Although I was warned, I was still totally unprepared for the piercing jackhammer that awoke me at 7:00am outside my window after my first night in Panama City. Anyone who visits Panama City quickly realizes that this city is in a state of perpetual construction with high-rise apartment buildings sprouting at every corner.
In fact, according to a 2007 CBRE report, 80% of construction permits in Panama are issued in Panama City and there are over 100 high-rise condominium projects in the making. Panama has the fastest growing economy in all of the Americas and because of that fact, tax incentives attracting foreign investment are out the wazoo, and the city is developing faster than one can say, “where did all the green spaces go?”
Hispania (the name of our building), is located in the neighborhood, Bella Vista, which is pretty smack dab in the middle of Panama City. Despite the constant racket, nonstop honking, smog and obstructed views on every side of our apartment building, Hispania is truly an oasis of tranquility, conversation, relaxation and great food. In the 1930’s Hispania served as the residence of the President of Panama, which is also why there is still a beautiful little park right in front of the building. Now the interns of Kalu Yala occupy the fifth (top) floor while other tenants occupy the rest of the floors.
All around our small building, hotels and apartment complexes dominate the landscape. When one third of Panama’s population lives here and outside foreign investment is growing like a pineapple tree on steroids, it’s no wonder people are trying to build as much as possible in undeveloped areas of the city. The downside, of course, is that the infrastructure of Panama City cannot begin to keep up with this development. As a result, traffic jams and inhalation of smog become the norm, and natural landscapes are sacrificed (like the beach Panama City sits on).
This situation leaves me wondering about an apparent paradox; how does an entire city/country keep up with the demand for development without being so hasty that they destroy their environment and the basic social prestige that attracted people in the first place? Then I realized, that’s why I’m here! Kalu Yala pretty much stands for the happy balance between all of these problems under the umbrella of sustainable development. It’s development.. that’s sustainable! What a concept!
So as I ponder and reflect on this situation at hand, I simply remind myself how stoked I am to be in the oasis of chaos. Our hammocks, beautiful locally made furniture, Spanish-style tile floors and overall chill ambiance makes Hispania unique in a city of development, which is the nature of the gem for which Kalu Yala stands.