Important as it is, preserving Havana´s very valuable architectural heritage could end in a nostalgic, meaningless task—threatened by elitism and the lack of authentic everyday life—if it is not coupled with a comprehensive economic and social development that actively involves the participation of the population within the basic principles of ecological soundness. This participation is only possible if it starts at a community base and is felt by the population as something that would directly improve their living conditions. Thinking, management, institutions and work styles should adjust to an endless changing reality, and not the opposite. That realizable utopia requires a visceral commitment of all Cubans, not only to save the built environment but also to preserve from degradation and cynicism a human capital amassed with endeavors, successes, mistakes, hardships and illusions.
Havana has endured many difficult tests in its long history, some apparently terminal blows, and has come out bruised but graceful. Because, in the end, the shared complicity imposed by time layer after layer has woven a thick mesh of relations and meanings which transcend the facades to include the people that mill along the streets without ever needing to look up to know that their lifelong companion of dreams remains stubbornly in place, peeling, staggered, eroded by salt and water, marvelous and incredibly alive, still useful. A city that no longer is, but continues being.
Mario Coyula-Cowley is Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Architecture, ISPJAE, Havana and former director of the Group for the Integral Development of Havana. He was the Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, during Spring semester, 2002. Coyula’s essay “Havana Always: Challenges and Opportunities at the Beginning of the New Millenium” may be read in its entire version on the DRCLAS website.
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