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Everyone Wants a Piece of Havana—Can Cuba Keep Up?

Cuba and its capital city of Havana are experiencing several, simultaneous revolutions. The opportunity for residents is also an opportunity for developers and architects, as well as a challenge for planners.
February 2, 2016, 6am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Oliver Wainwright provides a dispatch from Cuba, documenting the changes apparent there as the country opens to the outside world in unprecedented ways.

The first sign of change reported by Wainwright: Wi-Fi hotspots. "In a country where the internet is still forbidden in private homes and an hour checking emails at an internet cafe can cost nearly a week’s wages, the arrival of five designated Wi-Fi zones in Havana has been nothing short of revolutionary," writes Wainwright.

Then there is the effect of over 3 million tourists coming to Cuba last year, "boosted by a sharp increase in the number of US visitors, which has surged by almost 40% since Obama ushered in a thaw in diplomatic relations at the end of 2014." According to the International Monetary Fund, that number could climb to 10 million if the United States lifts its 1960 trade embargo.

The challenge of designing and planning for a potential deluge of tourism business and new economic opportunity is the central concern of the article. Luxury hotel developers are already pouring money into the country, especially in Havana, and architects are chomping at the bit to leave their mark on the country. For instance, "Frank Gehry sailed into Havana in December, aboard a streamlined yacht he designed for himself, here to 'offer his expertise to Cuba' according to a government statement." The soundbite that leaves most lasting impression is included in the headline. Local Miguel Padrón says:

We will have many divas and divos arriving with their very nice drawings….But as a society, we desperately need to improve our capacity to debate and discuss these plans. The challenge is how to capture the potential of the market in the right way, to learn how to negotiate with foreign investors. Havana is now the big cake – and everyone is trying to get a slice.

Full Story:
Published on Monday, February 1, 2016 in The Guardian Cities
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