Havana, Cuba

Cuba’s territory is divided into 15 provinces, plus the special municipality of The Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). Havana City is the only city province, with a population of 2.1m, at an average density of 2,925 residents per square km.

The settlement in which we are working is located on the top of the basin of the Havana Bay, in the Consejo Popular Casa Blanca, where around 1,000 families (5,000 people) live, largely migrants originating from the eastern parts of Cuba.

“In Havana, in the late 1920s, appeared a number of improvised settlements, lacking infrastructure, known at the time as barrios de indigentes (shantytowns). They constituted the only housing option for the poor. While the city was expanding with new land being urbanized and buildings growing higher, widening housing alternatives for the middle class, impoverished citizens were left destitute.” 

– Zardoya

Between 1919 and 1931 there were three new residents per hour in the city. Many of them went to these shantytowns.

Phases of urban development

The country development model was markedly unequal until 1959 with the capital seen as the most privileged space.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 implemented spatial practices that secured universal access to basic resources of social reproduction such as education, health care, housing, food and water. At the time of the revolution, 6% of Havana residents lived in squatter settlements. They were known as barrios de indigentes – or literally “neighbourhoods of the poor (or indigent or destitute)”.

Between 1959 – 1990 the country started to show a more balanced development, especially in the policy towards informal settlements. During 1960 and 1961, the largest and worst of these shantytowns were demolished; their residents built replacement housing through the Self-Help and Mutual Aid Programme. The remaining shantytowns were renamed barrios insalubres – “unhealthy neighbour- hoods”, shifting the focus from the economic status of their residents to the quality of the housing and settlements.

By 1987, Havana had 15,975 units in shantytowns, representing less than 3 per cent of all Havana dwellings.

But by 2001, the city had  a total of 21,552 units; a little more than a quarter of such units nationally. This 50% growth was seen as the result of an increase in net migration to Havana, especially from the less developed eastern provinces, and led to the 1997 migration law.



Nowadays these shantytowns are scattered throughout the city except for in a few central areas.


The Settlement

The settlement comprises two so-called sectors (sectores) defined by the local bylaws (regulaciones urbanísticas) as eradication sectors (SE) (SE-2 Fuerte San Diego, SE-4 San Nicolás ). They are the result of the combination of the migration pressures occurred during the 90 ́s and the weakening of the law enforcement and urban control capacities proper of that period. One of them occupies a heritage relevant site; The Hornabeque San Diego, where there are around 87 households (38 in early 90 ́s) whereas the other one is an average informal settlement with a poorly defined urban structure, houses built with relatively low quality materials and with poor infrastructure. There were 392 households in 2015 that are the main focus of attention of the project. 

The site is paradoxically well located and at the same time isolated a condition that made it attractive and that facilitated the occupation respectively. The occupation of the homonymous former estate where there was once upon a time a trees nursery started in the early 90. Nowadays none of the houses has is officially registered and the services that are provided are illegal. According to (Renda Goulet 2017) in 2004 there was an attempt to eradicate the site and 25 houses demolished. The action shows the level of contestation of the site and reflects the prevailing policy towards this kind of settlements. There is not registry of similar actions recently.

Key Concepts