Carlos García Pleyán

Carlos García Pleyán

Barcelona, 1946. Sociólogo cubano. Doctor en ciencias técnicas, profesor e investigador titular. Trabajó durante treinta años en el campo del urbanismo y el ordenamiento territorial en el Instituto de Planificación Física y diez en la Agencia Suiza para el Desarrollo y la Cooperación, COSUDE. Fue profesor en la Universidad Tecnológica de la Habana y la Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña en Barcelona.

Architecture, Havana

The city is calling for architecture

The publication in recent days of a list of “activities where self-employment is not allowed” has generated a feverish exchange of opinions on social networks that, unfortunately, has had almost no echo in the state press.1 It is a long-awaited step within the framework of the already agreed transformations and that materializes the decision to replace the insufficient list of allowed self-employment activities with another, in principle laxer, that specifies those that are not allowed and opens the rest. It seems appropriate to specify and highlight two interesting details: on the one hand, it is a document that presents the activities that cannot be carried out as a self-employed worker, but that—at least, for now—does not explicitly limit their exercise under other forms of management such as cooperatives or SMEs. On the other hand, it is accompanied by a prudent clarification: that “this list could be modified based on the process of conciliation of legal norms, currently in the process of being drawn up.” It is becoming a common practice to disseminate the policies approved before promulgating the legal norms, in order to influence public opinion and allow a certain degree of participation in their elaboration. It seems essential to...

Photo: Kaloian

Is the real estate market subsiding in Havana?

A simple phrase published in the Official Gazette in November 2011―“the transfer of ownership of a home through buying and selling, between individuals, is directly formalized before a notary”―would change considerably not only the legal panorama, but also physical and social, of Cuban cities. With this amending provision of the General Housing Law , the transfer of ownership of numerous pre-existing administrative limitations was freed and de facto opened up the possibility of reopening a real estate market in Cuba after half a century. It should be recalled that in Cuba you can only own a town home and a summer home and that only Cubans and foreign residents can be owners. It is also appropriate to specify that the market refers to housing buildings, but not to the land. The non-existence of a Land Law leads to a lack of definitions and contradictions, since two legal realities coexist: a constructed fund subject to commercial exchange and an empty plot of land, mostly nationalized, on which the State can assign the surface right for the construction of housing in exchange for a modest payment. Although the 2011 provision refers to the transfer of rights related to home ownership, this indirectly...

Photo: Naturaleza Secreta.

Havana: Reclaiming the sidewalks

The city, lived at different rhythms or cadences, is not the same. From a vehicle it is nothing more than a fleeting and confusing succession of lines, colors, lights and shadows that are always left behind. Another, on the other hand, is the one discovered by the calm walker, who can perceive textures, smells, murmurs and conversations, the one who has glimpses of families in the gloom, sees shop windows, senses secrets, guesses fleeting caresses, surprises sighs and smiles..., it is the nearby, calm, intimate and human Havana. Always in urban crowds the street was, in addition to a means of transit, a meeting space and for human communication. This multi-functionality meant that, at least already in the times of Rome, the sidewalk was differentiated with curbs that provided safety for pedestrians and helped to channel the waters. But the speed and amount of vehicles was still not so much that they couldn’t coexist with the pedestrians. However, the overwhelming appearance of the automobile in the 20th century made the ordinary citizen start losing public space. The sidewalks became increasingly narrower, corners were cut, public spaces became parking lots and the pedestrian crossing of streets had to be limited, regulated...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Is there a housing policy for city of Havana?

It is assumed that a "policy" contains the principles that will guide the creation of action plans and programs, as well as the legal instruments that will frame both public and private activity. A policy establishes guiding principles, priorities, approaches, while a plan or program, in addition to the objectives and results to be achieved, must specify how to achieve them, that is, at least, sequence of actions, necessary and responsible resources. They are not the same. Policies should precede and guide the creation of legal norms and plans. Not the other way around. After a patient search, I finally managed to find a document entitled Política de la vivienda en Cuba (Housing Policy in Cuba), prepared by the Ministry of Construction without a reference date. (1) Despite its title, the essential content of the document is limited to a calculation of the demand for necessary resources (construction materials, labor force, construction systems, investments to be made...) to "recover the housing deficit" in ten years. (2) Next it clarifies that "other points addressed were: the priority in the handing over of housing, legal tenure, payment methods and the subsidized legal price." Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez. The Housing Policy...culminates with a detailed...

