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The Charm of Havana
INTERVIEWS
The Charm and Future of Havana

The Charm and Future of Havana
Interview to:
Eusebio Leal, Havana's Historian

By: Maggie Centurion

1. What supports, in your opinion, Havana's charm?------------------------------------- La Habana is a peculiar city and there are many reasons why she is charming. The most important among them all it is the diversity of styles and urban proposals so well combined that a masterlesson on architecture and urbanism may be developed on a tour through various Kms along the coastline and walking by old roadways.--- Being a coastal town is another fundamental element, the omnipresence of the sea, incorporated to the landscape in a variety of forms, now quiet like a big lake, now rough flooding those parts that were taken from him before, propose different cities according to these circumstances.--- The conservation of the historical center and the traditional neighborhoods, the moderation on expressing the modern movement without traumatic substitutions of the preceeding heritage, but filling up its own space show diverse periods living together.--- La Habana is a city very kind with the traveller, there are the endless ways cover by the arcades of the roadways or in the green tunnels created by the luxuriant vegetation in other areas.--- La Habana has not suffer real estate processes affecting its image, there are no motorways crossing the city nor a concentration of skyscrapers provoking harmful densities, ther is not excessive segregation of functions. We can say that La Habana gets closed to the paradigm new town planners dream.---------------------------------- 2. Are there plans to modernize the City, that is, create the necessary infrastructure for a possible increassing of the number of cars and pedestrians in the future at the same level of a XXI century city?------------------------Of course, there are plans for developing the city but this development should not be associated only to an excessive increase of the amount of cars; that will be increase, we should better talk about the promotion of a diverse and effective public transportation. The way this idea prospers, the better way we can manage the impact that an increase of private traffic may produce. There are very interesting experiences in Latin America, for example, Curitiva, Bogota or Quito that illustrate feasible solutions for the development of a public transportation system in La Habana.--- The city is extensive and low, more compact on the strip parallel to the sea and less dense to the south where she ramifies following the course of old roads and roadways. We plan to refill those interspaces remaining, increasing density in some areas as there is no need for the city to continue expanding. We have also considered to speed up and complete a system of centers on different levels to expedite the acces to services helping people not to waste their time.--- We are also putting ready some essential urban regulations with a preservationist point of view to take care of the cultural values of the inherited city, working on the assessment of the land around the bay located in a very important sector.--- The city will also expand to the eastern side, making good use of the roads infrastructure existing, the landscape and the sports areas that were constructed for the celebration of the 1991 PanAm games.--- A very important area of the Historical centre has been recovered demonstrating all this can be achieved.---------------------------3.How long will it take the modernization of La Habana?----------------------------------The time depends a lot on the resources we can manage. There are international examples to demonstrate that in a fifteen years period the city may change considerably. Bilbao city has reconverted its waterfront and transformed the industrial vocation of the city into one of services.--- In all Havana we have a great advance in a few time by self-financing. The key is to innovate and to develop creative spirit.-------------------------------------------- 4. Will La Habana lose its charm in this process? -------------------------------- The development of the city should not be impede but promoted. It makes no sense to hold up the natural development of the city. What should not be allowed is a situation where a total chaos reigns on the application of viewpoints where speculation and the landmarked be the premises for progress. Neither we can think on a city designed abroad. We have enough people technically and culturally prepared for developing the wideranging programme our city needs.------------------------------- 5. The future development of the city should look and learn from the useful paradigms she has conserved. The key will be a creative reinterpretation of them to be applied on the new developments and in the recuperation of our heritage.----- We should decode the elements that made possible so magnificent neighborhoods as Vedado, with the extension of the public greenward by mixing it with the garden area of the private plot, understand the kindness represented by the public continuous halls, that allow people to go for a saunter protected from the sun or the rain, analyze the architecture so well adapted to our climatic conditions as the ones built by the colonial times which were wisely understand by the cuban modern movement of the fifties,just for providing some examples.---If there prevail a cultural sight and a rationality in the use of the land and we are getting ready for that, if strategic investments are carried out on the nets of technical infrastructure and an appropriate study and investment for the public transportation, if the regulations and ordinances looking for the preservation of values are applied correctly, if the investments come together with development ideas that guarantee the application of social policies, then a speed-up process of investments for the developement of the city would turn into a real opportunity to increase her recognized values.--- I'm optimist by nature, and I imagine a future Habana much more beautiful and functional than the one we inherited.