On March 21, 2016, an American president set foot on the island of Cuba for the first time in 88 years. After decades of deep-rooted communism, Cuba may finally, albeit slowly, open up to capitalists interested in demonstrating the value of free enterprise.
Is Cuba ready for the change? All we can do is speculate, but one thing’s clear: Its current infrastructure isn’t equipped to handle the anticipated influx of travelers.
Cuba’s physical infrastructure is decades old, dating back to the 1950s when the Caribbean island was one of the most advanced countries in Latin America. But since then much of its infrastructure hasn’t been touched, and is in dire need of attention. Cuba’s roads, bridges, power, communications, sanitation and water supply — the very things we as engineers provide to society — need to be brought up to date.
With the door to Cuba opening, what questions need to be answered to tackle the nation’s crumbling infrastructure? If Cuba's infrastructure is to be rebuilt, what should it look like? How can we master plan a 21st century infrastructure for cities on an island that’s been frozen in time since the 1950s?
These are questions we can’t answer just yet, but Cuba is at an interesting crossroads, ripe with opportunity. The infrastructure solutions ultimately developed for Cuba could be applied globally to other struggling communities — like Puerto Rico, the new cities of Africa and the Middle East, or even new economic development zones around the United States — as they compete for artists, technologists and entrepreneurs that bring new life and vitality to those places long forgotten.
Our team is tackling this topic in a forthcoming report that will explore innovative approaches for new economic development. The intent is to provide a vision for rebuilding cities across the globe — from Havana to Detroit to Abuja, Nigeria. Stay tuned for the report.
And in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the transformation that’s happening in Cuba? And what do you think it means for infrastructure improvements around the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
With extensive experience in industry policy and advanced technologies applied throughout the United States, Mike Beehler is the Vice President of Burns & McDonnell’s Transmission & Distribution division.