Tag Archives: Urbanization

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, “Cuba’s Collapsing Capital”

January 31, 2012 |  Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, from Cubaencuentro, Jan 30 — The recent collapse of a building in the Centro neighborhood of Havana is sad news that speaks to us of dead, injured and homeless – tragic losers of the nation’s “updating” of its model.

But the news isn’t surprising.

The only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.

In fact, if this doesn’t happen every day in the Cuban capital, it’s because our architects and engineers left us with a solid housing stock, one proven by the test of time and generations of occupants.

The condition of housing has been complemented by of our fellow citizens, whose one-thousand-and-one ways of shoring up those crumbling buildings will someday have to be chronicled. They somehow manage to continue living in these structures until gravity finally catches up with them, these defiant challengers.

I’m not going to dwell on a balance of accomplishments and failures of the city over this long post-revolutionary era. I’m just saying that, even considering the usual benefits, the city lost much more than what it should have lost to achieve more balanced regional development across the nation as a whole.

It’s missing a lot because it lost the most dynamic segment of its middle and intellectual class; it lost its excellent infrastructure in the heat of neglect and carelessness; and finally it lost its particular metropolitan character due to the mediocre plebeian stoicism of its post-revolutionary political class.

To compensate themselves for their revolutionary efforts, a new leadership layer took special care to redistribute the best homes in the best places and to reserve exceptional sites for their own recreational pleasures.

Havana was sacrificed by a post-revolutionary elite who understood the change as anti-urban stubbornness and who saw the “new man” (to quote Emma Alvarez Tabio) as the noble savage laying constant siege to the city.

We still recall the Havana invaded by farmers, cattle fairs on the grounds of the Capitolio, Fidel’s failed coffee belt around Havana and his ridiculous idea of moving the capital to the small eastern town of Guaimaro.

However, the city ultimately suffered the conversion of architectural gems into rooming houses and government offices, to which were added makeshift garages, sheds in gardens and terraces, rooms where once existed gates and balconies, and the famous “barbacoas” (second floor additions), which have all pushed these buildings to the extreme limits of their physical tolerance.

Restored Old Havana Building. Photo: Caridad

If from the early revolutionary years we can point to a respectable architectural legacy along with achievements on behalf of the urban majority (as evidenced through accomplishments such as the Habana del Este planned community), the Pastorita city-garden, Cubanacan art school), what followed was pathetic: formalized overcrowding (whose most well-known expression is the Alamar “projects”) and one of the most ghastly buildings in the world: the Soviet Embassy.

Due to policing that prevented the growth of slums on the urban periphery, as occurs in almost all Third World cities, the city ended up swallowing its marginality. This is manifested in unprecedented overcrowding that gives life to about 10,000 tenements in which their occupants live in some of the most subhuman conditions.

My fear is that we are beginning to experience another phase of the history of this city. The  “socialist” city (mediocre and boring) is giving way to another city whose “brand” is precisely the metropolitan situation that was denied for five decades – with its glamor, mysteries and nights of sequins and sex.

This is precisely the Havana that City Historian Eusebio Leal restored to the extent of both his own Hispanophile and courtesan inclinations as well as to the present and potential tastes of consumers.

The Havana that’s being designed will lie along the coast with its extensive golf courses and exclusive marinas. It is a Havana that will have little to do with the poor people who lost homes and family members in the recent Infanta and Salud building collapse.

Havana is beginning its gentrification process in the heat of the legalized housing market, which while still lukewarm is nevertheless inexorable. Elegant Havana will again take shape where now live the old political elite and increasingly the new emerging elite, intimately tied together, in the metamorphic process given to us by the general/president with his “updating.”

This is the Havana of future Cuban capitalism.

“Havana A” will bypass those people who — like the victims living on Infanta and Salud — every night fear a disaster. For these people, like for the thousands of victims who exist in shelters, like the hundreds of thousands waiting for a new home or the repair of an already existing one in the capital, what will remain is “Habana B”: a city of the poor and impoverished, one with the worst services and the worst environmental conditions.

