During the colonial period and prior to 1959, the major urban centers of Havana, Matanzas, Cárdenas, and Santiago de Cuba displayed patterns of growth associated with emphasis on the agro-export economy. Towns and villages organized around production of sugar, coffee, and tobacco exports expanded with markets. Migration of seasonal workers and subsistence farmers exerted strong pressures on urban centers as the concentration of landownership proceeded. Since 1959, the revolutionary government has attempted to reduce this migration in keeping with its agenda of providing more social services to rural areas and small cities and towns, radically reforming land-tenure patterns, and diversifying the economy.
As before the Revolution, rural dwellings of the poor, particularly in the mountainous regions, are constructed from palm thatch, cane, and mud with dirt floors. These bohios traditionally dominated the countryside around sugarcane fields and areas where family subsistence plots persisted; they are only gradually being replaced with dweller-constructed, partially prefabricated cement multifamily housing. Cycles of increased construction have occurred from 1959 to 1963, in the mid-1970s, in 1980, and from 1988 to 1989 but have not kept pace with housing needs. In urban centers, housing combines single-family Spanish-style architecture, low-rise apartment units, single-story apartments joined in rows, and, in the oldest cities, some former single-family homes converted into multiple units. The Spanish patio arrangement is more predominant in the older dwellings. Construction of single-family housing has received less priority from the revolutionary government.