Talk to Al Jazeera: In the Field

Does the diplomatic thaw mean the end of old Havana?

Cuban urban architect Miguel Coyula discusses the potential cultural impact of likely foreign investment in the capital.

Cuba has been shielded by urban development for more than 50 years, largely as a result of a trade embargo imposed by the US.

Most of the capital Havana was built in the first half of the 20th century, and the city’s unspoiled, historic urban character – often described as being frozen in time – is not only beloved by the Cuban people but also closely interlinked with the nation’s identity.

When you talk to people, ... and you ask them, Why are you visiting Havana? The common answer is, I want to see it now. ... I want to see the real Havana. ... So they share the fear that Havana could be gone and all this magic could be gone.

by Miguel Coyula, urban architect

But now, Cuba finds itself in uncharted territory.

Al Jazeera’s Nick Clark travels to Havana as the country prepares to normalise relations with the US, encountering a mix of optimism, nervousness and concern about what the impact will be.

He speaks to Miguel Coyula, an urban architect, who is consumed by the question of whether his Havana will survive. Can it handle the potential onslaught of tourists and investments that are lining up? And should everyone who wants to come to Cuba be allowed to?

Coyula discusses the crossroads that Cuba finds itself at – will the country’s rich culture, which includes a tradition of ballet and opera, and its urban identity become something unrecognisable, or will it be preserved through improvement?

He talks about how the embargo acted as an unexpected filter for the kind of tourists who visited over the last five decades and takes us through the streets of Havana to point out how small investments have already started changing the face of the city.