The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cuba at the crossroads

I read in the newspaper a few days ago (4th Nov 2011) that Raul Castro has allowed Cubans to buy and sell property. It perked my attention and on reading a bit further, I thought.... wow.... what a wasted opportunity.
It is being hailed, specially in the neighbouring US, as a lifting of state control on the economy, but somehow I cant stop thinking of the fantastic opportunity that Raul had to create history. This does not mean that I am in anyway sympathising with a fascist regime, or, that I not empathising with the beleaguered Cuban economy that is going through the motions. I am simply bringing a third world perspective.... let us not replicate the mistakes of the so called developed world. Such tales of sorrow resonate all across this country of ours.
Quite obviously, this reaction of mine is a displaced point of view, not knowing the true ground realities, but it begs some scenarios of what if....!
Cuba has some wonderful examples of a strong sustainable and flourishing organic agriculture, and to boot they have a resilient community that is still rich and celebrates the unique culture that is uniquely Cuban. In its communist foundations, Cuba stands for an equitable society. All ingredients for creating a sustainable planning model. So has Raul lost this very opportunity to create such a model?

Let us see some of the areas that could have been explored:
  1. Property price variation based on weightage given to select criteria (as given in the consequent points). Indices of growth/appreciation would also be according to these factors. Difference in taxation also according to these criteria.
  2. Property price control based on work-home commute corridors and distance of property from major/ potential mass rapid transit system hubs. The further away one stays from these corridors it would be fair to assume that stress on urban infrastructure to cater to these residents would higher. Therefore, the closer one is to work-home commute corridors, the greater the value of the property. The further you live from these commute corridors, the higher the taxation. 
  3. Property control based on access to urban infrastructure like water, waste treatment, power etc. 
  4. Valuation of asset on property and not property itself..... therefore gain from merely sitting on land will be discouraged. 
  5. Tax sops to properties that do the following. The more independent they are, they more sops they get.:
    • Those who grow their own food, 
    • Those who provide for their own power
    • Those who provide for their own water
    • Those who manage their own waste
    • Those who build sustainably

Of course, this applies to all states and not just Cuba, but I felt that their history gave an advantage to institute such measures.
There could be more to this list.....My reason to explore such alternatives is to see if that would lead to a more sustainable urban model. One that does not see urbanity spiral into a monster that chews into the countryside, one that does not create riches merely due to a speculative land market and so on. Also, such a wishlist need not find translation onto the ground in one Haussmann-ish move, but could be baby steps towards this.
Those like Raul sit on the crossroads of history, and like Frost suggested, could enter its chapters by taking the road less travelled.

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