Today’s quote comes from a phenomenal short video put together by our friends over at Street Films and the Project for Public Spaces on the vibrancy and quality of life of the streets of Havana. Although we agree Havana is not the ideal city to emulate, we could learn a lot from the beautiful urban streets, clearly designed for social interaction rather than vehicular dominance. Each narrow street of Old Havana is bustling with life as every ground level structure is opened up to the pedestrian realm. Meanwhile, the wide boulevards provide ample park space, recreational space, and plenty of foliage. The film clearly shows how this type of construction, for people rather than vehicles, promotes neighborhood and societal values, something we should be certainly promoting across Miami. To watch the whole film, click here

“If children playing in the streets is an indicator of the success of a city, then Havana’s streets may be some of the most successful in the world.”
-Ethan Kent

13 Responses to Thursday Quote: Life on Havana’s Streets; a model for American Cities

  1. AI says:

    I would say that the fact that the vast majority of the population is unable to own a vehicle is a stronger factor in the population’s transportation habits than the urban landscape in Havana.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Maybe I’m a fool, but I think kids playing in the streets is not ideal. Streets are meant to move people, vehicles, bikes and goods.
    Greenways and parks are more the ideal for kids to play.


  3. anonymous2 says:

    It’s been my dream for a long time for Little Havana to resemble Havana, Cuba. Not just with streets, but with architecture. Architecture in Havana is amazing! Tropical baroque. =)


  4. Ryan Sharp says:

    Sure economic factors limit the ability for Havana residents to own cars, but it’s the urban design that allows such high quality social life to take place in the streets. This type of design allows people to interact better in the streets, in turn making the social environment there better. Regardless of how prevalent cars are there, if there was low-density or introverted urban design, it would make if much more difficult and unlikely that social interaction of this quality and scale would occur in the streets.

    Streets are not just traffic sewers, they are valuable public spaces. Just ask some Boomers who grew up in The Bronx playing stick ball if they think streets should only be traffic sewers.


  5. Ryan Sharp says:

    Anon2, couldn’t agree more.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Old Havana’s streets and layout were designed before cars were invented. This is true of few or no streets here in Miami.

    The kids are playing in the streets because threre’s nothing else to do (unless it’s going to the plaza and listening to whatever idiot is in charge making speeches).


  7. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Thanks Captain Obvious, I never realized some cities we’re built before we had motorized forms of transit and had to solely rely on our own two legs for transport. The point of this is to depict a livable community, one that is accessible to all classes and income levels. A place where neighborhoods are safe, streets are active, and communities are full of life…

    The kids are playing in the street because the street is public space. There isn’t the fear of being mowed down by some reckless motorist living in suburbia, busy dealing with the stresses of making ends meet, and paying off a mortgage on a house he can’t afford…


  8. Kungfu Open Space says:

    Obviously Havana is not perfect, but there is nothing wrong with putting place under a microscope and finding some magnificent things that work there either by design or chance.

    I think the video is simply stating that we should emphasize people over cars. Sure maybe these people are poor, but damn I’d rather see kids out recreating and talking with neighbors and learning about life then sitting inside an air conditioned room playing Nintendo!


  9. Alex says:

    Sorry Gabriel, but if you are looking for a place where “neighborhoods are safe, streets are active, and communities are full of life… ” Havana is far, far from it. Try neighborhoods have become slums fullof illicit activity and rife with crime that goes unreported on the government-controlled press. Try communities living in hunger, squalor and fear. They may not have a mortgage to pay, but they pedal around their bicycles thinking where their next meal is going to come from. Talk about stress.

    Christ on a bike. You go to any of those kids playing stickball in the streets of Los Pocitos or La Dionisia (right in the center of the city, I didn’t have to go too deep) and ask them if they think their lifes are idillyc because there are no cars on the streets. Ask them if when they are going to school hanging out of a rickety bus full to the gills, if they won’t rather be inside a car. Or ask their parents if they wouldn’t trade their shack for a house in the ‘burbs.

    Urban design in Havana stopped in 1959. This is not hyperbole. Find me one example of a smartly planned urban development in Cuba. Then google “Alamar” or “Altahabana” and see the characterless rows of boxy buildings with no green spaces that passed for urban design in the socialist world.


  10. Ryan Sharp says:


    Again, the point being made here was not that Havana was an idyillic place where all facets of life should be glorified. As Kungfu Open Space eloquently commented above, we’re examining how some of Havana’s neighborhoods function as open spaces, looking at street life in particular.

    I’m sure that many of these kids playing have some issues in their lives to deal with, but how much worse would it be if the street usage as they know it was taken away from them by mass car usage? Or put a different way, if their lives are “so bad”, then isn’t it nice they at least have the streets to play in as a respite?

    Lastly, whether or not quality urban design in Havana stopped in ’59 is really a moot point here. We’re well aware that much of Havana’s physical environment constructed since Castro took over is poorly designed and even could be considered sprawl. Just as if these places were in Miami, or anywhere else for that matter, we condemn them for their poor design. In this piece though we’re talking primarily about Old Havana, or at least the older neighborhoods that do have good urban design. I mean after all, we wouldn’t fault New York, London, or Paris for their high quality urban design because their buildings are old.


  11. Alex says:

    I’m sorry but I can’t talk in terms like “some issues”. State-imposed poverty, squalor, lack of options and fear are not “issues”. Any half-serious discussion of the reality of Cuba, even from the urban design angle, has to acknowledge those realities. That’s why I take exception to your quotation marks around “so bad”. Children play on the streets because there are no parks to play in, and there are no parks because they live under a government that has squandered the national capital for 50 years. Simple as that.

    Those streets of Habana Vieja and Centro Habana are falling apart and people are losing their houses every day -sometimes their lives- with no real solution for housing. Preservation and restoration are nonexistent outside a few touristic areas. Centro Habana in particular is post-Katrina New Orleans, except without the aid and will to rebuild.

    If you had googled Alamar, which is the prime example of the miamanagement of urban design under castro’s Cuba, you’ll never write “could be considered sprawl”? Sprawl is paradise compared with Alamar. You can drive out of Kendall in an hour, you’ll spend a couple hours waiting for a bus to get out of Alamar, which is your only option since it was built miles away from commercial areas. And the few green areas that were built have been converted to communal agriculture out of hunger. Ironically enough, rosy-eyed visitors are shown the rows of potatoes between boxy four story buildings with no elevators or hot water and they marvel at Cuban ingenuity.

    But that’s the point, isn’t it? It looks very quaint from here, right? Sorry, but no way. Use a different example.


  12. Ryan Sharp says:

    Alex, are you going to try to tell me that pre-Castro Cuba had a significantly fewer number of people socializing/playing in the streets?


  13. Alex says:

    I don’t know about pre-castro Cuba. I know about the 70s and early 90s Cuba when I grew up. There were a lot more cars on the streets and a lot more parks and recreation areas (I suspect there were more cars before Castro, proportionally). I did not have to play pickup baseball on the street.

    Later I found out most of those parks were pre-1959. Construction ad urban planning has not kept up with the pace of population growth, leading to overcrowding almost to favela levels. Most of the parks in my Nuevo Vedado neighborhood have been fenced-in and converted to ad hoc agricultural lots or flea markets.

    To take a sanpshot in time and see an idyllic vision of “active streets” without looking at the realities that created this situation is disingenuous. It’ll be like claiming favela resdents have a strong sense of community (which they do).


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