They no longer even have hopes for units in Alamar. The Cuban government, in the process of abdicating its social responsibilities, has left only one option to those who live on the island: cheap loans for housing repairs. What’s more, access to this assistance is only possible through this system of shared misery and monopolized power that the degraded Cuban elite insist on presenting as an option for the future.

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Mark Frank: “Cuba lifts ban on trade in property”

From the Financial Post, November 3, 2011

Havana’s Pre-Reform Housing Market Place on Paseo del Prado (for “Permutas” Plus…  ); Photo by Arch Ritter, 2009

Cuba has formally lifted a five-decade ban on residents buying and selling property as the communist government of President Raúl Castro makes its most significant move yet to liberalise the island’s Soviet-era economy.

For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans will be able to sell property to other Cuban residents without government approval. The changes, already approved by the National Assembly in August but now formalised, come into effect on November 10.

The easing of restrictions on property ownership is likely to reshape Cuban cities, spur real estate development and speed renovation of Cuba’s picturesque but dilapidated housing stock. It is also expected to reconfigure Cuban conceptions of class as some homeowners cash in their properties and areas of Havana are gentrified.

“I hope the new law gets rid of so much paperwork, bureaucracy and other problems that simply lead to corruption. If you can now move without months and years of effort and paying people off, we will be content,” said Maritza, a 35-year-old food service worker.

Previously, any Cuban who wanted to swap their home for another had to penetrate thick layers of bureaucracy. Houses were also confiscated by the state if a Cuban moved abroad. Now by contrast, the new rules state that the purchase, sale, donation and trading of houses will be recognised even in cases of “divorce, death or permanent departure from the country”.

The measure is the latest and most dramatic signal that the authorities are serious about implementing reforms adopted this year. Last month, the government ended another ban, also dating from 1959, on the sale of cars. State companies have been given more autonomy, state payrolls and subsidies have been trimmed, and retail services liberalised.

Analysts say that home sales could free up capital needed to jump-start small businesses. Cubans living abroad, especially in the United States, who remit some $1bn a year to the island, have proved instrumental in financing and supplying thousands of small businesses since the sector was liberalised last year. They are now expected to invest in housing through their relatives, pumping millions of dollars into the local economy and helping to renovate the crumbling housing stock.

“This change is another example of the failure of ‘big bang’ models to predict the evolution of the Cuban economy,” said Jose Gabilondo, associate professor of law at Florida International University, said. “Changes in the rules of the game are already under way.”

However, the new housing law dashes hopes that the local real estate market might open up to large domestic or foreign investment as it continues to prohibit foreigners from owning property unless they are permanent residents. A special exception is expected in the next few months for golf course and other tourist developments currently under negotiation with various foreign companies.

Every property transaction will require a notary, with payment through a state bank, and both the seller and buyer paying a 4 per cent tax.

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Cuba legalizes sale, purchase of private property

PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press; Nov. 3, 2011 8:08 AM ET
Original Article available here: Cuba legalizes sale, purchase of private property

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba announced Thursday it will allow real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the early days of the revolution, the most important reform yet in a series of free-market changes under President Raul Castro.

The law, which takes effect Nov. 10, applies to citizens and permanent residents only, according to a red-letter headline on the front page of Thursday’s Communist Party daily Granma.

The brief article said details of the new law would be published imminently in the government’s Official Gazette. Authorities have said previously that sales will be subject to taxes and the rules will not allow anyone to accumulate great property holdings.

The change follows October’s legalization of buying and selling cars, though with restrictions that still make it hard for ordinary Cubans to buy new vehicles.

Castro has also allowed citizens to go into business for themselves in a number of approved jobs — everything from party clowns to food vendors to accountants — and has pledged to streamline the state-dominated economy by eliminating half a million government workers.

