Tag Archives: Cuba

Planning Naked | August & September 2016

Planning-2016-08Planning Naked | August & September 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Hopefully, your hilarious guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

The August/September issue of Planning Magazine is a Special Issue about the Local Impacts of Federal Environment Policy. It is sure to induce a headache. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy post.

Congratulations, APA Executive Director! James M. Drinan finally wrote an editorial, “Share the Street” in the From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section (pp. 3), to hit the right notes… mostly. I did chuckle about Mr. Drinan’s comment that shared space “may appear startling at first to the average citizen.” I think what he meant was the ‘average planner.’ “The everyday experience of navigating our streets is an opportunity for planners to apply lessons – from Chicago and elsewhere – to provide leadership in shaping our evolving culture.” I never thought I would read those words in an official capacity in Planning Magazine. Amen, brother! What is that I’m feeling? Could it be … hope? Nah.

A plague o’ both your houses! “Disaster by Design in Houston?” by Ryan Holeywell (pp. 10) in the News section briefly covers the arguments (pro and con) about the role of private development in contributing to the recent spate of flooding in the Houston, Texas area. Unfortunately, the agenda-driven, black and white perspective of both sides of the issue (regulatory-driven planners vs. profit-earning developers) is the only clear thing that comes across in the article. Perhaps this is a topic requiring more room in Planning Magazine in order to more thoroughly review the issue? I came away only disgusted.

Celebrate bureaucracy, not results. “NPS, 100 Years and Counting” by Jake Blumgart (pp. 11) in the News section summarizes some of the activities celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) established in 1916. However, the first national park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Is the creation of a government bureaucracy really something to celebrate, I wonder? The answer is no, which is why half of this news brief is really about money, e.g. NPS doesn’t get enough money, NPS needs more money, how can NPS get more money, etc. It is a tiresome, old school type of Planning Magazine article.

Be afraid, be very afraid. In the News Briefs section (pp. 11), there’s this little tidbit of information. Home prices in seven U.S. cities climbed to record highs in April 2016 according to Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index (as if S&P can be believed about anything); only 9.6 percent below the peak a decade ago. Fortunately, none of the cities listed were in Nevada or Florida. Should you be comforted or frightened? Not sure. Plan for the worse, hope for the best, I guess.

Last stand of Communism in the world. “Welcome to Cuba” by Katie Halloran (pp. 12) discusses some of the issues surrounding historical preservation and the rapid return of overseas/American tourism to Havana, Cuba. It is an interesting update but mostly lacking in specifics. There seems little doubt this is due to the opaque nature of Cuba’s communist government, which seems to be following the Chinese model of ‘opening its economy’ from 20 years ago. We hope the Cubans do not make the same mistakes as the Chinese when it comes to rapid urbanization. The differing demographic scenarios indicate Cuba has an unique opportunity to do better, given the right leadership.

Come ride my yo-yo, please. It is disconcerting when the first line of an article is blatantly false such as in “Reading Between the Lines” by Stephen D. Villavaso, JD, FAICP of the Legal Lesson section (pp. 13), which begins, “Since the 1920s, courts have regularly given clear signals to professional planners on how to plan better and, maybe more easily.” The offending words of this opening sentence are ‘clear’ and ‘better.’ The post-war disaster of American suburban sprawl and downtown decline tells a different story. It is even more disconcerting when the next sentence completely contradicts the first one so both sentences are rendered meaningless. Yeah, the author is an attorney. Having said that, Mr. Vilavaso’s review of the constitutional issues discussed in the dissent to the Baton Rouge case is enlightening. This includes Euclidean zoning restrictions of building use based on the definition of “family.” This issue sits at the crux of the problem arising because of AirBnB, i.e. unfettered expansion of land tenure rights under suburbanization (which Euclidean zoning is manifestly based and promulgated) and the property rights of homeowners to use their property at they see fit when there is little or no evidence of negative impact to neighboring properties. The final three paragraphs of this article is only a historical fluff recap (e.g. Kelo, Dolan). Ignore the nonsense at the beginning and the fluff at the end but definitely read the “Beyond the final ruling” section in the middle.

