16" x 20" Acrylic on Canvas
George H. Rothacker, 2010©
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Cuba has slowly but steadily restored some of the oldest – and most gorgeous buildings in the Americas. The innovative plan has also funded social programs and housing reconstruction, making it a model for historic districts around the world, experts say.
''It's a self-financing, self-sustaining model,'' said Herman Van Hooff, a United Nations cultural official based in Havana. "It's an integrated vision of restoration and providing services to the population. It has matured into a model with valuable concepts for other places.''
The unique part of Cuba's plan has been its strategy of restoring old hotels, restaurants and buildings to attract tourists and then using tourism revenue to fund more restoration, along with social programs and housing renovation, one of Cuba's most pressing issues.
One of the biggest problems facing planners is also a main source of Old Havana's charm: The district's narrow streets are packed with people, with some 66,000 residents crammed into an area of less than 1.5 square miles.
Water and sewer lines are in poor condition, and some buildings have already collapsed. On many streets, visitors see crumbling facades, leaning walls and teetering roofs propped up with wooden scaffolding.
But families continue living in even the most dilapidated buildings. Old men play dominoes on street corners, younger men tinker under the hoods of ancient cars and housewives hang wash from wrought-iron balconies, pausing to peer at the busy street life below.