado. While many of these structures are little more than sheds, others can be very attractive and deceive the passerby.

11_Tile Repository - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Tile Repository

Wherever there is construction or demolition in Old Havana, you can find locked repositories of building materials salvaged from the old buildings. Here thick tile fragments have been collected and stored for reuse. Often these tiles find their way onto the fronts of buildings in simple mosaic decorations.

12_No Brick Goes to Waste - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

No Brick Goes to Waste

This picture shows the collection and storage of bricks from a nearby building collapse. While most of Old Havana’s building are constructed of brick, these materials are now so expensive to import that they are beyond the means of most Cubans. Concrete cinder blocks are more commonly used by residents to reconstruct collapsed walls and balconies. The local sourcing of these materials and their reuse provides an interesting DIY model for low carbon construction.

13_Two Floors in One - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Two Floors in One

Another common sight in Old Havana is the subdivision of the large 20-foot ground floors of Spanish colonial structures into two floors. This can be done with great craft as depicted here or in haphazard ways that increase the potential for collapse.

14_Repurposed Rehab Center - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin

Repurposed Rehab Center

This historic building has been repurposed as a rehabilitation center in Old Havana. One of the notable aspects of the Office of the City Historian is the use of historic preservation and tourism dollars to create public services for low-income residents who remain in the restored buildings.

 

 

In Old Havana limited resources both for the government and the residents have resulted in many innovative examples of reusing materials and repurposing of buildings. The images above highlight some of these innovations. The Office of the City Historian has a unique model in which tourism revenues generated by Habaguanex are reinvested into further historic preservation. While much of this preservation work feeds further tourism activities, a healthy share is used to improve housing conditions and provide sites for the provision of public services. Schools, medical facilities, and public offices are often housed in renovated buildings for use by low-income residents living nearby. The result is the reuse of materials to restore buildings and the repurposing of these buildings for modern needs. Combined, these two processes make Old Havana a model for sustainable urban development practices. How materials and buildings are reused by residents without the aid of the Office of the City Historian often results in less sustainable options. The dynamics of density have lead many Old Havana residents to create make-shift structures to meet their needs. The courtyards of villas built by the Spanish in Cuba to deal with the intense climate have been filled in by structures that lack proper ventilation and lighting as well as reducing the original building’s ability to remain cool during intense summers. Balconies that provided an escape from stuffy apartments have been converted to outhouses or other structures. Missing shutters have been replaced by cheap or salvaged aluminum sheeting or corrugated panels which provide shade, but also absorb heat and radiate this into the building interiors. In some parts of Old Havana, neighborhood construction groups have built more modern buildings with large windows that trap heat and create greenhouse-like interior spaces. Outside Old Havana, soviet architectural models were brought in without consideration of local climate or the city’s historic urban form. Large, plain tower block, which are common in Centro, are made tolerable only by the use of energy-intensive air conditioning units and elevators. Planners, architects, and historians discuss the clash between imported architectural styles that do not fit local conditions. Read Spatial and Social Stratification to learn more about these cultural conflicts.

References

    1. Coyula, M. (2012). Presentation to PSU faculty and students in Havana Vieja.

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Dynamics of Density

1_A view of Old Havana from the east - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin Old

Havana’s skyline shows a city where most buildings do not require an elevator to reach the top floors and planners intend to keep it that way. The Urban Form of Havana was historically less dense than it is today, so as it redevelops Old Havana the Office of the City Historian plans to avoid any further densification.

2_Boys playing soccer - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard 3_Empty courtyard - Source Liz Paterson Photograph by Liz Paterson

Residential infill is not a key element in Old Havana’s restoration. Vacant lots have been claimed for recreational activities such as this soccer game. Where buildings have collapsed, parks have been created. While Old Havana’s density is currently very high, the creation of parks and gathering places is one of several factors helping to decrease this number.

Crowding Threatens Sustainability

4_Carribbean colors - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard 5_Rooftop shanties - Source Tara Sulzen Photograph by Tara Sulzen 6_Rooftop shanties - Source Liz Paterson Photograph by Liz Paterson

 

Although density often promotes sustainable outcomes, in Old Havana the way density has occurred has actually harmed environmental and social sustainability. Due to a severe housing shortage, residents have built additions into and onto old buildings through innovative but often haphazard materials and building reuse. Ancient colonial-style buildings with high ceilings on the first floor have been split horizontally, adding mezzanines which are not only cramped, but often structurally unsafe (photo on left). Courtyards have been filled in, blocking the circulation of fresh air (middle photo). Dwellings added to rooftops can easily be swept away in a hurricane (photo on right). Small, subdivided housing units are sometimes so cramped that household members are forced to sleep in shifts.

