Four urban planners share their favorite cities.

On a Sunday, you may be walking along the Costa do Sol while new hotels are being built using Chinese capital. Meanwhile, Maputo’s emerging middle class is eating seafood by Maputo Bay. You suddenly find yourself in an area of makeshift huts where flooding is a common problem.

Maputo also showed me how the built environment interferes with people’s daily lives. This was something I saw myself in when I walked around Chamanculo, a historically rich but under-serviced area near the city center. Chamanculo revolves around a handful of large, open avenues. Small traders, who sell mostly food, drinks kit,chenware, and other items, as well as businesses like internet cafes and hairdressers, are occasionally interrupted by a four-wheel drive car with tinted glass.

A considerable amount can reduce the distances between houses if you use the small passages that connect these avenues. Each time I visit Chamanculo, I look at the map and tell myself that I will be able to navigate the neighborhood this time. Once I get there, I’m lost. This is an experience I’ve never had anywhere else.

Above view of the Labyrinthine Chamanculo. Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia Commons.CC BY-SA

I’ve been lost in Chamanculo many times. I’ve done it alone and with others. The experience is always the same. I feel like the streets fold around me, and the place looks completely different when I return the way I came. I am both scared and curious about the way that the city is reinventing itself around me. Residents are demanding public lighting in these areas to increase security. You have to wonder what people, especially women, feel as they must navigate this labyrinth to get to the collective toilet at night.

Maputo taught me that cities are places of possibility. In Maputo, for example, I gave up my obsession with electrification. When I asked people how they felt about electricity and fuels, I realized that they had found other ways to get the services they needed – regardless of whether they had reliable access to electricity.

I do not minimize the injustices that nearly one billion people living in informal settlements experience on a daily basis because they lack access to basic services. Maputo, however, invites you to think about different ways that urban life could be reimagined around the world. This is comforting to me in a world where we are heading towards a resource crisis.

Havana, Cuba

James Warren, Open University

In Havana, all is old. So old, in fact, that the city celebrates its 500th anniversary in November 2019. The fact that so many buildings are not maintained to the standard they deserve makes their age seem even older. The city is still making efforts to protect and preserve what’s historic while implementing new practices, such as allocating income from tourism for local housing or protecting architecturally and culturally significant sites.

Street life. Franx’/FlickrCC BY-NC

Masterplans aim to mix land uses wherever possible. This means that housing, offices, and institutions are often found in one building. The result is a dynamic and walkable space where you can find everything that you need. This avoids creating spaces that are only designed for certain groups, such as tourists or residents.

As an urban planner, it amazes me that Havana was able to accomplish so much with such limited resources. This was inevitable because there is such a large pool of high-quality workers. An old Cuban joke says that the majority of Cubans are builders because they all have to work on their properties.

Havana, like other major capitals, is made up of many smaller “villages” or cities within a larger city. The streetscapes of each municipality are unique. The streets are alive with people who are always out there: chatting, singing, and selling.

Visitors are welcome in the city. You can wander down the Malecon to the greenery of Vedado and beyond. The historic Habana La Vieja is a tourist attraction, but still offers a lot of local life to residents.

The Malecon at dusk. szeke/FlickrCC BY-SA

is sometimes called “Habana profunda”, or “deep Havana”. Locals still live and work in this area, but many have connections with the city center through their jobs and education. The barrios may not have many tourist attractions, but they are beautiful.

Havana, unlike other cities in the world, is shrinking. Its population has been fairly static due to migration abroad and low birth rates for quite some time. It is a cause for concern that the ageing population of Cuba is not being replaced. Havana is still the starting point for many young Cubans who are moving elsewhere or coming from different parts of the island to live in Havana. More people seem to be leaving than staying.

Havana is a welcoming city for visitors despite its poor roads, stretched waste removal system, and erratic water and energy supplies. It seems to be determined to improve the quality of life in Havana. I believe Havana’s resilience is due to its “habaneros”, or locals, who are always prepared for the next storm even while they are still picking up the pieces following Irma . Habaneros are prepared for all situations with excellent risk reduction and mobilisation systems.

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