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Brave Old World: Havana's Old City

An Ambitious Renovation of Havana's Old City Tries to Reconcile Grit and Glory, Squalor and Splendor
Thomas Matthews
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 3)

The sunny plaza seems at once an oasis of serenity and a battlefield, where history and hope struggle to find living space between the threats of extinction and exploitation. No visitor to Habana Vieja can deny its desperate poverty. It's an open question if the deteriorating infrastructure can still be saved even if massive funds are found. The inflow of tourist dollars today is only a trickle in a desert of need.

But the Old City's low buildings cradle the landscape and never block the tropical sky. The scarcity of cars leaves plenty of room to play in the streets. Broken-down doors encourage easy movement from house to house. The urban scale is human, and devoted to human uses. Activity flows unimpeded from street to building, building to balcony, allowing people to interact with each other and the spaces they inhabit in a way that an influx of money might only impair. This integration of constructed environments and living environments is a gift from the past that contemporary cities now struggle to recover. It may not be utopia, but it is a kind of freedom, after all.

Thomas Matthews is senior editor of Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.

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