Havana – challenges and opportunities

Against all odds, the Cuban Revolution has managed to survive the end of the Soviet Union, forty-plus years of U.S. direct or indirect hostility, and its own structural economic weakness. The 1990s were stamped by a crisis officially named \”permodo especial\” that forced some survival-oriented alternatives, such as an opening to foreign investment and tourism, cooperativization of large state farms, urban agriculture, bicycling, legalization of family remittances from the U.S., a search for self-sustainability, and the opening of state dollar shops and small private businesses. After hitting bottom in 1993-94, the economy started a slow recovery, which slowed the pace of new change. Combined with world political instability and recession, in 2001 the Cuban economy seems to be facing a new crisis. For more than 200 years Havana has been a world-class city – the Caribbean metropolis – once a springboard for the U.S. to the rest of Latin America. The city has grown at a very slow pace compared to almost all other major Latin American cities, leaving a deteriorated but valuable built environment that includes many landmark buildings, sites, and districts. The 1959 revolution brought full employment, very good health and education standards, and a sense of national pride. Indeed, some quality of life indexes are even comparable to developed countries. The challenge Cuba faces now is how to preserve these social achievements while strengthening the economy and increasing efficiency, so as to compete in the present globalized world; and how to properly use its natural, built and social resources without destroying or distorting them.Students in this seminar will be encouraged to research and discuss different key issues. Each student will write a paper on a selected issue. Some experts on Cuba will also be invited. Issues will be selected from the following:The economy, dual currency, tourism, investments, real estate, joint Cuban-foreign ventures, social security, employment, average salary/purchasing power. Popular participation, decentralization, Consejos Populares, Neighborhood Transformation Workshops, local strategic planning, community development, family and women. Public health. Transportation: buses, \”camellos,\” taxis, \”almendrones,\” bicitaxis, cocotaxis, bicycles. Cars due to the dollar economy. Possible alternatives. Utilities: electricity, water supply, sewers, phones, street network. Land and real estate. Food: types available, distribution patterns and prices. Commercial network. Green spaces and environment; reforestation; urban agriculture: huertos populares, parcelas and huertos intensivos, organopsnicos populares, organopsnicos de alto rendimiento, farmers\’ cooperatives. Havana\’s open space network. Proposed and ongoing projects: Metropolitan Park; semi-pedestrian streets; conflicts between trees and utilities; protected areas; solid waste disposal; recycling; water pollution. Housing laws: type and condition of the housing stock; overcrowding and sub-standard dwellings (ciudadelas and cuartermas, barrios insalubres, focos insalubres). Past and current trends, state building and self-help: prefabrication, proyectos tmpicos, microbrigades, low-consumption programs. Construction, rehabilitation, additions. Changes in the housing stock. The Arquitecto de la Comunidad program. Internal migration. The Strategic Plan for the Economic and Social Development of Havana and the Plan General de Ordenamiento Territorial y Urbanismo, for the year 2000. Foreign collaboration projects. Culture: trends, achievements, debates: national identity and the role of artists and intellectuals. Popular vs populist culture. Architecture: back into the cultural realm? Landmarks and historic preservation: Old Havana, the City Historian\’s Office and Law-Decree 143. Commemorative monuments: conventional and experimental – from Lenin to Lennon.