The Guardian debate over shaping Havana to cater to locals or tourists

Posted: 17-Feb-16 18:48

With more and more tourists being welcomed to Havana, it's model of development is being discussed on a global scale. Developers are attempting to revitalize an area not currently able to withstand a large influx of travellers, and some speculate the change may be coming too fast and too soon for the city to keep up.

The Guardian debate over shaping Havana to cater to locals or tourists

As developers eye the City of Havana for new possibilities, there remains the need to take a closer look now that a big tourism wage approaching is announced. The city, itself, is at varying levels of dereliction. Different views about how Havana and other cities of Cuba should make the best of this moment are arising.

In February, Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian published the article:

“Cuba for sale: Havana is now the big cake- and everyone is trying to get a slice”

In the article the Guardian commented some of the widespread inequalities, from new hotels and high-end boutiques to residential buildings on the verge of collapse. While the article pointed out large groups of tourists gathered in Habana Vieja (a.k.a Old Havana) , a letter to the editor published two days later disputed the number of tourists and raised the question that if Havana continues to be redeveloped in this way, will very many Cubans even be able to afford to live there.

Beginning as early as the 1980s the Office of the City Historian began developing new shops, restaurants and hotels in Old Havana. In Havana, though, there are issues that have not been resolved. Some claim the city simply does not have the infrastructure to handle all of the new visitors and development. It’s said, for example, the city’s main water system is prone to leaks, and hasn’t seen improvements in nearly a century.

According to Wainwright’s article, though, this isn’t keeping luxury hotel developers from forging ahead. A five-star hotel plans to open in the space formerly known as the country’s first shopping mall in Parque Central sometime later in 2016. Spanish and British developers are also refurbishing and constructing properties ranging from luxury developments to hotels.

On the outskirts of this massive redevelopment of Havana, a big challenge appears. Sean O’Donoghue in the letter sent to The Guardian alerts: locals who once inhabited the centre of the city could now be forced out to the suburbs, creating an even larger divide between two economic segments of Cuban society.

For those “force” to live farther away from their work and businesses, the move would create a dilemma of sorts. According to one local resident interviewed by The Guardian,

“The tourists might be pushing us further away, but they’re also bringing in money that the city desperately needs. And our building was about to fall down anyway.”

As well, some are reaping the benefit of more cash flowing into their own pockets, especially from U.S. travellers. The currency foreigners are made to use is worth more than local currency. Anyone can join the debate by sending a message to guardian.letters@theguardian.com


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