Controversy over a New Look for the Havana Malecon
HAVANA, Sept. 13th Under the concept of implementing a “modern, sustainable solution in keeping with the national situation and the area’s corrosive sea environment,”
colonial-style streetlights will disappear from Havana’s traditional Malecon, and be replaced with LED lights, which have already been installed in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.
In late August, experts from the City Historian’s Office announced that public lighting works will be carried out on this stretch from Marina Street to Prado, changing the cast iron streetlights that were put up in the early 2000s.
“Maintenance was carried out every year, but they were in very bad shape because of time passing by and the effects of a highly corrosive environment, with constant sea spray. They needed to be replaced completely,” Maria Isabel Martinez Oliver, Chief of Investments at the Malecon y Extramuros Group belonging to the Historian’s Office, told the national press.
This, as well as it is impossible to buy and import materials to repair or replace it with its original aesthetic, led to the decision of replacing them with streetlights that can already be found on the rest of the Malecon, which are more modern and out of touch with the area’s colonial style.
According to the experts, this is a sustainable lighting solution with more weather-resistant materials. The total replacement of the old streetlights is due to end in November this year.
“They’re changing our city”
Civil outcry soon came after the news was printed. Comments are split between those who applaud this stretch of the city with better lighting, while others criticize the revamp of the traditional Malecon. Most people lament the loss of patrimonial value in this part of Havana’s historic center.
According to Cuban architect Universo Garcia, it will detract a lot from the capital’s aesthetic. “Conservation and maintenance works of heritage is considered very expensive, a lot more with the restrictions we face; but if they adopt this vision of replacing things “with something more durable and modern,” what will be left of our valuable past?” he posted on his Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Internet user Pedro Vazquez asked why the streetlights weren’t replaced with copies made from today’s anti-corrosive materials and techniques. “It’s like there’s no other option but to substitute the traditional image of a Malecon that [the late City Historian] Eusebio Leal fought so hard to defend. It’s such a shame that they are changing our city!” he lamented.
Another Internet user, Eva, also commented on an article on the official website Cubadebate. She said it’s a shame that they didn’t take the structural damage into account from the very beginning, before putting up the traditional iron streetlights.
“Once again, we must really think about projects, the pros, and cons, to prevent the unnecessary expenditure of resources and manpower. When I walk through Old Havana, I think about Leal a lot. We need to preserve his legacy, no matter what the cost,” she wrote in her complaint.
In the same forum, people like Anaeli recognized that it will be an efficient and sustainable lighting system, but it isn’t in keeping with the intention and values of this stretch in Havana. She also mentioned Leal, the former City Historian. “He would have surely found another solution to make it different. Nothing was impossible for him, no door was closed,” she weighed in.
In addition to different opinions, proposals were also posted suggesting a call for business owners, projects, and institutions to put in bids where they combine sustainable lighting with designs inspired by the colonial style.
Some people applauded the revamp of this part of the Malecon, as the new streetlights will give much more visibility and light, in a city that has many dark spaces.
There were even recommendations for solar-powered lighting systems, especially given the electricity crisis in Cuba today and the Cuban Government’s stated intention to gradually change the way power is produced.