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Principal Concepts of the General Plan:
(Much of the following discussion of delsign concepts is from "Las Arboledas Sketchbook, Design for a New Community in Cuba")

16. Las Arboledas General Plan. 

Pedestrian Community.

Las Arboledas is designed to be a pedestrian community which is connected to the larger urban area by bus and auto.  The pedestrian community provides an intimate social environment where children, for example, can walk to school, to the store, or to visit friends without crossing busy streets.  Homes are sheltered from noise with only quiet pedestrian paths passing in front of them.  Apartments are grouped into neighborhood clusters of about 50  apartments with public community space in front including meeting spaces, small plazas, walkways, and green areas.  The community is connected internally by pedestrian paths (green color) and with other parts of the city by bus or car.  No through streets cross and disrupt the community. A ring road (tan color) circles it providing easy vehicular access to and from other parts of the city. A series of finger roads (tan color) provide vehicular access to the interior of the community, while protecting it from fast traffic.

17. Shaded pedestrian boulevard in Havana.

The result is that it is easy to go from place to place within the community on foot and easy to get from the community to another part of the city by bus (or car), but it is not possible to use the community as a thoroughfare. The community is a destination or a starting point, but never a passageway. 

These patterns integrate both social and energy concerns. For example, the intimate community that is created by a pedestrian circulation system also has a major impact on energy use. In California, where we have designed our towns around the car, transportation in the 90s consumed 47% of the state's energy. When we started Las Arboledas, 86% of the trips people made in Havana were by bus, while 6% were by car. Yet Havana's cars consumed the same amount of fuel annually as the buses. In other words, the buses provide 14 times as much transportation service as the cars with the same amount of fuel. 

18.  Typical full bus in Havana.  The man in the doorway isn't getting on.  He is on.
19. U.S. traffic jam.
By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post

Although 94% of trips are by means other than cars, many Cuban planners were basing their designs on the car.  It made sense from their perspective.  Cuba was developing rapidly.   With the U.S. as a prime example, cars would seem to be a symbol of development and the future.

On the other hand, American planners, living in a society dominated by the car, have become increasingly concerned with its drawbacks:

  • air pollution
  • noise

  • unavailability to the young and elderly

  • safety

  • waste of land

  • high energy consumption

  • social disruption & isolation

20. Most Cubans don't have a car.

For people with few cars, as in Cuba, the drawbacks of cars are not obvious. The idea of a pedestrian community seemed backward (they already walked).  However, after lengthy deliberations, which included both technical analyses, a sociological study and discussions with the people who would live in Las Arboledas, the government decided to make it a pedestrian community as a demonstration project.

A pivotal point in this discussion occurred when auto advocates noted that by adding only a few hundred feet of road, the finger roads could be connected and made in to through streets.  This would clearly be easier for cars.  Since we knew who the occupants of Las Arboledas would be, we were able to interview them about this.  We asked them what they preferred.  The through streets would make it easier for cars to get around.  On the other hand, there would be more and faster traffic, it would be noisier, less safe for kids and less intimate.  People were quite clear that they preferred a more intimate neighborhood protected from cars. 


22. Cuba bought 200,000 bikes after the collapse of the Soviet Union cut its oil supply in half.

As already noted, building a non-car oriented future was controversial when we started.  When we talked about bicycles, the attitude was that this might be OK for people in the countryside but not for sophisticated Habaneros.  However, shortly after construction started on Las Arboledas the Soviet Union began to come apart.  80% of Cuba's foreign trade was disrupted and its supply of oil was cut in half.  Previous assumptions that Cuba could plan for growing use of oil were clearly not viable.  Fast adjustments were necessary.  In 1991 the Cuban government traded sugar for 200,000 bicycles from China starting a major change in orientation toward transport.  Within a year Havana became a strongly bicycle oriented city.

23.  2 centers connected by pedestrian boulevard.

Lively Town Centers

There are two centers planned for Las Arboledas, one for each 10,000 people.  The furthest residence is within 1300 feet of a center, easy walking distance.

24. Town center. The centers consist of a central plaza surrounded by the community services: market, pharmacy, cafeteria, meeting rooms, social area, etc.  In a typical Cuban community these services are normally very minimal. We are proposing ways to increase the intensity of activity at low cost, in particular by including outdoor and semi-outdoor activities. For this purpose we have incorporated a farmer's market and an open air cinema into the community center.  The two community centers are linked by a pedestrian boulevard along which are placed the schools, playgrounds, and certain other lower intensity public uses as well as some housing.  The centers are close to a bus stop and the major street to central Havana.  In this way, most people will pass through or close to the central plaza on their way to and from other parts of the city, on their way home from work, returning from shopping in the city center, etc.
local environment
25. Natural Landscape of Las Arboledas.

Preservation of the Local Environment

The site is quite beautiful with numerous large trees, mango orchards, and rolling hills. One of our objectives is the preservation of this landscape and its integration with the new community.  As we discovered and will explain later, this had an impact well beyond the trees themselves affecting the quality of design and work throughout the project.
However, in discussing the value of the natural landscape, we often think in aesthetic terms and these concerns can seem small in the face of the bulldozer. Builders often prefer to clear all the trees and level the ground, especially when heavy equipment is used, arguing that it is cheaper. Since we feel that destruction of the natural environment is in fact a gross economic error, we pointed out some of the more concrete benefits of preserving it.  One example is the impact on the microclimate.

microclimate 27. Temperature of blacktop during course of the day.


microclimate 29. Temperature of grass surface during course of the day.


Microclimate: Landscaping for Energy Savings

In Cuba's tropical climate, buildings can become very hot and uncomfortable.  Most Cubans do not have air conditioning but as their incomes rise they will want it if buildings are uncomfortable.  This will increase energy use and the environmental problems that go with it.  In addition, air conditioning then competes for energy resources with more basic economic development such as industry and agriculture.  One of our objectives has been to design buildings that are naturally cool and thereby eliminate this potential energy drain.

The landscape can play an important role in cooling buildings and in creating a more comfortable microclimate. Part of this effect is illustrated rather clearly in a series of tests done by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in the southern U.S. (NBS Report 10373, February 1, 1971) These tests measured the surface temperatures of a blacktop surface and a grass covered surface during the 24 hours of the day. On a summer afternoon, when the air temperature had risen to 90 degrees, the surface of the blacktop had risen to over 130 degrees. In addition it stored this heat and so remained hotter than the surrounding air even during the night. In contrast, a grass covered surface nearby barely reached 90 degrees at its hottest and during most of the day and night was more than 12 degrees cooler than the surrounding air.

microclimate 30.  Ttemperatures of grass & blacktop surfaces over the year.
Figure 30 shows the average monthly temperatures throughout the year for the blacktop surface, the grass surface, and the surrounding air. The blacktop is consistently hotter than the air, while the grass is consistently cooler. During the summer the grass was more than 10 degrees cooler than the blacktop. In fact it is well known that cities, with these asphalt "solar collectors", are hotter than the surrounding rural areas.
local environment 31.
Shaded Streets

Trees and plants are important in creating and maintaining a thermally comfortable environment. These particular tests suggest that we should minimize paved surfaces. But we cannot eliminate them entirely, so what can we do? One answer is to shade the streets with large trees. But these trees cost money to plant and maintain. In addition they can easily take 20 years or more to reach the required size. 

32.  Trees on site.
Our site already has many large trees with a great value, all we have to do is preserve them. This then is one of many motives for taking care of the existing natural setting.

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