Five Days in Havana: Part Two
In this post, I will examine the public spaces in Havana, Cuba.
Communism is a very utilitarian form of government. The dictionary definition of communism is “a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.” While nice in theory, this doesn’t seem to be how communism plays out in reality. (I imagine this is due, in part, to corruption.) Additionally, communism doesn’t seem to make room for what I consider to be a fundamental aspect of life: art.
Many of the public spaces I saw were very depressing. They served a purpose but without any joy or creativity. Take this “playground”, for instance.
What appeared to be the case was that wealthy hotels could afford nicer parks and to pay for functioning crosswalks, while the rest of the city largely got neglected. To think that there are not classes in Cuba is to be very wrong. You can see it walking down most any street. For instance, the building I stayed in was very modern with a modern elevator. Nearby, people lived in crumbling buildings without windows. Here is the park near the fancy Hotel Inglaterra.
There was very little grass in all of Havana. When I did see grass, it was often a small patch that was fenced in so no one could walk on it. I imagine this is due mostly to the limited water supply and cost of irrigation. As seen below, sometimes the fenced-in grass is just covered in trash.
Many of the parks I saw were mostly pavement, with benches spread throughout.
Even the Malecón – known as a meeting place for lovers, philosophers, poets, traveling minstrels – is a stark wall of concrete with no joyful properties.
This median between the two opposing lanes of Paseo del Prado was one of the nicest public spaces I saw. The buildings along this street told the history of wealth and splendor that no longer existed in most of Havana.
Despite the uninspiring nature of most public spaces in Havana, Cuba, many people spend time outdoors. These are the only spaces they have, so they use them. I saw many people sitting outdoors on benches, even in the heat. Outdoor spaces probably seem like a luxury to people who are suffering in extreme poverty, but public spaces can shape the culture of a place. I hope once some of the bigger problems in Cuba are addressed, public spaces can get a facelift, too.