Building The Concrete Jungle Of Yesterday
Why would you spend hundred of millions of dollars on building the city of yesterday? Good question. Yet, Panama City is currently contemplating doing just that. The government is pushing plans to build a 4 lane highway around its city’s historic colonial district. It’s a terrible idea. Panama is building the future “Hub of the Americas” for the 21st Century in the outdated concrete jungle style of the 1950’s.
Worldwide the urban planning movement is to make the city more livable. Pedestrian areas, walkable waterfronts, and preservation of its heritage and historical sites are cornerstones of today’s city environment. These urban amenities make the city a more productive and more attractive place to live.
Some US cities are spending billions of dollars in order to tear down their waterfront highways. For example, The Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle and San Francisco’s Embarcadero Highway were built in the 1950’s. This was at the height of the urban highway-building age.
Today, Seattle and San Francisco view these highways as eyesores. They’ve discovered more efficient ways to address their transportation needs. It’s widely agreed upon that waterfront is too valuable of a city amenity to be occupied by an ugly highway.
Panama’s neighbors, Costa Rica and Colombia, are limiting the access of cars and trucks to their cities. These pico y placa‘ (rush hour & license plate) discourage driving during peak hours. Costa Rica and Colombia have decided that building more urban highways is not the way to handle the transportation needs of a developing city.
European cities are taking the protect-urban-amenities philosophy one step further: They are promoting pedestrians while discouraging cars. In fact, many downtown and historic districts are exclusively for pedestrians. Cars are heavily taxed or prohibited from entering into the city. European cities are giving priority to pedestrians because they have learned that too many cars strangle the life of their cities.
The most compelling urban planning philosophy for Panama to follow is that of Singapore. Panama’s president has publicly stated he wants to emulate Singapore’s model as Asia’s central hub.
To maintain their status, Singapore is pursuing an aggressive 10 year “green road map”. They did not choose this course of action out of some new commitment to the environment. Instead, Singapore sees the green road map as the best way to stay globally competitive. They have recognized that to become even more competitive and productive they have to make their city more friendly to the people who live there. Singapore realizes that a city is not just a place to work. It has to be a place where people want to work, where they want to live, where the want to play, and where they want to raise their children.
Singapore sees itself as more than sweatshops on a citywide scale. In order to attract the world’s best companies and best workforce, it has recognized that you need to improve and enhance the quality of life for these individuals. This requires protecting and developing urban amenities to make the city a more attractive place to live.
Yet, Panama is not following Singapore’s enlightened urban planning philosophy. As we speak, the government is pursuing plans for a waterfront highway that would encircle its historic district, Casco Viejo (aka Relleno de la Cinta Costera 3 - Landfill). It would negatively affect one of Panama City’s most valuable urban amenities. It’s the complete opposite approach that Singapore would take.
To those who don’t know, Casco Viejo is one of Panama City’s true public treats. Its narrow cobblestone streets and historic architecture are a pleasure to walk around. Its peaceful waterfront offers terrific views of the Panama City skyline.
Panama should NOT be attempting to ruin one of it’s few urban attractions. Panama should be like Singapore (and other globally competitive cities) and try to protect and even develop more urban attractions for its people.
In fact, there is a better option to the landfill. El Visitante refers to it as the obvious solution. It expands existing roadways to handle the growth of Panama City. It increases the amount of waterfront pedestrian areas in low incomes areas. Most importantly, it would preserve Casco Viejo as a UNESCO World Hertiage site (not to mention it would save about $200 million dollars).
If this highway is built, it will one day be remembered as a tragedy. It would be a missed opportunity to save a valuable urban amenity that enhances life in Panama City. So, why not build the city right one time? Build it right the first time.
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