Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez presented “A Master Plan for 21st Century Havana” on Tuesday, April 1, in Northrup 040, where he outlined both the history of the city and what he envisions for the future. Hernandez, a 2002 Harvard University Loeb Fellow, is an architect, urban planner, and leader of the Havana International Charrette.
Hernandez began the lecture by saying that the urban fabric of Havana still exists today and that a city, in general, is more important than a collection of buildings.
“We will not lose the identity of Havana,” Hernandez said. “We will learn from history and move forward. Havana has been a frozen city for 50 years, but it is changing.”
In addition to a comprehensive explanation of the history of Havana, which was established in 1519, Hernandez described his plans for the future, which included maximization of urban and public space, a prioritization of the Harbor Sector, which would serve as a model for the whole city’s regeneration, and the creation of a balance between the environment and built spaces.
“What we cannot allow are high-rises,” Hernandez said. “We must create density in five to seven stories instead of using high-rises, which would ruin Havana’s urban fabric.”
Junior math major Tess Macapinlac said that she attended the lecture because of her participation in a Trinity course that took students to Cuba over winter break.
“We discussed architecture a lot on the trip,” Macapinlac said. “So I was intrigued to hear about preserving the historical integrity of Havana in relation to possible changes that might occur there.”
Hernandez said that Havana would welcome corporations such as Wal-Mart, but that they would have to build on the outskirts of the city. They would not be allowed to disrupt the ordinances that still govern the city and every municipality in Cuba.
“The 1861 ordinance is still in place,” Hernandez said. “And our number two law in the country is about heritage. A heritage commission has to approve everything.”
In response to a question by Christine Drennon, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, about the possible displacement of local residents due to foreign investment, Hernandez responded by saying that gentrification does not exist in Cuba and that he believes it never will.
Gentrification is the process of rebuilding alongside the rush of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
Moreover, Hernandez called for a reintroduction of a tram system to Havana, saying that cars are not always the most effective method of travel. Alongside Havana Harbor, Hernandez said that a tunnel running from east-to-west, in the Parque Maceo neighborhood, could increase the public space in the area and would take advantage of the slope of the ocean reef.
Katsuo Nishikawa, assistant professor of political science, questioned Hernandez about rising sea levels and Cuba’s reaction to this danger.
“The extension of the public space, in this area [Harbor Sector] would act as a buffer zone to eventual sea level rising,” Hernandez said.
The plans Hernandez presented were, according to him, of his own creation and he was not paid to draft them. He called the plans “a labor of love.” Hernandez was unclear about whether or not officials in the Cuban government had seen or approved of his plans.
Marcella Reyes, a sophomore urban studies major, said that it was also unclear about who exactly Hernandez was planning for.
“I disagreed a bit with his answer as to who he was actually building this for,” Reyes said in an email. “He claimed it was for “˜the people of Havana’ but after talking about foreign investors it seemed like it might just turn into a tourist trap and cause gentrification.”
Hernandez concluded by saying that Havana is a city of magic and poetry where art and architecture can coexist and that he is building for the future, no matter what that entails.
Hernandez’s visit to San Antonio was made possible through donors Sarah Harte and John Gutzler.