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Creative Clusters 2006, Newcastle: Restoration of Old Havana

Notes from a presentation delivered at CC 2006, Newcastle Gateshead
Havana Vieja

Old Havana’s baroque and neoclassical mansions, its waterfront bars and dance-halls,
were brought vividly to life as the back-drop to the film ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. Unfortunately, political factors have severely hampered the development potential of what is one of the finest collections of historic buildings in the western hemisphere.

Despite decades of international isolation, a remarkable portfolio of projects is underway to renovate Havana’s historic structures, develop tourism and address the social issues that impact most of the old city’s residents.
Our special guest from the Office of the City Historian, Professor Orestes del Castillo, will show us how,
in very adverse circumstances, Cuba is leveraging its cultural assets for both economic and social development.

Professor Castillo has taken on a variety of roles in the project through his work at the Historian’s Office with director Dr Eusebio Leal Spengler, and continues to raise funds for the project through his work as president of the Heritage, Community and Environment organization. Since joining the Historian’s office in 1995 he has acted as resident architect in charge of the renovation of important buildings; was responsible for structural design and consulting, and coordinated academic activities.

Master Plan: Desafio de una Utopia (Challenge of a Utopia)

During the 1990s a multi-disciplinary team consisting of thousands of individuals and organisations came together under the instruction of the master plan, ‘Desafio de Una Utopia’, to renovate the historic centre of Havana, adopting a strategy which fully integrated cultural, social and economic development policy.

One of the key philosophies of the planning authority was that “the inhabitants become the beneficiaries” of the restoration in the heart of the city for the vital renovations made to their homes, amenities, schools and health centres.

The project sought to combine the best of both worlds; to marry together the free market and a socialist economy thus restoring and protecting the heritage of old Havana and at the same time Oakley Sunglasses cheap promoting economic growth through its role as a popular tourist destination. This is illustrated today by the hotels and restaurants which stand side by side with the restored historical buildings – Dr Spengler stated : “Tourism should never ignore culture […] the most important aspect of a city for tourists should be the knowledge of its own culture.”

Current Activity

It has been estimated that about one third of the original plan was completed in the first 10 years since the project’s inception in 1993, with additional work factored in as the urgency of certain cases became apparent. At present, there are approximately 200 sites being developed in the historic centre of Havana under the scheme.

Professor del Castillo reiterates that the current activity can be defined as “a constant movement of actions in order to preserve the heritage, not only the old one, but the cheap oakley sunglasses recent one as well” and the responsibility lies with the Office of the Historian to see that the project continues with their preservation of Old Havana’s architectural richness and in the comprehensive recovery, and development, of it’s assets.