The protection of existing public spaces and the need to create more of these in cities like Panama will be one of the emerging challenges due to the consequences of climate change.
The Andrés Bello park is, outside of the Old Town, one of the most emblematic and well-known of the city of Panama. Built as part of the El Cangrejo urbanization in 1948, it serves as the center of activity for this neighborhood, next to Avenida Argentina, a commercial artery on which this park has one of its two main entrances.
In 2008, the owners and developers of farms adjacent to the park filed a lawsuit in the Third Administrative Court against Resolution 350-2007 of October 8, 2007, “which establishes special regulations for farms adjacent to the Andrés Bello park in the El Cangrejo neighborhood in the Bella Vista district and province of Panama ”, issued by the Ministry of Housing (MIVI).
This resolution, in accordance with the ruling issued by the Third Chamber, had been promoted by “a group of residents of the El Cangrejo neighborhood, who requested the development of a regulation that would regulate the relationship between the built space and the Andrés Bello Park, in order to their protection ”.
The proposal would have been discussed by the Ministry of Housing, the Communal Board of the Bella Vista district, the Directorate of Municipal Works and Constructions, residents of the El Cangrejo neighborhood, owners, investors and promoters of projects in the area, through the Directorate of Urban Development. This discussion was part of the citizen participation process carried out for the approval of the aforementioned norm, and is supported by the argumentation of this ruling.
The Resolution that is the subject of the lawsuit established, among other things: a) a wooded protection easement from the subsequent removal of five meters for the lots that adjoined the Andrés Bello park; b) each owner or group of owners would be responsible for the maintenance and pruning of the vegetation within the wooded easement; c) each owner or group of owners could place urban furniture such as: benches, lanterns, etc., within the wooded easement; d) and finally the height of the buildings that adjoin the park was restricted to limits between 27, 36 and 42 meters in height.
The arguments against the instrument and the decision of the Court
The investors and owners of the lots in the vicinity of the park, affected by the height limitation established by the MIVI resolution, requested in the lawsuit filed against this resolution, “that the construction of the proposed real estate projects should be allowed up to the height that permitted by the standard (RM2) under which it was originally granted ”.
The Third Chamber of the Contentious – Administrative in its argumentation, “discards the claim of the plaintiffs that due to the fact that the farms in reference were assigned the zoning code RM2, it implies that this cannot be subject to any modification , since the assignment of the zoning code does not exactly mean that you have the guarantee for the construction. In other words, by allowing current regulations to an authority to change zoning, it discards the fact that, once a zoning code has been established, it cannot change ”.
The Court also indicates in this ruling that, “in our opinion it cannot be ignored that it is the responsibility of the State to ensure the protection and integrity of public spaces, as established in Article 27 of Law 6 of 2006 on Territorial Planning ”.
For its part, the testimony given by the Hydraulic and Hydrotechnical Research Center of the Technological University of Panama, as part of this ruling, indicated that, “the construction of tall buildings in the lots that adjoin the Andrés Bello park would decrease the value recreation and the quality of the urban landscape resource that it offers, this being a negative, direct and known effect ”.
In this way, this ruling provides both legal and urban aspects regarding the need to protect the park from buildings of a certain height.
Assessment of the current situation
The surroundings of the Andrés Bello park have undergone notable changes during the 21st century. In the most immediate proximity, three high-rise buildings have been built, The PH Kubit (22 floors), the PH Park City (21 floors) and the Mediterráneo Loft (30 floors), all in the period between 2006 and 2009, thus which this environment went from being a mainly single-family housing area to one of high densities.
The next transformation of this park would take place between 2016 and 2019, with the Urban Renewal project of the Argentine road. Although this project improved the quality of the space as a sports and children’s recreation site and the drainage problem that this park suffered was improved, it is also true that the permeable space was reduced and the opportunity to implement innovative solutions was wasted. in terms of materials that allow the rainwater absorption function to be preserved to a greater extent that a space such as the Andrés Bello park must fulfill within the urban fabric.
The protection of existing public spaces and the need to create more of these in cities like Panama will be one of the emerging challenges due to the consequences of climate change. The report recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC, for its acronym in English), indicates that urban environments will be affected by situations such as, a) higher temperatures in urban areas, as a result of the effect of emission of heat in paved places; b) greater problems of flooding in urban spaces due to rains with greater precipitation in less time, which will require the creation of spaces for retention and management of water.
The analysis of the Supreme Court rulings, arising from the community’s questions regarding the future of the El Cangrejo neighborhood, synthesize the need to develop strategies that comprehensively address the problems of urban design, access to housing, access to public space and the challenges of climate change. Even the incorporation of new business models and new technologies related to transport and services will have a path full of obstacles if our decisions about the city continue to see public space and its protection as an enemy.