HAVANA TIMES — On March 8, Havana’s Parque del Cristo (“Christ Park”) – whose name, apparently, is owed to the church that bounds with it, located between Bernaza and Villegas streets, Old Havana – was finally liberated.
I say “liberated” because, after 2 or 3 years of being fenced in due to construction work, the metal sheets that prevented pedestrians from crossing the area have been removed.
Cutting across the park always shortens your journey by a few meters, affording you a bit of respite. The park also affords children a place to play, the elderly a place to meet and a space that is more or less pleasant when compared to the habitual hectic pace of the four streets that meet in this section of town.
The park had been kept behind fences till recently, and this situation had become more natural than familiar for us. In addition to missing the park, many of us hated the constant clouds of dust lifted there and the heavy traffic of cars, bicycle taxis, pedestrians, carts and street vendors, which cut across a narrow strip of dirt road and a pot-hole-ridden street corner, where one was liable to stumble and hurt oneself.
When it was closed up, the park was no longer the enjoyable place it was in less precarious and hasty times, as its green areas were marked by the footprints of those who went back and forth in their work, who had created new dirt paths to shorten distances. This was coupled with evident neglect (which affects the neighborhood in general), made worse by the bad habits of the locals.
Now, the park has been redesigned and pedestrian crossings have been widened, to the detriment of green areas, partially covered up by tiles used to cover much of the area. There are more benches available and some of the older trees have been maintained, while others have been taken down (or so they tell me) and yet others newly planted. Apparently, the latter haven’t yet grown accustomed to their new environment.
In addition to the new wooden benches, they have set up concrete seats and tables with chessboards, a contribution from the Barrio Habana project. They also built a chessboard on the ground using tiles.
When I walked past the place, the young members of the La Casa del Arbol project were there, interacting with park-goers, playing a guitar and drums, which they let children beat as well.
The members of the Barrio Habana community project were also there to promote the game of chess with the giant board. In this connection, one of the members, Pavel Garcia, told me they played an important part in restoring the park, next to local authorities, and that they have the intention of restoring other parts of the neighborhood to make them more accessible to the community, change their reality and bring people together, aims they also pursue by organizing community projects for children and the elderly.
The locals say that, since the closing of the park, several construction work teams or brigades had gone to the area to try and complete the work, and that the last to arrive was the one that, in six months’ time, had finished the work (which was complete three months ago and is about to be inaugurated).
They say they still need to install more street lamps and that, despite the fact they brought a water tanker truck to clean up the park, the dust and dirt in their homes has not yet been removed, as there is still cement and debris out on the street. They also tell me many of them have to keep their windows and doors closed, as they also do not have enough water to clean their homes as often as this requires.
They add that, in the past three days, the park has been full during the day, night and early morning. Apparently, people are celebrating its reopening.
The park is also a means of access to the Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje Church, home to the Jorge Arturo Vilaboy Viñas Secondary School, so there’s always many people gathered there, particularly teenagers, during different times of day.
The monument to Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes, renowned poet murdered by the Spanish throne in 1844 because of his ideas of independence and his involvement in the Ladder Conspiracy, today impeccable, is also located there.
Now, we will have to wait and see whether the quality of the work completed, through the care of the park and the reeducation of locals, can be maintained, and that this does not become the step forward prior to the two steps back, not after the neighborhood has waited so long to see the park reopened.
Note: When I left the place, people were already removing the metal bars that can be seen in the photos.
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