In looking round the Old Town in Havana, an area of 14 hectares where some 70,000 live in very crowded conditions, I was impressed by how Cuba is tapping tourism to help fund urban regeneration. The key has been joint ventures with foreign hotel groups. The strategy since 1993 has been to restore the main squares and streets running between them. Half the funds are used for social programmes. Cuba’s priorities have been education and health, and latterly producing more food and energy.
The Old Town is controlled by the Office of the Historian, which has enabled high standards to be achieved. But most of buildings still remain unimproved, and many are derelict, especially in Central Havana. In the last three years Cubans have been allowed to open up shops and small restaurants, to add to the mass of musicians making a living from tourists.
However inequalities are growing, with rising numbers of cars (not just American hangovers, and hustlers). While there are no shanty towns, the disparities between the different quarters and population groups could lead to considerable conflicts as markets open up. Huge investments are required to get the railways running properly and upgrade the water system, reminding one of London! I have written a paper which explores in depth the lessons we can learn from Havana, please feel free to read it here, Regenerating historic areas of Cuba