When government doesn’t work. “Before It’s Too Late” by Brian Barth (pp. 14-20) is planning masturbation at its worse. There is a well-established response to dramatic climate change in human history, which is thousands upon thousands of years old: people move. What this article makes clear is the massive amount of time, money and effort being wasted on unnecessarily studying the ‘climate refugee’ problem to death:

  1. Let’s do a study to see who is vulnerable;
  2. Let’s do a study to see where they might move;
  3. Let’s do a study to assess the environmental impact of a relocation;
  4. Let’s do a study of the flaws in the initial study;
  5. Let’s do a study of project costs;
  6. Let’s do a study about cultural loss;
  7. Let’s do a study about so on and so on…

All humans are ‘climate refugees.’ Otherwise, we would all be living in Africa right now (and not so many of us). Here’s the real kicker: “…the inherent challenge of navigating the dozens of local, state and federal agencies implicated in establishing a new community from scratch have kept the pace of relocation efforts at a slow slog.” This is a cause célèbre about how government is the problem, not the solution™ (1980, Ronald Reagan). The people who live in these villages will eventually solve this problem themselves because they will have no choice. Government bureaucrats and planners will continue to squeeze as much cash as they can out of the process until the solution happens on its own. The accompanying article “The Resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles” by Craig Guillot (pp. 21) about a relocation in Louisiana due to soil erosion even admits most models of relocation planning ‘have not done very well.”

When government works. “Good Habitats Pay Off” by Madeline Bolin (pp. 22-27) is a stark contrast to the previous article. Bolin’s article actually discusses alternative tools to full implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) such as habitat mapping, Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP) and variations thereof. There is not a single mention about money. In fact, Bolin’s article effectively demonstrates how local, state and federal government can effectively work  together with the private sector to implement environmental protection measures. It is informative, interesting and useful. The insert “Federal Environment Laws and Land Use” by Ms. Bolin (pp. 26) is a brief, useful checklist of relevant legislation.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. “The ‘If’ Game” by Allen Best (pp. 28-35) is when I lost my patience with this special issue of Planning Magazine, began to stop diligently reading and went into browse mode. However, the real kicker is in the next article “Is Nuclear Clean Power?” by Susannah Nesmith (pp. 36-39). Here is a short summary: 1) nuclear power is bad for habitats; 2) a potential problem disrupting local habitat is identified with an intake pipe at a nuclear power plant; 3) a solution is identified (e.g. installing a grate); 4) it takes the Federal government 8 YEARS to approve the grate installation: 5) ergo the problem with nuclear power is it destroys habitats. Does anyone else not notice the Federal bureaucracy prevented the installation of a solution for years that, at worst, would take a few weeks to implement, therefore the problem is not nuclear power but the Federal government?!?!

Save yourselves! It’s too late for me! Sorry readers, my sanity couldn’t take any more of the drivel in this special issue about the Local Impacts of Federal Environment Policy in Planning Magazine.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Havana, Cuba | Photographic Essay | Part 2

Part 2 of a brief photographic essay of architecture and urban space in Havana, Cuba courtesy of Concrete Blonde. Again, the urban vocabulary of Havana is remarkably consistent: the street life of urban balconies, the use of balcony gardens in softening the urban streetscape, rooftop terraces, abundant use of urban sidewalk arcades, and the use of color.

IMG_8782Looking over a Havana neighborhood through an open window with the harbor in the distance.

IMG_8535Havana street life above and below, courtesy of a ground-level retail shop and second floor balconies.

IMG_8495A narrow shopping street in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_8004A lavishly-vegetated garden in the courtyard of a public building in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_7900Vegetation hanging from a second floor balcony soften the hard edges of the urban streetscape in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_7870Upper level balconies introduce additional street constitution and casual surveillance of the street in the urban environment of Havana, Cuba.

IMG_9136Balconies and sidewalk arcades defining the street vocabulary of Havana, Cuba.

IMG_9227A street space well-used by pedestrians in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_9231A narrow street width in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_8884Finally, a light well made of empty bottles at a local restaurant in Havana, Cuba; included here only because it’s so ingeniously cool.

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Havana, Cuba | Photographic Essay | Part 1

Havana, Cuba | Photographic Essay

Part 1 of a brief photographic essay of architecture and urban space in Havana, Cuba courtesy of Concrete Blonde. In terms of urbanism, the most interesting aspects of these photographs are: the street life of urban balconies, the use of balcony gardens in softening the urban streetscape, rooftop terraces, abundant use of urban sidewalk arcades, and the use of color. In terms of political ideology, it seems symbolic that many of the cars (most likely of origin in Eastern Europe) and best architecture (at least, in terms of design if not actual age) predates the Communist Revolution lead by Fidel Castro in 1959; make of that what you will. However, the result is an urban treasure trove awaiting re-discovery and historic rehabilitation.

IMG_8760View over a neighborhood in Havana, Cuba to the Caribbean Sea.

