Can “Tactical Urbanism” Save Little Havana?


Architectural conservator Rosa Lowinger of RLA Conservation of Art + Architecture speaks to winner of the 2017 CINTAS Prize in Architecture & Design, Anthony García, a principal of Street Plans Collaborative, an architectural practice that specializes in transportation and open space planning, with offices in Brooklyn and Miami. With his Street Plans Collaborative partner Mike Lydon, García was also awarded the 2017 Seaside Prize for leadership in contemporary urban development and education. They are the co-authors of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015). Here are excerpts of this Cuban Art News article:

Tell us about your CINTAS project. What prompted you to focus on Little Havana?

Both of my parents were born in Cuba. I grew up in the suburbs of West Kendall, but Little Havana has always held a special place in my life. My grandmother lived there for the first 16 years of my life. Her house was a 1950s suburban house that was made to look like a Craftsman-style bungalow, complete with a faux stone wall pattern, and a porch. Her next-door neighbor was an older Anglo gentleman who lived in a classic wood-frame Florida “cracker”-style house. There were a lot of those around the neighborhood growing up.

At the time I didn’t get the irony of the design of her house, or what it meant in the context of the gradual destruction of the historic fabric of the neighborhood. When my grandmother passed away, I was 16. We moved into her little house in Little Havana, and my love affair with Little Havana only intensified.

It was only later when I came back from college that I really connected the dots between what I loved about Little Havana and these quirky little houses. The character of the historic buildings was such a big part of my mental image of the neighborhood, but it was only when I returned to find that they were being demolished at an accelerating rate did I truly appreciate what they meant.

Since then, I’ve studied and advocated for ways to preserve much of what makes the neighborhood unique, from an architectural perspective, while also allowing it to continue to evolve. There is this tension between the perceived need to redevelop the neighborhood—which in the mind of many means erasing what is old—and acknowledging that what is being erased is a large part of what holds value for this neighborhood.

That’s where my CINTAS project comes in. I know that there is a balance to the ongoing evolution of the neighborhood, and the preservation of the architectural heritage that contributes to its character. My project seeks to tell the story of the bungalow, from its humble origins as a primitive building type to its role as the first American home for a generation of Cuban immigrants, and beyond.

At the same time, Little Havana is so close to downtown Miami that there is tremendous development pressure to increase density here. The Miami Bungalow Project seeks to identify ways that the spirit and character of the bungalows can be preserved in their scale and relationship to the public realm, while accommodating the pressures of increased development demand.

Tell us what’s special about bungalows.

What makes the bungalow building type so special is that it respects the street in a way that contemporary buildings don’t. Their use of a porch was similar to a variety of Cuban building types. In a small way this made the transition to American life that much easier for many. Still today, you can find a handful of older Cuban folks who sit on their porches and have their cafecitos and watch the world pass by. The new buildings completely lack this social quality, and that is something we are trying to capture in our CINTAS project. [. . .]

[Image above: Vintage postcard of a Miami Beach bungalow, similar to the ones in Little Havana.]

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