Have you ever driven down Avenida Balboa, or walked the beautiful tree-lined Cinta Costera, looked at the Panama Bay and wondered: what would a beach look like here in the city? If you have, it’s probably for good reasons. Once upon a time, for most of Panama City’s modern existence in fact, the curved banks of the Panama Bay was home to a vibrant, swimmable beachfront. For a large part of the 20th century, locals and visitors bathed, played, and took in sun along the Panama Bay, stretching from Paitilla all the way to the Casco peninsula.
As development grew during the latter third of the century, this just wasn’t logistically feasible to match the infrastructure growth and traffic, so the beach was removed. At the time, this was a decision that followed a larger trend of making urban cores more vehicle-friendly. It worked, and much like other cities, Panama expanded with density. These days, however, there’s a new “wave” of enthusiasm to bring the beach back. Will it be feasible? It’s possible!
The argument FOR and AGAINST the return of a swimmable beach on the Panama Bay
Nostalgia aside (which, to be honest, is actually still a big factor), there are legitimate arguments in favor of bringing a beachfront back to Panama City’s urban core, specifically in the area around Avenida Balboa. The primary argument is two-fold: quality of life, and tourism. Many waterfront cities (Barcelona, Miami, Los Angeles, etc.) have incredibly successful public beaches right in or near their urban core. This attracts businesses, hotels, and residential properties to invest there. It also attracts a lot of tourism, which is something that Panama is desperate for recently.
The arguments against the return of a swimmable beach in Panama City are a bit more complex. Due to the infrastructure of the “downtown” of Panama City, the parts of the bay around where the proposed beach site are some of the most car-congested in the country. Putting a public beach right in the heart of this would most certainly create both traffic issues and access issues. This is a major hot-button issue in Panama, where commuting times are some of the highest in the world, and traffic congestion is costly.
Another big argument against the beach is the cleanliness of the water, and the general safety concern of having a public beach in such a dense urban core. Panama is addressing the water cleanliness, but the timetable of when the bay will be clean enough to be able to promote swimming is questionable.
Before anything happens, the city (and country) need a solid feasibility study
Like any other major project of this scale and civic importance, before any actual action is taken to begin this project, there must be extensive studies done to test feasibility, and cost. Here’s a breakdown on the environmental feasibility study, via The Panama News:
“An environmental impact study (EIA, for the Panama Bay beaches recovery project) which is intended to dramatically change the sea frontage of Bella Vista and Calidonia and boost city tourism by 2022 will be handled by the Louis Berger Lac S. company
The Mayor’s Office of Panama, chaired by José Luis Fábrega, on November 14th awarded a contract for the best value tender of $120,376. The reference price was $133,750
The other company that presented, Corporación de Desarrollo Ambiental, SA (Codesa), had offered $132,758.27.”