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Havana: Restoration as a Social Issue

Restoration projects in the historic district of the Cuban capital are helping to perfect an urban development project that prioritizes patrimonial and social interests.

In an interview with Prensa Latina, Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal explained these projects are focused on the human aspect, not just the restoration of the city´s architecture and beauty.

“I think it would be contradictory to highlight only (restoration) and ignore vital questions such as housing, the environment and public opinion about the city,” he said.

Restoration projects prioritize elementary and secondary schools; school/workshops; women; the gender issue; children´s issues, and at-risk groups such as the elderly and people who live alone.

A newly-created maternity home, mental health and addiction treatment center, and center for children with disabilities are examples of the social work carried out by the City Historian´s Office.

Old Havana has received national and international recognition, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example, and its restoration projects have received a numberof awards.

The City Historian´s Office has also made incursions into other parts of the capital, specifically those that are historically valuable for the city or the nation.

Leal mentioned projects on the Paseo del Prado promenade, such as the restoration of the Gran Teatro, or Grand Theater, and recently-begun work on the Capitolio building.

A subjective factor is also important: that of raising awareness about protecting the environment, Leal said, referring to a project at the Quinta de los Molinos natural park, which includes efforts by all organizations involved in environmental issues.

One of the goals for 2011 is to continue restoration work at the University of Havana and at Colon Cemetery, and housing construction in the Havana neighborhoods of Alamar and Capdevila.

Work also constinues on the Havana seawall, the Malecon, both on the wall itself and on the drainage system, in the context of the direct influence of climate change on that historic site, Leal noted.

With respect to an environmental strategy, the office is part of a working group for the Port of Havana overseeing efforts to clean up the bay, and results are already being seen in lower contamination levels, he said.

The historian also mentioned the Mariel Bay project, which would bring back more tranquil times to Havana, making the port chiefly a touristic destination instead of a shipping dock.

What is important today is not just restoration, but also the civic conduct of citizens, because along any given street, one can see litter thrown from car windows or damage to the urban environment and its monuments.

Throughout the city, but particularly in Havana and Cuba today, “we are going to suffer the sadness of losing many buildings and architectural elements, because adverse circumstances have taken us to that threshold,” Leal said.

The historian noted the current conditions of Cuba, subjected to an economic, commercial and financial blockade by the United States, and emphasized that the idea is to make restoration projects sustainable whenever possible.

Leal, who has been recognized for his work to preserve heritage, said that a series of presentations is being made nationwide on restoration experiences in the capital, taking into account other historic centers such as Camaguey and Cinefuegos.

This year, the Conference on the Management and Administration of Historic Districts will be held, attended by architects and other experts from Cuba and other countries, and will address both architectural and social aspects.

For the Cuban people, their capital, whose urban landscape and social aspects have suffered the impact of the U.S. sanctions, is aiming to become an increasingly inhabitable city, little by little, and as economic resources allow.

Meanwhile, foreign visitors walk through its streets and contemplate the old military architecture that survived the era of Spanish colonization, and other buildings and plazas built so many years ago, which continue to amaze us with the dazzling traces of other times.

(Prensa Latina)

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