Loss of Density Due to Relocation Also Threatens Sustainability

7_Malecon - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard 8_Informal taxi in the Calzadas - Source Derek Dauphin Photograph by Derek Dauphin While overcrowding has harmed health and safety, the loss of density in Old Havana is also a barrier to sustainability. Relocation of residents to the urban periphery has intensified transportation issues, creating a geographic imbalance of jobs, services, and households as well as spatial and social stratification.   9_Alamar - Source Liz Paterson

 

Alamar, across the bay from Old Havana, where residents without tenure are being relocated. Photograph by Liz Paterson. As Old Havana is restored, each family is allocated dwelling space within their building based on their family size. Due to the overcrowded nature of buildings, this means relocating many of the families living in Old Havana to less dense parts of the city such as Alamar (photo above), which also have less access to jobs and services.

References

    1. Coyula, Mario. (2012). Presentations to PSU faculty and students in Havana.
    2. Coyula, Miguel. (2012). Presentations to PSU faculty and students in Havana.
    3. Lotti, M.T. (2012) Presentations to PSU faculty and students in Havana.
    4. Interviews with residents of Alamar and Old Havana.

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Spatial and Social Stratification

1_People talking on balconies - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard 2_Cococab - Source Lina Menard Photograph by Lina Menard

 

Cuba is well known for social inclusion. Income differentials are low and there is almost no person-to-person crime. However, this may be changing as the new economy increases inequality. Government salaries are extremely modest; however, Cubans who work in the tourism sector or who have family members abroad to send them remittances have much more purchasing power. This unequal access to capital is beginning to create social stratification among one of the world’s most egalitarian countries. Some people, like this Coco Taxi driver, have access to income from tourism, which can enable him to make, in just a few hours, the salary a professional such as a doctor would make in a full month. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba experienced an economic crisis, losing 33% of its GDP by 1993. In order to bring in much needed foreign currency, Raul Castro has begun privatizing the economy through a series of Economic Updates. In 1989, 95% of the workforce was within the state sector. However, government employment has been decreasing and Castro plans to reduce the state labor force up to an additional 35% below 2010 levels by 2015. Old Havana has good access to services, amenities, transportation, and economic opportunity. The new housing market will allow those with access to money to buy homes in Old Havana, creating eventual income and racial segregation. The Cuban government has strived to eliminate racism and has implemented policies to do so. However, racial bias is still prevalent, with the black descendants of African slaves facing prejudice and expectations of lower achievement. Additionally, white Cubans have had more success in immigrating to the United States. As a result, white Cubans generally have more access to remittances, which are a primary source of income for some families and a major economic advantage. Allocation of housing through the market (instead of government) threatens to reify these differences in access and status, creating segregation as is seen in capitalist countries.

The presence of roosters for cock fighting can be seen as a symbol of the divide between existing urban residents and migrants from el campo.   3_Rooster on a leash - Source Liz Paterson Rooster on a leash. Photograph by Liz Paterson

 

Rural migrants have brought cultural elements such as cock fighting to Old Havana. As these migrants have attempted to find housing in Old Havana’s already cramped living quarters, there has been animosity from longstanding urban residents. Furthermore, families who were already living in Old Havana at the time of the 1959 Revolution have an advantage over those who came later. This is because soon after the Revolution Cubans were granted titles to their homes and became the legal owners. In contrast, few migrants to Old Havana have gone through the legal processes to obtain ownership of housing, instead renting or squatting in self-built building additions or subdivisions. As the restoration process occurs, and some of the residents of overcrowded buildings are relocated, those with legal titles are more likely to be allowed to stay. The presence of roosters for cock fighting can be seen as a symbol of the divide between existing urban residents and migrants from el campo. Rural migrants have brought cultural elements such as cock fighting to Old Havana. As these migrants have attempted to find housing in Old Havana’s already cramped living quarters, there has been animosity from longstanding urban residents. Furthermore, families who were already living in Old Havana at the time of the 1959 Revolution have an advantage over those who came later. This is because soon after the Revolution Cubans were granted titles to their homes and became the legal owners. In contrast, few migrants to Old Havana have gone through the legal processes to obtain ownership of housing, instead renting or squatting in self-built building additions or subdivisions. As the restoration process occurs, and some of the residents of overcrowded buildings are relocated, those with legal titles are more likely to be allowed to stay.   4_On the move - Source Lina Menard On the move. Photograph by Lina Menard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relocation by the Office of the City Historian is not the only reason people leave Old Havana. Old Havana residents also move to be closer to their families or jobs. Until a new law was passed in 2011 Cubans were unable to buy or sell homes so they transferred ownership and traded homes with other Cubans. Economists predict that the new law will encourage some residents of Old Havana to sell their prime real estate and move elsewhere. This will impact demographics in Old Havana as those who need the money sell their homes and those with extra income move in.

