Something Different — A Lecture on Havana’s Buildings and the State of the City

Photo Rebeca

Yesterday I attended an interesting lecture by the architect Miguel Coyula, on the history and current state of the buildings in the city of Havana and its continuing deterioration. It was held in the old Provincial College of Architects of Havana, today transformed into the Union of Architects and Engineers of Cuba, and the attendees were mostly old architects and engineers as well as some young people.

The theme, no doubt, controversial, was presented with an abundance of data and photographs, demonstrating the serious and thorough investigation by the rapporteur. Some of his ideas were already known to me from his and his brother’s previous work — his brother, Mario Coyula, is also an architect — but other ideas were completely new.

Summarizing the main content of the lecture, it became clear that 80% of the buildings in the city were built before 1959, with most between the years 1900 and 1958, mainly in the years of the Republic (1902 – 1958). Also, due to lack of maintenance and absurd actions (for example the elimination of all independent trades), 80% of them are in poor condition, causing an average of three (3) collapsed buildings per day, one thousand (1000) per year without any of them being replaced.

The accommodation of those affected, when it occurs (120,000 waiting for shelter continue to reside in homes declared uninhabitable), takes place in makeshift shelters, without the minimum conditions for living, or in adapted structures, or hurriedly constructed ones, which in reality are simply barracks with overcrowding and promiscuity guaranteed.

The road network and water supply systems and sewerage as well as electricity and gas, are the same as half a century ago, there has been no maintenance or repairs of any quality, which is visible throughout the city, regardless of some measures taken in recent years.

In addition to this, there is no well-coordinated plan among all those responsible, for a solution, as the city, as such, actually lacks a central government to defend its interests and to lead it. So far, the existing government functions as a mere administrator of the interests of the State institutions and bodies, which act or don’t act according to their whims, some out of ignorance and some out of arrogance.

This chaotic situation, the product of more than fifty years of improvisations and voluntarism, tries to equate Havana with the rest of the provincial capitals (which, of course, is not achieved and further deepens the differences), forgetting that the capital, where two million people live and which produces 45% of GDP, is not reflected in the current “updating of the model,” nor other phenomena that, sooner or later, require solutions.

Unfortunately, economic, political and social phenomena are forgotten, although they are inextricably linked and we can not be expected to solve one of them (or part of one), while ignoring the rest. This misguided policy only leads to failure.

It is unfortunate that the content of this material has not yet attracted the attention of the authorities, as it could, from an unprejudiced viewpoint, provide summary information and be greatly useful to many in fulfilling their responsibilities to the city.

He spoke of the existence of a commission to project Havana 2030. I wonder: What will we do with the current city? Will we let it disappear? If we don’t manage it so that those living in Havana can identify with it, love it, respect and care for it, everything will be in vain, and that, necessarily, apart from the regulations, passes for public education from the most early age.

The city has regressed and does not respond to the current needs of its inhabitants. This is the terrible reality. Right now, no lights appear in the dark tunnel.

January 19 2013

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