09/14/13 - Washington Post - Havana plans facelift for its seedy harbor as industrial hub shifts westward
By Associated Press
Havanas harbor has long been an unsightly jumble of piers left to crumble
into piles of rusty, twisted rebar. Its dominant feature is a refinery
smokestack across the bay that belches smoke and flame 24 hours a day.
But lately demolition crews and towering cranes have been working
double-time to finally tear down the ruined docks. Gentrification is
already evident in the lovingly restored bayside plazas of Old Havana, and
now comes an ambitious plan to turn the polluted waterfront into a gleaming
promenade with restaurants, cafes and public parks.
It has all been made possible because of a new port under construction
west of the Cuban capital that promises to knock Havana from its perch as
Cubas No. 1 shipping hub. Where some might bemoan the economic loss, city
authorities instead see an opportunity to transform this seedy industrial
zone and revitalize the depressed, densely packed Spanish colonial core.
The bay is symbolic. It is what gave birth to the city and it is part of
what we are today, said Orlando Inclan, an architect with the Havana City
Historians Office, which is overseeing the project. Now its time to
Inclan envisions in the space of just a few years pelicans, gulls and
sailboats replacing tankers, freighters and mothballed navy vessels as the
main inhabitants of the harbor of Havana.
He sees children playing and couples taking romantic sunset strolls
alongside the mirror-flat water, as tourists sip craft ales at a cavernous
brewery thats set to become the first jewel of the new waterfront.
Workers milled about on a recent afternoon putting finishing touches on
the woodwork of the former tobacco warehouse in anticipation of the
brewerys opening in a month or so.
Artists renderings depict a rescued ferry terminal, a modern, floating
wooden boardwalk and open-air plazas that will connect the already
existing cruise ship terminal and a huge arts and crafts market hall that
opened several years ago.
The project not only covers the abandoned docks, about half of which have
already been razed, but also stretches kilometers (miles) south to
shipyards that will be decommissioned, cleaned up and repurposed.
Its a chance to reverse the deterioration of the entire southern part
(of the bay), where public space, infrastructure and environmental values
are lacking, Inclan said.
Havana Harbors industrial days have been numbered since 2009. Back then
authorities determined that the purse-shaped bay, with a narrow, shallow
entrance made even shallower by an automobile tunnel that traverses the
mouth, could not be expanded.
With Brazilian help, work began on a new $900 million port at Mariel,
about 45 kilometers (30 miles) west of Havana. The city is best known for
the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, when more than 100,000 Cubans fled the island
by sea in the space of just six months.
Designed to accommodate bigger, deeper-drafting vessels that will begin
passing through an expanded Panama Canal in 2015, the Mariel port is set
to open to traffic around the end of the year.
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