Fidel Castro and the rebeldes met with a fair amount of early success in their drive to improve the quality of life in urban areas of Cuba — especially in Havana.
Rural-urban imbalances diminished a great deal during the decade of the 1960s, although the demographic growth of Greater Havana continued until 1963.
Improvement occurred mainly because of the political-administrative reorganization of Cuba and the creation of new state enterprises. There was also an initial emphasis on improving the city’s existing educational facilities, a policy which attracted numerous students from the interior.
Gradually, the demographic growth of Havana was stabilized, particularly after the implementation of the Urban Reform Law.
In 1963-1964, the first socialist master plan for the city of Havana was created as an attempt to address the problems of the city in a centralized manner. The master plan created six regions which were to be treated as a metropolitan entity. Previously, the six municipalities had worked independently, each with its own mayor and separate municipal agencies.
The master plan took effect when Havana had 1.5 million inhabitants, and one of its main objectives was to strive for a decrease in the city’s rate of population growth.
In an effort to slow migration from the countryside, strategies were devised to redistribute maritime and port activities as well as noxious industries to points elsewhere in Cuba. Development of infrastructure was planned to support these economic activities. This decentralization slowed the rate of Havana’s annual population growth which had previously included the annual arrival of 17,000 in-migrants from the interior of the country as well as a natural increase of 23,000. However, improvement was not uniform.
A reduction in population density in the overcrowded areas of Central Havana was not achieved. The reallocation of resources for infrastructure outside of Havana meant that the area had no new housing construction. Also, physical deterioration accelerated due to the lack of routine maintenance, especially that of streets and buildings which required periodic repair and painting.
Areas left vacant by emigrants such as Country Club, Miramar, Kohly, and Nuevo Vedado provided a situation of privilege for the new residents. These districts were soon identified as ‘frozen zones’. This meant that they were to serve as housing for high-level government officials, dignitaries, foreign experts, and diplomats. Nevertheless, the character of the neighborhoods, known for their high levels of physical segregation was beginning to break down.
Some housing was assigned to those with low income and many of the larger structures were carved up into schools and dormitories.
As students poured in from the countryside, their relatives soon followed, setting up residence in the boarding houses which were established in some of the abandoned housing. Over the decades, the area was impacted by the economic problems which plagued the city as a whole. Isolation and deterioration were the end result, affecting Miramar particularly.
As the decade closed, a humbled Castro determined to shift the revolution in a more conservative direction.
Soviet advisors flocked to Havana, and Soviet economic models became the norm.
The age of Fidelian voluntarism was over . . . at least for the moment.
In 1972, Cuba joined COMECON and, in 1975, Cuba began implementing the Soviet-directed “System for Economic Management and Planning.”
Havana’s fate would now be dependent on the imperatives of Soviet central planning.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.