Cuba’s government employs over 80 percent of the workers in the island’s command economy, paying wages of just $20 a month in return for free education and health care, and nearly free housing, transportation and basic foods. Castro has said repeatedly that the system is not working since taking over from his brother Fidel in 2008, but he has vowed that Cuba will remain a Socialist state.

Cubans have long bemoaned the ban on property sales, which took effect in stages over the first years after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. In an effort to fight absentee ownership by wealthy landlords, Fidel enacted a reform that gave title to whomever lived in a home. Most who left the island forfeited their properties to the state.

Since no property market was allowed, the rules have meant that for decades Cubans could only exchange property through complicated barter arrangements, or through even murkier black-market deals where thousands of dollars change hands under the table, with no legal recourse if transactions go bad.

Some Cubans enter into sham marriages to make deed transfers easier. Others make deals to move into homes ostensibly to care for an elderly person living there, only to inherit the property when the person dies.

The island’s crumbling housing stock has meant that many are forced to live in overcrowded apartments with multiple generations crammed into a few rooms. Even divorce hasn’t necessarily meant separation in Cuba, where estranged couples are often forced to live together for years while they work out alternative housing.

The new law will eliminate a state agency that regulated the exchange-by-barter of homes, meaning that from now on sales will only need the seal of a notary, according to Granma.

The government has also dropped hints in recent months about the new property law, saying it will allow family members to inherit homes even if they are not living in the property.

Cubans who can afford it will be allowed to own one home in the city and one in the countryside.

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Recuperation and Development of the Bahi ́a de la Habana

By Arch Ritter

The Bahia de la Habana has been a centre for international shipping and trade since the early 1500s. It served as a haven from storms and pirates, a fortification against the British, a provisioning center and a gathering point for the Spanish fleet sailing between Seville and Cadiz and the ports of the New World. It is still a hard-working port, handling much of Cuba’s container and bulk shipping, as well as naval installations, cruise ship facilities and industry. After almost 500 years as a working port, however, it appears to be in the process of transformation to a modified and redeveloped tourist and transport center.

“His Britannic Majesty’s Land Forces Taking Possession of Havannah (sic.), August 14, 1762 and Sloops of War Assisting to Open the Booms” Artist: Philip Orsbridge.    Less than a year after Havana was captured by the British in the Seven Years War it was returned to Spain in exchange for Florida by the Treaty of Paris. By the same treaty, France chose to retain Guadalupe and Martinique in exchange for Quebec which went to the British.

The Oficina del Historiador de La Habana, established in 1938 by Dr. Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring for the restoration of historic Havana has played a vital role in restoring Old Havana under the leadership of Eusebio Leal Spengler in 1967. His work has been exemplary, and the historical quarter certainly deserves its UNESCO designation of “World Heritage Site”, awarded in 1982. The restoration and preservation of historic Havana continues to radiate out from the Cathedral quarter and now includes the Plaza Vieja and various locales alongside the Avenida del Puerto to the Iglesia San Francisco de Paula.

It now appears that the whole port area has been designated as a development zone. The old derelict wharves and warehouses are being dismantled and removed. The Arts and Crafts Market has been transferred from close to the Cathedral to the old Almacenes San José into the interior of the port, which have been restored and renovated.  New hotels such as the Armadores de Santander have opened. The new Russian Orthodox Church is in this areas as well

Bahia de La Habana

Removing Derelict Wharves, February 2011, Photos by Arch Ritter

Furthermore, the container port and much of the bulk shipment port will be moved to a new facility in the excellent harbor at Mariel, 50 kilometers west of Havana, which will also generate some regional development impulses in that region. The old Havana petroleum refinery, formerly owned by Esso and Shell, will shut down when to the new refinery in Cienfuegos opens. And the electrical generation plant at the edge of the port, a heavy air polluter for the capital, will relocate to Matanzas. In time, the serious pollution of the port will be reduced, and one hopes cleaned up definitively. [For a glance at current pollution in the harbor, check this web site: Pollution from the Oil Refinery]. This will be an expensive process taking many years. It is also likely that there are significant toxic residues in much of the land used for industrial purposes for past decades. Cleaning this up also will be costly and time-consuming.