Photo: Kaloian

Havana: the landscape and the gaze

The environment, natural or built, is there, but the landscape does not exist without a gaze. It is a cultural product, it is history’s imprint on geography, it is the space that contains time. The landscape is a selection, a perspective, it is a point of view, it is a construction of the gaze. Before the same panorama there are as many landscapes as observers. And in the same way that the landscape is modeled and composed, the eye is educated and cultivated. The landscape is a complex gaze, not just visual. It is also auditory (the Cuban scene is always accompanied by a powerful soundtrack), olfactory (certain images can evoke stenches or suggest perfumes), even thermal or tactile...and, no doubt, emotional. The landscape is also made up of symbols: the buildings, vehicles, people suggest or send messages (we do it even when creating our own personal landscape, the way we dress, our hairstyle, etc.). No landscape is mute. Photo: Kaloian Gaze is culture There is no neutral gaze. The gaze tows and carries a culture, a history, a context. It is difficult for a rural eye to distinguish architectural styles, for an urban eye to identify tree species. The...

Photo: Kaloian

The old Havana

Lázara leaves her home early. She has to do several errands. She starts by going down four flights of stairs that, when she returns, will become an ordeal. Then she walks cautiously, avoiding the holes and broken sidewalks so she doesn’t trip. She has to walk several blocks before arriving at the bus stop. When she arrives she would like to sit down to rest a little, but someone has taken the benches. Finally, the bus shows up, which stops 50 meters before its stop. She doesn’t see well what route it is. She asks, but everyone is running to catch the bus. Lázara looks at them, resigned.... Two buses and an hour later, she gives up. Tomorrow will be another day. She plans to take advantage of her outing to get her medicines from the pharmacy, especially those for her hypertension. The sun is already relentless, taking advantage of the merciless pruning of trees, which are now only logs. In the pharmacy they force her like others to queue outside on the street. It is finally her turn, but she only manages to get one of the four medicines she must take. The rest haven’t come in. Upon leaving,...

Photo: Kaloian

E-government in Havana?

The electronic city, the intelligent city! Have we reached the future? We thus witness with amazement the increasing computerization of life in the cities. They are filling up with all kinds of sensors, GPS, cameras, which allow the public administration to monitor traffic, traffic lights, pollution, accidents, procedures, transactions...and also the citizens. These, in addition, carry their “smart” phone that makes it possible to know in real time where we are, when buses, trains, taxis arrive…we have access to infinite information, we communicate with everyone and enjoy e-commerce, e-banking, e-government.... E-government? As well? Could it be that a computer is going to govern us now? One should take care of language and not mince words. Strictly speaking, for now it is more about e-administration than e-government. Indeed, the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) to the administration of a city can significantly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of public management, particularly in providing information and services. Computerizing records, land registry, personal and institutional information, economic, fiscal and territorial information can expedite, accelerate and reduce (by eliminating tons of paper and thousands of trips) the administration's relationship with citizens, with enterprises and, internally, between government institutions. And, with that, make...

Photo: Kaloian

Havana, and after the 500, what?

In the year of the Lord of 1519 Hernán Cortés left Havana ready to take over Mexico, Magallanes sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda to go around the world, Charles V was elected emperor and Leonardo da Vinci died. Half a millennium later Havana began the celebrations of its birth with a devastating tornado. The omens were not good. However, in an unprecedented citizen mobilization, Havanans devoted themselves to the tasks of assistance and recovery from the destruction. After many years of neglect and abandonment, the 500th anniversary favors a rehabilitation program that includes numerous repairs, makeup and some minor surgery (such as the water conductor for Old Havana). It is mostly an extended urban acupuncture program that, through a multitude of small interventions in grocery stores, shops, schools, polyclinics, homes, parks and hundreds of small facilities, covers practically the city’s entire fabric. It has been proclaimed and reiterated that the program for the 500th anniversary aims to be not so much a culmination but a starting point of a long-awaited process of recovery of the city. But very few are those who know, if any, what that continuation is, what its objectives and ways of doing are. Since we don’t...