transport | urbanism | adventures | pontification
Casco Antiguo (The Old Compound) is the center of the second of Panama City’s three iterations. After the first site (Panama Viejo) was attacked by pirates, Spanish officials moved the city to the fortified peninsula. It flourished there, and the churches, plazas, and old streetcar tracks testify to the area’s former prosperity. As the city expanded north and east, Casco Antiguo eventually fell into disrepair. The neighboring area of El Chorrillo was especially hard-hit in the 1989 US Invasion, and the resulting blight spread.
In the last few years, Panama’s government has been encouraging investment in Casco Antiguo. The resulting gentrification is interesting – fancily restored boutique guesthouses next to the rubble of colonial buildings, gelaterias in front of crowded tenement dwellings. The history and historical preservation of Casco Antiguo was the subject of a number of conversations in Alianza Pro Ciudad. One member told me about how a greedy developer working on a project in Casco Antiguo’s main plaza tried to add an additional story to a historic building, only to have one of the walls collapse onto the street below. An architect described his careful preservation work with a rare stone roof and how they contrasted with a neighbor’s gaudy restoration efforts. His words seemed to sum up many of the developers’ superficial care for the neighborhood’s character and current residents: “They manipulate the term restoration for exploitation.”
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