At this time, there seems to be no master-plan for the development of the harbor region available to the public. However, there was some talk in February 2011 of such a plan becoming available in May of 2011.

In time, it is expected that new hotels will ring part of the harbor. With normalization of relations with the United States, the port of Havana also will become a key destination for virtually all of the cruise ships entering the Caribbean region. Quick access to Casablanca and the fortifications on the east side of the harbor will likely be provided with transit by improved cross-harbor ferryboat. One could imagine as well circum-harbor excursion ferry boats plying a vigorous trade. With normalization of travel between the United States and Cuba, high-speed hydrofoil passenger transportation and normal traditional ferry boat service from Key West and Miami to Havana will likely be established, providing further stimulus to the port area. A good deal more of the area around the port thus will become an attractive tourist, commercial and perhaps residential zone. It may also be possible that office complexes are eventually developed in the area as well, shifting part of the commercial center of gravity of Havana from the far west back to the harbor zone.

If the redevelopment of the harbor area proceeds with the same deliberativeness as the restoration of Old Havana, we can anticipate a fine citizen- and tourist-friendly extension of the Old Havana zone southwards into the Baha de La Habana and across the harbor to Casablanca, Regla and the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabana area.

[Note: The basic idea for this note came from Omar Everley Perez, Centro de Estudios sobre la Economa Cubana on March 8, 2011]

New Artisanal Center at the restored  Almacenes San José, Avenida del Puerto, Photo by Arch Ritter, February 2011

Russian Orthodox Church, Avenida del Puerto, Photo by Arch Ritter, March 2008

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“The Economist” on Cuba’s Housing Market

Swap shop: Where a beach-front house can be (almost) yours for a snip

Feb 3rd 2011 | HAVANA

CUBA’S government likes to crow that over 85% of Cubans own their homes. The claim is technically correct. However, there is a catch: holding title to a property does not give you the right to sell it. The only legal way to move in Cuba is by swapping residences—a slow, bureaucratic and often corrupt process known as the permuta (“exchange”), which requires finding two roughly similar properties and getting state approval. To avoid this hassle, some Cubans prefer to marry the owner of a property, transfer the deed, and divorce.

Because there is no incentive to build new homes, Cuba suffers from a dire housing shortage. Many buildings have been repeatedly subdivided. In some families three generations share one bedroom.

After replacing his brother as president in 2008, Raúl Castro has legalised and taxed bits of Cuba’s informal economy, like pirated DVDs and used furniture. Now he has turned to housing. In 2010 the government relaxed rules on forming building companies and buying building materials. It is preparing to let foreigners buy property in tourist zones. And in April the Communist Party Congress is expected to allow Cubans to “buy, sell, or swap” their homes.

Havana’s Housing Market, circa 2002: Arranging “Permutas” on Paseo del Prado, Photo by Arch Ritter

The effect of these measures may be limited. Most permutas already involve money under the table—ranging from a few thousand dollars to $40,000 for a smart three-bedroom flat. The market will be heavily regulated: officials say they will ban the (as yet undefined) “accumulation” of property. And buyers may be discouraged if they have to prove that their money did not come from the vast black market.

Even so, allowing selling is risky. It will raise tax revenues, but could belie Cuba’s myth of material equality. If too many luxury homes pop up, the poor may further doubt that America’s trade embargo is the cause of their misery. Already a cluster of sea-front houses west of Havana, acquired via permuta by pop stars and foreigners, is getting its first lick of paint in decades.

