Arq. Hildegard Vásquez
The human scale, which allows for citizen interaction, has become almost a myth of the past. The ground floors of buildings are now defined by the amount of parking spaces we have to create in order to respond to the demand of very high buildings where hundreds of people will work or live. These same buildings occupy the totality of a plot of land generated in the past by a small and provincial city such as ours used to be. This total occupation leads to the loss of even the pedestrian entrance of a building surrounded by green spaces and sidewalks uninterrupted by parking ramps.
The ones responsible for so many urban offenses in Latin America are not only the architects, but also the urban planners and politicians who accommodate urban development to political decisions instead of urban design ones. I want to take the example of the Coastal Beltway — Stage 1 to illustrate this point.
This major coastal avenue, designed and built by presidential decision and very controversial in its beginnings, today has become the solution for many people’s daily recreation. Unfortunately, Panama City has very few public spaces for recreation, and this has become the example to follow in urban development matters.
Pedestrians have few feasible entrances and exits to a space surrounded by a double fast lane. If the plan is to enter halfway, they must cross Balboa Avenue and locate the three pedestrian bridges that serve to interconnect one traffic islet to the other side to be able to get there — an exhausting feat. Another option is to enter through the start or the end of the avenue and walk along the pedestrian sidewalk from one end to the other, all the time assaulted by the nauseating smell of garbage emanating from the seafood market. Finally, the only other way to enter is to arrive by car, which is what I believe this road was built for.
Once inside, I confirm that the planning was made from an airplane and not considering how human beings perceive and live in a space. The wall that protects us from the sea, as pleasant as it was with Balboa Avenue, had to be painted light blue in order for it to disappear a little and not make the view too heavy. No one took even five minutes to design the concrete benches, as the ones used were those common to all public parks. At several locations along the space various booths were placed but with no apparent purpose. They already show signs of not being used: broken roof tiles, non-existent bathrooms, and dirty paint. The fact is that we have wasted a large amount of public funds in buildings that have absolutely no urban purpose whatsoever. If the plans had included the use of these spaces to sell refreshing beverages, a small monthly income could have been generated for maintenance costs, and at the same time entrepreneurship capabilities would have been developed.
The space for children’s recreation arose as a caged area that was conceived long afterwards, and of course during the holidays it is completely crowded by children desperate to have an area to play in this hostile city. It does not cost that much to create various spaces for children to play along the beltway, and thus begin to create a humane city of exchange and connection.
This famous road has only two years left of maintenance paid for by the authorities, and once this contract expires nobody will foresee submitting it to a new bid that does not costs us so much money, since we will be in an electoral year and that will be left for the one whose turn comes next.
I am not an urban planner but I am concerned about the quality of the city we are building, and I think we should take more into consideration the idea that we must not put up with what politicians give us but with what we deserve.