Founded in 1794, San Antonio de los Baños, is a city of 40, 000 inhabitants, over half an hour by car from y Havana, whose center has an appealing character and building stock that make it special. The main street is linear with buildings aligned along sidewalks and goes through several squares terminating in the Church plaza. The river, 9 kilometers long, bisects the town as it winds through it, bridges cross the river and there are buildings along its steep banks. The name of the river means “river of the palms” in aboriginal language. The river has a walking path along a portion of it with sitting areas, a restaurant, an amphitheater, and a cafeteria -all in rather dilapidated condition- that is promising for its future development. The river, however, is badly in need of a clean up and algae covers large part of its surface (although local children swim in it), making difficult to sail and practice other nautical activities. There is a hotel nearby and both motor boats and row boats are rented by the guests to enjoy the scenery and bird watching in the forest- the most important one in Havana because of its biodiversity and age (wood from it was taken to Spain to build the famous Escorial near Madrid). There are many native species of ferns and orchids. The town is the home of the International Film School, an accredited school that has turned out several prominent filmmakers and is the destination for interested persons and filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Costa Gavras, Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford among many others because of its growing prestige. The city has a grid pattern with a Central square that is the only one of its type in Cuba because its four corners contain buildings and the streets are located at its axis which makes it a very intimate urban space.
The Master Plan is aimed at the preservation of the existing values and at creating new economic and urban opportunities and it’s based in 4 key principles that will lead to the revitalization of the town with new jobs for the citizens and above all to preserve its identity and enhance its quality of life:
- The Preservation of the Ariguanabo River and its forest
- The Rehabilitation of the Historic Center
- The building of a new community (Arcadia) north of the town
- The conversion of an existing airport into a new international airport (the local airport, built in the 1940s, has got the best runways of all)