References

    1. Kapur, T. & Smith, A. (2002). Housing policy in Castro’s Cuba. HUT – 264M.
    2. Cave, D. (2011, Aug 2). Cubans set for big change: Right to buy homes. New York Times.
    3. Coyula, M. (2012). Presentations to PSU faculty and students in Havana.
    4. Betancourt, R. (2012). Presentation to PSU faculty and students in Havana Vieja.

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Conclusions

 

Two Havanas

During our two week trip, truly immersing ourselves in Havana’s culture was not possible, nor can we claim to fully understand the complexities of Havana’s urban fabric. However, during formal and informal interviews and discussions, we repeatedly heard the sentiment that there are two Havanas: one for the tourists and one for the residents. One evening, our group took a trip to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The hotel is arguably the most upscale, exclusive hotel in the country. As our group was sitting on the lawn drinking mojitos, we couldn’t help but notice that there were no Cubans surrounding us. We had a beautiful view of the ocean and the Malecón, but we felt a distinct separation between the laughing Cubans socializing on the Malecón, and our group sitting above on the balcony of a hotel in which Cubans were only very recently allowed to stay. We went on two walking tours through Old Havana with the Office of the City Historian and we also explored the city on our own. We were often struck by the differences in building quality in the historic corridors that are geared towards tourism and the residential corridors a couple of blocks away. The Office of the City Historian is focusing stage one of their restoration work on the most culturally significant buildings as well as on plazas and the corridors that connect them. It is clear that restoration benefits tourists, although Maria Theresa Lotti with the Office of the City Historian explained that their strategy is to use tourism dollars for future restoration work that focuses on residential areas. We believe that the response to the urgent situation has been innovative in generating revenue where there was none. Fully-restored Plaza Vieja has building uses that are clearly targeted towards tourists: United Colors of Benetton (the only chain store that we observed), a brewery, tourist shops, a café, and a planetarium. However, the plaza also contains a number of housing units as well as public uses including a school and a hospital. While we observed many tourists using this space, it is also heavily used and seemingly appreciated by Cubans.

Findings

Havana’s Office of the City Historian has achieved rapid success in the areas they have restored. The model has been economically and environmentally sustainable in the short-term; however, questions remain as to the social sustainability of the Office of the City Historian’s efforts, as well as the program’s long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Significant trends include:

  • The prioritization of colonial architecture and a tourist-oriented aesthetic
  • The relocation of some residents to low-transportation service areas on the city’s periphery
  • The growing social stratification which has characterized this and Cuba’s other market-oriented approaches to development

Conclusions

We believe that in the short-term, the Office of the City Historian’s approach has been an economically and environmentally sustainable model. Havana’s Office of the City Historian has successfully kick-started a process to address dire and urgent urban housing needs and building improvements. However, distribution of benefits to Havana’s most vulnerable residents remains a challenge. We question the social sustainability of the Office of the City Historian’s efforts as well as the program’s long-term economic and environmental sustainability. The Office of the City Historian completed a survey of residents in Havana and one of the main concerns was housing availability. Lotti recognizes that the Office of the City Historian needs to balance their work to include residential areas, not just hotels and culturally significant spaces. The Office of the City Historian has restored some apartment buildings and strives to return the apartments to those who were living there originally. However, due to overcrowding in those buildings pre-construction, some people are inevitably displaced. Managing the balance between the interests of tourists and those of existing residents will be fundamental to maintaining social equity. While the Office of the City Historian’s work is commendable and effective in the areas they have been able to reach, we believe that the scale of the building problem in Havana requires a more wide-reaching solution that includes more focused resident involvement.

References

    1. Lotti, M.T. (2012) Presentations to PSU faculty and students in Havana.

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