Juergensmeyer in Cuba for a Preservation Lesson

In January, Georgia State University College of Law Ben F. Johnson Chair and Professor of Law Julian Juergensmeyer spent a week learning about the technical and theoretical aspects of property law and policy in Cuba with Tulane University Law School’s intersession program.

With his expertise of land use planning law, property law, comparative land use and environmental law, Juergensmeyer taught socialist law and was involved in several property law studies and projects in Poland after the government converted to capitalism, including a multiyear project to save the Rospuda River Valley wetlands. During his first visit to Havana, and he was interested in seeing how the recent economic reforms under President Raúl Castro were affecting the Cuban capital.

The group was able to avoid the U.S. sanctions barring travel to Cuba through Tulane’s license to conduct educational visits from the U.S. Department of State.

“I thought all the buildings were falling apart, but was surprised to see that the government has restored many important historic buildings in the old city,” says Juergensmeyer, who served as an adjunct professor. “Private preservation also is taking place. They are making progress, but there are other sections paint a sad picture of crumbling treasures.

“Historic preservation is going to be a big challenge for the government in the future,” Juergensmeyer says. “It will be interesting to learn how they plan to restore, renovate and preserve historic buildings.”

Although many streets, squares and buildings are crumbling in Havana, there is evidence of positive reform, he says. Eusebio Leal, Havana’s official historian, is directing the effort to preserve the UNESCO world heritage site.

The state is repairing and remodeling some of the city’s most historic landmarks, including the dome of the Capitolio, ancient churches, such as St Francis of Assisi and the fine arts with some of the continent’s best collections of English and Scottish paintings.

During the visit, Juergensmeyer heard presentations from architects, lawyers, sociologists and historical perservists.

“We engaged in many legal change discussions,” Juergensmeyer says. “While we were there, the government opened the market allowing Cuban citizens to buy and sell automobiles and apartments. Banks now are able to give small loans. This is an exciting time in Cuba. I think things are beginning to change rapidly with the development of new laws and focus on restoration. I was glad to be able to observe it all.”

Juergensmeyer sensed a lot of optimism while in Havana—a certain excitement in the air. Yet, he understands they have a long way to go and there is confusion and concern about what will happen next. Citizens want a higher standard of living, better food an end to widespread slum housing and improvements in the infinitely small official wages and salaries.

Juergensmeyer plans to incorporate his Cuban research into his growth management course. He also hopes the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth can offer a study program in Cuba, similar to those the center offers in Barcelona and Istanbul.

“I had such an interesting experience in Havana. It would be great to organize a program centered on historic preservation issues in 2016,” Juergensmeyer says.

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