Este artículo está también disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
Panama City hosts a world heritage jewel: its Historic District, which is a World Heritage Site since 1997. Despite it is the most visited tourist spot in the country, this district has been subject of serious degradation over the years. Today, on International World Heritage Day, we want to raise awareness about the importance of preserving and revitalizing our cities´ heritage, but also, to showcase how the IDB Group is working to restore one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in our region: the Historic Center of Panama.
The IDB Group’s commitment with Heritage
The revitalization process of the historic center of Panama is an important opportunity for the IDB Group’s work towards the country’s development. Through its units, IDB, BIDInvest, and BIDLab, the IDB Group is in a privileged position to support priority public and private initiatives and projects aimed to stimulate a revitalization process that leads to sustainable, inclusive, and resilient development.
The coordinated work of the IDB Group in the historic center is, without a doubt, a high-impact revitalization process. In addition, due to the concentration of projects in a delimited territory, the IDB Group’s work is highly visible, which contributes to strengthening the Bank’s role as a strategic partner in Panama´s development.
Programa Patrimonio Vivo: towards an inclusive urban revitalization
The current recovery process in Panama´s Old Town began more than a decade ago with a strong public investment aimed to renew the sewer system and the road network. However, the lack of a comprehensive intervention strategy generated an unbalanced urban renewal. This intervention fostered the physical recovery of the neighborhood properties at the cost of generating strong gentrification. The advancement of this process threatens to expand the neighboring townships: El Chorrillo and Santa Ana – which together with the Casco make up what is called the Historic Center. The gentrification process is putting at risk, not only the permanence of its low-income population, but also the loss of the cultural character and identity of the area.
In order to redirect this process, and together with national and local authorities, IDB started the implementation of Programa Patrimonio Vivo in Panama City in mid-2019. This IDB program aims to support Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) governments in their efforts to preserve and enhance their cultural and natural heritage while contributing to the sustainable, inclusive and resilient development of their cities.
The IDB Group, in collaboration with the Municipality of Panama City, the Ministries of Culture, Environment, Housing, and the Tourism Authority, representatives of the private sector, civil society, and members of communities residing in the 3 townships, recently presented the Comprehensive Revitalization Plan of the Historic District of Panama. This plan offers a shared vision for a productive, inclusive, resilient, eco-efficient and collaborative historic center.
Which projects are the IDB Group carrying out to revitalize Panama´s Historic District?
The IDB Group Revitalization Plan, strongly led by the IDB´s Department of Housing and Urban Development, identified 4 projects that will trigger economic and social development in the Historic District of Panama City:
1. Renovation of the Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Arauz – MARTA:
The IDB has begun a comprehensive restoration of MARTA, the most important museum of Panamanian culture, which has been closed to the public for more than 2 decades. The project includes remodeling the existing building, constructing a new building for the protection and restoration of the collection, and the urban improvement of the environment. The total cost of the project is US $ 14.7MM, of which US $ 11.2MM is a contribution from the IDB. Construction of the project began in September 2020 and its completion is scheduled for September 2022.
2. Comprehensive Urban Services for the Historic Center:
At the end of 2020, the Government asked the IDB to carry out a comprehensive improvement project for waste management, citizen security and mobility services. The project includes the installation of the first “clean” public transport route in the city with the use of electric buses and the construction of urban infrastructure for active mobility. Likewise, the construction of the necessary tourist infrastructure will be carried out to guarantee the visitor experience, including a visitor center and various information points. Although it is currently in the design phase, this project is expected to begin implementation in early 2022.
3. Sandbox Project:
Located in an emblematic building in Santa Ana, this innovative project, with funding from BIDLab, seeks to increase opportunities for productive inclusion of young people at social risk and vulnerable minorities in the Historic District. This will be done through a training and internship program that mixes the performing arts with technology. Likewise, it aims to create a SANDBOX to strengthen the capacity for innovation and interdisciplinary experimentation using technology among creative professionals, young people at social risk, professional artists and trainers. The program was approved in April 2020 and has a duration of 3 years.
4. Hotel La Compañia:
BIDInvest finances the Hotel La Compañía Project, which consists on the construction and operation of a hotel (Hyatt) with 88 rooms and five restaurants. This hotel is in the place where the Jesuit mission of La Compañía de Jesus was established in the 16th century. This hotel is expected to open its doors in March 2022. In addition to the economic impacts, the project will generate benefits for the historic center, by recovering a valuable historic property (at risk of loss) and its history. It will also bring employment opportunities for the population and local suppliers while detonating virtuous processes of urban revitalization in the area.
Heritage tourism: post-covid reactivation engine in the Historic District
The COVID-19 crisis has strongly hit the country and, especially, the tourism sector. Faced with this situation, the revitalization of this sector will be key to the economic recovery of the Historic District of Panama. Moreover, this is also an opportunity to improve the living conditions of the local population and foster on a more equitable revitalization process.
Through the Prgrama Patrimonio Vivo, and together with the Tourist Cabinet (agency attached to the Presidency of the Republic), we plan to carry out a series of projects aimed to revitalize the historic center. This plan includes: the comprehensive improvement of social housing, the creation and activation of a creative and cultural district, the development of an environmental protection corridor and the strengthening of governance and management instruments for the historic center
The process of developing the plan is stimulating the interaction and dialogue among interested groups, the government, and the IDB Group. Private sector companies with investments in tourism sector projects, initiatives linked to the orange economy, and the production of affordable housing, among others, have established contact with BIDInvest and BIDLab in search of financial support. Supporting these initiatives, the Bank is showing its committed to heritage as an asset for the development of the cities in LAC.
If you do not want to miss any blog, news or publication of the Housing and Urban Development Division, register here to receive our monthly newsletter.