Postcard from... Havana


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The Independent Online

The secret world of Havana’s rooftops is invisible from the street. But get high enough and there’s a whole other city in the air. This hidden village of makeshift apartments, chicken coops and tiny vegetable gardens is where boys in flip-flops fly home-made kites and shirtless men play dominoes in the sea breeze.

It’s beyond the reach of prying eyes, a place for romantic trysts or some much-needed solitude. “Cubans are nosey, man,” said Yordan Alonso, 25, father of three who lives four storeys above San Ignacio street. “Up here, nobody bothers you.” His tiny apartment looks out over the Old Havana skyline.

Havana’s population has surged to 2.1 million since Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution, but the housing supply has not kept pace. The government consistently falls short of construction goals, and the big, ugly apartment blocks built in the Soviet era couldn’t absorb all the growth.

The shortage of places to find much-needed privacy pushed the city upward to the rooftops.  The technical term for it is “parasitic architecture”. The government doesn’t encourage it, but in the oldest and most dilapidated neighbourhoods, long-time roof-dwelling families like Alonso’s were allowed to stay. The parasites became permanent.