Monday, March 12, 2012

La Cinta Costera and the Danger of Convenience

“The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.”

It has become common nature to follow the path in which the least amount of effort is required, and it is this frame of reference that is how we got to where we are now.
It’s why electricity strikes the highest and most conductive thing during a thunderstorm, and why water erodes the weakest sediments to decide which path it carves in the earth, and most certainly why the world looks for the invention of the next iPhone before the next vaccine. Linguist George Kingsley Zipf investigates, dissects, and discusses an abundance of data and research in his book, Human Behaviour and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology, in which he theorizes on the distribution of word use and its actual distribution being the reflection of our intent to communicate with the least amount of effort. However controversial the study and research may be, Zipf does this much to establish the fact that human beings will always strive to invent or harness a way to make accomplishing tasks easier. Often the byproduct of such ease is usually sacrifice, in this case the sacrifice of cultural relics for modern convenience.

The republic of Panamá could be one of those victims of modern convenience. Panamá, a country rich in culture and historical significance, is in danger of having some of its history circumvented by one such an improvement.

Enter Cinta Costera III (Phase 3).

To understand this project, one needs to first understand a bit about Panama’s history. Unlike many ancient cities that rebuild and appropriate existing architecture, Panama City rebuilt itself two different times, each time in a location slightly to the north or south of the prior location, so what exists now is Panama Viejo - the ruins of the original city. Then Casco Antiguo (or viejo), the “second” iteration of Panama City, is clad in Spanish colonial architecture and emanates a vibrant cultural aura reminiscent of a 24 hour street fair. The third, and most modern section of Panama City is Panama Moderno, the Miami-esque center in the middle of both sections with an ever-developing city core that is experiencing rapid modernization. They’re expanding the world famous Panama Canal to fit even wider ships utilizing newer lock technology, re-modeling and expanding their airport, establishing a subway system and modern public transportation system that’s more reliable and safer than their old system (“red devils”- pimped out school buses that compete for fare), and attracting big name developers like Trump to their modern downtown area, akin to an aesthetic equal to Miami. All to make living, traveling, visiting, and exploring Panama City’s riches much easier.

The Cinta Costera project is in its 3rd phase, which is to extend the coastline with infill and create new green areas, beaches, commercial areas, and a highway to provide a quicker and easier route to connect to the bridge of the Americas as well as develop the waterfront with the new Biodiversity Museum by Frank Gehry, a new marina, and a new fish market. Ironic instrumentals aside, the video below gives you a good idea of what the third phase of the project would look like.

I guess they really aren't the "perfect person."

Circumventing Casco Antiguo with a highway as opposed to restoring some of the streets to make the public travel through it would eventually choke off the region’s views, provide unwanted noise and exhaust pollution, and would essentially quarantine the area and surround it with new development and highways.

While it could indeed make it easier to travel, the Panamánian government should not be ignoring an important part of the cultural fabric of the city of Panama with a highway. Rather, it should fortify the streets to withstand the traffic, therefore giving the tourists a brief visual tour of Panama’s past as they leave and enter the city, and not impede the scenic value of the environment surrounding Casco Antiguo.

To help preserve the history and character of the area, the residents have been fighting back, petitioning UNESCO, to mediate the design process and force the government towards the preservation of Casco Antiguo and Panama Viejo. Panamanians want to make sure that no harm is done to the infrastructure of Casco Antiguo and that it does not get removed from the list of World Heritage sites.

Many famous Panamanian citizens and social media outlets have been raising awareness, not only to UNESCO, but to other citizens that may be unaware of the possible danger to Casco Antiguo, even creating some MEMES in the process.

The irony of the situation is that the president of Panama lives in Casco Antiguo, so one would think he’d be able to see the damage he would be doing to the area should the project get fulfilled in its current form.

I should mention that the third phase of the project offers three different means of completing this highway: One is a tunnel to the other side, the second is a causeway that would not infill the land, and the third is the proposal that I’ve showcased here, that will infill the water around Casco Antiguo. The tunnel option has been deemed too expensive, the causeway would preserve the sea connection to Casco Antiguo but diminish the quality of the shoreline in Panama Moderno, and the infill option would do the worst, quarantining Casco Antiguo and surrounding it by greenspace and a highway. The government is leaning now towards this third option despite public outcries. With all of the discussion and recourse from the community at large, President Martinelli’s administration should consider alternative routes that take into account ideas and solutions from the other plans out there, thus integrating Casco Antiguo and not undermining its cultural significance to the history of Panama and falling victim to the path of least resistance.

In English, Cinta Costera means "Coastal Strip" and if constructed as planned, Phase 3 would ironically be doing just that: stripping cultural significance away from an important center of Panamanian heritage.

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