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Panama: The Urban Development Boom

During the last decade, Panama has experienced a boom in its urban development, which is evident by the skyscrapers, new infrastructure, real estate developments, and tourism projects scattered all over the city.

As part of this activity, there are also very prestigious projects, like the Biomuseo [es] (Bio Museum), designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. In this context, there has been a lot of hype. Bloggers are expressing their points of view regarding the the way development is progressing, as well as its impact on the environment and Panama's historical heritage.

View of Panama City from Cerro Ancón, by Osvaldo Urriola. Used with permission.

Back in 2008, Levana Melamed, from the blog Portal de Lev [es] wrote about the buildings in the historical center of Panama City known as Casco Viejo and what is rising at a fast pace:

Sería grandioso restaurar estas casas por las que han pasado personas y personas, y en las que han de haber vivido tristezas y momentos de felicidad, de preocupación, a lo mejor de soledad…

It would be wonderful to restore these houses where people upon people have passed through, and where they surely lived moments of sadness and happiness, worry, and even solitude…

She added:

Ver la parte antigua de nuestra gran ciudad es ver el corazón de la misma, la base de todo lo que es hoy día.

To look at the old part of our great city is to look at its heart, the foundation of everything that it is today.

The Casco Viejo was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997 by UNESCO. However this area is undergoing several renovation projects, given its attractiveness for real estate and tourism projects. Some of these projects have been the center of recent controversy.

Photo by Sacha Griffin and used with permission

The blog Avarana [es] wrote:

El PH Plaza Independencia y el antiguo Hotel Central son víctimas de promotores inmobiliarios irresponsables que han comprometido el valor arquitectónico de estas emblemáticas edificaciones, destruyendo sus elementos significativos (como la gran escalera del hotel y parte de su fachada) o agregando espacios no cónsonos con el entorno (más pisos, en el caso del PH); todo esto a ciencia y paciencia de autoridades que se “pasan la bola” y no terminan de sancionar como se debe a estos agresores del patrimonio.

The PH Independence Plaza and the former Hotel Central are the victims of irresponsible real estate developers that have compromised the architectural value of these landmark buildings, destroying their key elements (like its staircase and part of the facade) or by adding spaces that are not in tune with the surroundings (more levels, like in the case of PH Independence Plaza); all this under the eyes of the authorities, which play the game of “hot potato” while not appropriately placing fines on those aggressors of the heritage.

The matter is still under discussion, as shown by Darien Montañez from the blog Arquitecto Panameño [es], who reported on August 9, 2010 about the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's 34th session (Brasilia 2010) and their observations on Casco Viejo. The excerpts from the session mentioned two areas of concern: the plans to expand Panama City's new coastal beltline along the border of Casco Viejo and its border, as well as the overall status of the area, including the PH Independence Plaza and Hotel Central.

Another famous area in the city is along a street called Calle 50. Recently, Erasmo Prado Rosas, of the blog Retrato del Ser [es], wrote about how he misses the little urban forest that used to be located between the former Mansión Dante and Aliado Bank:

un pequeño pulmón natural que ayer destruyeron, hoy estamos necesitando y en el futuro nos hará mucha falta. Las autoridades hacen caso omiso de nuestras voces de protesta y solo responden a intereses personalísimos, políticos o económicos. Si no actuamos hoy, mañana será demasiado tarde… lamentablemente estos árboles no volverán a crecer, y los que quedan hay que protegerlos.

they destroyed a small natural lung yesterday, something that today we currently need and we will miss so much in the future. The authorities are not listening to our voices of protest and they only respond to very personal, political, and economic interests. If we don't act today, by tomorrow it will be too late… sadly these trees will not grow again, and the one that are left must be protected.

Outside Panama, there has been also interest on what is going on regarding urban development on the isthmus. Daniel Connolly, in his blog PanamArq, wrote about the comparisons between Panama and Dubai and he asked “Why does Panama City want to become a Dubai?” Wouldn't Panama rather be the Barcelona of the Americas or the London of the Americas?

He shared:

Why must Panama try to imitate Dubai by sacrificing itself to become a playground for the rich? A forest of self contained luxury towers whose residents travel from private tower to private tower in air-conditioned sedans, never stepping foot in a public space.

Readers shared their points of view and some of them agreed with the way that Panama is growing. One commenter wrote that she lived in Panama City for several years and:

es una ciudad hermosa a pesar del trafico. Siento que es un lugar donde vale la pena vivir.. un lugar que tiene casi todo. Panama, con sus edificios.. pienso que no trata de imitar a nadie simplemente es un pais con ganas de crecer… no hay problemas con quien quiera una vida mas callada lejos de la ciudad, como dije para todo hay… si no te gusta estar en la ciudad.. pues hay muchos lugares en Panama donde puedes vivir relajadamente, en un muy comodo ambiente.

It is a beautiful city despite the traffic. I feel that it's a place worth the effort to live there. A place with almost everything. Panama, with its buildings…I think that it is not trying to imitate anybody, it is just a country with desire to grow…there is no problem with those who want a more quiet life away from the city, as I said, there is something for everyone… if you don't like the city, well there are many places where you can live more relaxed, in a very comfortable environment.

Bloggers also highlight the fact that Panama city is a wonderful place to be and, regardless of all the challenges, it is everybody's responsibility to make it a great city.

Susana Marina in the blog Sin Mordaza [es] in a post about waste management, pointed out that:

Tenemos el privilegio de vivir a orillas del Pacífico, vivimos dentro del sofisticado contraste de las torres de Calle 50 con las (lastimosamente ya pocas) clásicas viviendas de Bella Vista, y tenemos un Casco Antiguo, Patrimonio de la Humanidad según UNESCO, con una arquitectura única con dejos franceses y sabor criollo y ahora tenemos una cinta costera que, por más en desacuerdo que haya estado yo con su construcción, no puedo dejar de decir que le da otro aire.

We are privileged to live along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, we live inside the sophisticated contrast of the Calle 50 towers with the (sadly, few remain) classic houses of Bella Vista, and we have a Casco Antiguo, declared World Heritage by UNESCO, with its unique architecture with a French touch and with a taste of Creole and now we have the coastal beltline that, even when I didn't agree with the construction, gives a new touch to the city.

She comments on how sometimes Panamanians look at photos of Panama and they cannot believe that it is their city:

No sé de dónde sacaron que no podemos tener una ciudad como la que tenemos y tampoco comprendo como teniéndola, no la cuidemos como se merece.

I don't know from where they get the idea that we cannot have a city like this and I cannot understand either, now that we have it, that we don't take care of it in the way that it deserves.

3 comments

  • Welcome to GV, Clotilde

  • Bernardo Sánchez Miranda

    Cuando se refieren a que Panamá puede o quiere ser la Dubai de la Américas, debo suponer que se dice en el sentido figurado, algo así como el centro de atracción o patrón de referencia para otros en la región (como lo es Dubai por allá) ya sea en turismo, arquitectura, banca, desarrollos viales, etc. No le veo sentido común a esos histerismos dignos de mejor causa de que vamos a destruir la ciudad para hacer otra. A muchos no les gusta el crecimiento desaforado de las urbanizaciones y suburbios de toda clase y todos sabemos cual es la medicina, pero nadie la quiere tomar; ni siquiera decir que la recetó. Critican la pera pero comen de ella.

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