The market will probably benefit from Barack Obama’s loosening of the embargo. He has relaxed most limits on visits and remittances, which should increase demand for Cuban homes and the amount buyers can pay. Some Cuban-Americans are even considering returning for retirement. “Now is the time to move”, says Ada Fuentes, who recently came back to Havana after 49 years in New Jersey. “If you have money, life’s good here”.

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Communications, Social, Cultural, Religion

Internet

Yoani Sánchez, “The Making of Generation Y” translated by Ted Henken on his Blog El Yuma, January 19, 2010

Carlos Lauría and María Salazar Ferro, Special Report: Chronicling Cuba, bloggers offer fresh hope, Committee to Protect Journalists, September 10, 2009

Carlos Lauría y María Salazar Ferro, Video Report: Cuban Bloggers,September 10, 2009

Martha Santos, “Blogueando desde la Revolución”, El número de blogs cercanos a la visión oficial crece. Sus autores, al parecer, no tienen restricciones para pasar tiempo frente a la computadora y navegar, Cubaencuentro, 16 de Junio de 2009.

Migration/Emigración

Editorial, “La emigración: Un fenómeno alarmante”, Vitral, Pinar del Rio, Febrero de 2009

Editorial, “La emigración: Un fenómeno alarmante”, Vitral, Pinar del Rio, Febrero de 2009

Ángela Casañas, “LA EMIGRACIÓN DE PROFESIONALES DESDE EL PAÍS QUE LA EMITE. EL CASO CUBANO”, Aldea Mundo • Revista sobre Fronteras e Integración Año 11, No. 22 / Noviembre 2006 – Abril 2007

Sergio Díaz-Briquets, “CUBAN GLOBAL EMIGRATION AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY: OVERALL ESTIMATE AND SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EMIGRANT POPULATION”, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2006

Daniel J. Perez-Lopez, CUBANS IN THE ISLAND AND IN THE U.S. DIASPORA: SELECTED DEMOGRAPHIC AND SOCIAL COMPARISONS, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2006

Social/Sociales

Juan Francisco Tejera Concepción, EL PROBLEMA DEL ENVEJECIMIENTO EN CUBA, Contribuciones a las Ciencias Sociales, Diciembre 2008

Víctor Fowler Calzada, Jesús Guanche, Rodrigo Espina Prieto, Alejandro de la Fuente y Tomás Fernández Robaina, ¿EXISTE UNA PROBLEMÁTICA RACIAL EN CUBA? Espacio Laical, DOSSIER, 11 Junio, 2009

Jorge Luis Acanda González, profesor de la Universidad de La Habana, “DINÁMICAS DE LA SOCIEDAD CIVIL EN CUBA”, ENFOQUES, Primera Quincena No. 3 Enero de 2008

Esteban Morales Domínguez (Universidad de lLa Habana), “Desafíos de la problemática racial en Cuba”, Temas, no. 56: 95-99, octubre-diciembre de 2008.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Social and economic problems in Cuba during the crisis and subsequent recovery, CEPAL Review, Nº 86, August 2005

Joseph S. Tulchin, Lilian Bobea, Mayra P. Espina Prieto, Rafael Hernández, with Elizabeth Bryan, “CHANGES IN CUBAN SOCIETY SINCE THE NINETIES”, The Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, 2005

Lygia Navarro, “Tropical Depression in Cuba”, Virginia Quarterly Review, May-June 2009, from the UTNE Reader

Jorge A. Sanguinetty, LAS RUINAS INVISIBLES DE UNA SOCIEDAD: DESTRUCCIÓN Y
EVOLUCIÓN DEL CAPITAL SOCIAL EN CUBA, Cuba in Transition
, ASCE 2005


Religion/Religiosos

Dagoberto Valdés, La libertad de la Luz, Revista Vitra, “A collection of editorials published by in the Cuban Catholic journal ‘Vitral’ 1994-2009”, Diócesis de Pinar del Río, Cuba


Urbanization/Urbanizacion

Video: The City of Havana in the ’30s

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