IMG_9143Havana streetscape showing sidewalk arcades and second-level balconies.

IMG_8765Rooftop terraces in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_7874Heavily-vegetated balconies in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_9168From this perspective, notice how the line of sight sneaks pass the corner of buildings to continue along the space of the street. Architects and planners ignore such nuances of the urban pattern at their peril.

IMG_8026Fantastic mural incorporated into the design of an otherwise mundane Modern building.

IMG_9071Contemporary pedestrian plaza, probably a conversion of an old tram/rail line running down the middle of the street. Though beautifully done, notice how empty the plaza appears during the middle of the day due to the generous street width, especially in comparison to the following photo of a heavily-populated street in Havana with a narrower street width.

IMG_8515Typical street scene in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_8575Church yard plaza in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_9218Urban balconies defining the facade of an early twentieth century (1930s?) building in Havana, Cuba.

IMG_8579Sidewalk arcades, balconies, and rooftop terraces on another street in Havana, Cuba.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Havana, Cuba Photographic Essay coming soon on The Outlaw Urbanist!

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Urban Patterns | Havana, Cuba

“Sent to spy on a Cuban talent show, First stop- Havana au go-go,
I used to make a living, man, Pickin’ the banana, Hooray for Havana!”
Havana Affair, The Ramones

Urban Patterns | Havana, Cuba
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Havana is the capital city, major port, and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants and it spans a total of 728 square kilometers (281 square miles), making it the largest city by area, most populous city, and third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region. Havana lies on the northern coast of Cuba, south of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Caribbean. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and divides into three main harbors: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and, due to its strategic location, served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of South America, becoming a stopping point for treasure-laden Spanish Galleons on the crossing between the New World and Old World. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls and forts were built to protect the old city. Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado, and the newer suburban districts. Old Havana, with its narrow streets and overhanging balconies, is the traditional center of Havana’s commerce, industry, and entertainment as well as being a residential area. To the north and west a newer section – centered on the uptown area known as Vedado – has become the rival of Old Havana for commercial activity and nightlife. Centro Habana, sometimes described as part of Vedado, is mainly a shopping district that lies between Vedado and Old Havana. Chinatown and the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagás, one of Cuba’s oldest cigar factories, is located in the area. A third Havana is that of the more affluent residential and industrial districts that spread out mostly to the west. Among these is Marianao, one of the newer parts of the city, dating mainly from the 1920s (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view of Havana, Cuba from 10 km (Source: Google Earth, 2013; Data SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO; TerraMetrics © 2013 and DigitalGlobe © 2013).

The urban pattern of Havana, Cuba can be best described as a patchwork of regular and regular-like grids that vary in scale in terms of the length and width of streets and block sizes. Most streets in Havana can be fairly described as straight. Their lengths tend to vary based on the local grid pattern and whether any particular street is carried through and embedded within another adjacent grid or terminates at the edges of its own grid. In this sense, the urban pattern of Havana appears remarkably similar to that of Athens, Greece, which is also composed of a patchwork of small-scale (mostly) regular grids. There appears to be the pattern of scale in the urban grid related to the age of a local area, forming a somewhat radial pattern from the harbor to the southerly and (more so) westerly direction. For example, Old Havana has the smallest scale regular-like grid in the city (smaller blocks, shorter streets) though the overall geometric order of the urban grid in this area is less consistent than in younger areas of the city. For example, contrast this with the increase in scale of the regular grid in the Vedado area to the west of Old Havana or the generous scale of block sizes, street lengths and widths in the highly geometrical grid of Marianao area along a different cardinal alignment in relation to the shoreline of the coast to the extreme west (partially visible at the left edge of the above satellite image).

(Updated: July 12, 2017)

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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Havana, Cuba | An Illustrative History

Havana, Cuba | An Illustrative History

An illustrative history of town plans for Havana, Cuba sent to The Outlaw Urbanist, courtesy of Concrete Blonde.

04041215Earliest drawing of town plan for Havana, Cuba from the 16th century.

040412141776 Plan of Havana, Cuba.

040412131798 Plan of Havana, Cuba.


040412121820 Plan of Havana, Cuba.


040412111841 Plan of Havana, Cuba.


040412101855 Plan of Havana, Cuba.

040412091899 Plan of Havana, Cuba.

040412081900 Plan of Havana, Cuba.

040412071955 illustration of phrased growth in Havana, Cuba from 1519 to dawn of the 20th century.

040412062002 Plan of Havana, Cuba.

All maps copyrighted © Ediciones GEO, 2002, Havana, Cuba.

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