How to promote inclusive spaces along Panama City's waterfront

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Recreación de vista aérea del barrio Boca la Caja con nuevo muelle y parque propuestos. Recreación de vista aérea del barrio Boca la Caja con nuevo muelle y parque propuestos.

Like many Latin American cities, Panama City grew with its back to the sea and its rivers. Countless buildings have taken over the public waterfront space, limiting public access to the coast and increasing the vulnerability of communities to rising sea levels.

Furthermore, many of the city’s rivers and watersheds were filled in, had their courses changed, or remain hidden behind buildings and houses that block the view from the street. As direct consequences, citizens no longer feel ownership of the waterfront and rivers, there is an overall scarcity of green areas and public spaces, and disaster risks have increased.

The coastal beltway (Cinta Costera) partially addressed these issues transforming part of the waterfront into a large green space for citizens, catalyzing private investment. The initiative had many social benefits, however, there are still large segments and communities with limited access to the waterfront.

A comprehensive approach to an inclusive, resilient waterfront requires not only making improvements to the existing public infrastructure, but also addressing the lack of public access along many sectors of the coast, integrating marine ecosystems into its design.

Given this context, what could be done to promote waterfront access for everyone?

That was the question posed by the Mayor’s Office within the framework of the city's Action Plan and the System of Open Spaces strategy. To answer it, it had the support from the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). Together, they developed a comprehensive urban resilience program that seeks to restore the citizen’s relationship with the sea through the recovery of waterfront spaces.

A waterfront accessible to everyone

The Panama at the Forefront Plan presents a vision for the future and a series of guidelines and proposals to promote a resilient, inclusive waterfront in the city . The Plan is based upon a detailed analysis of the area and a broad consultation process with citizens and key stakeholders. The proposed actions are based on five principles:

  1. Urban development
  2. Sustainable mobility and accessibility
  3. Promotion of public spaces
  4. Environmental protection and disaster risk reduction
  5. Social inclusion

There are nine areas of action that include proposals for:

  • Street-level actions to improve connectivity with the coast and between waterfront communities.
  • Neighborhood improvement projects to generate new uses of public space, which may include everything from cultural, productive and sports activities, to affordable housing.

Nature-based solutions to restore, conserve and integrate the mangrove ecosystem into the city as a means for reducing flood risk.

Proposed Active Mobility Coastal Corridor from Punta Pacífica to Boca la Caja
Recreation of the proposed Active Mobility Coastal Corridor from Punta Pacífica to Boca la Caja. Image: World Bank


One of the actions is associated with the creation of a public space in the neighborhood of Boca la Caja, a sea-front neighborhood of informal origin, known for its fishermen community. The new areas would comprise a new park and a multipurpose dock, with an artisanal fishing market to support the local economy. 

Proposed Boca la Caja dock, with public spaces and amenities
Recreation of the proposed Boca la Caja dock, with public spaces and amenities. Image: World Bank

In addition, proposals from the San Francisco land use plan are recovered, such as the Parque de los Colegios (Schools Park), which seeks to generate a sports and cultural complex accompanied by new social housing developments in the vicinity of the San Sebastián neighborhood, as well as the restoration of the Matasnillo River to generate a green corridor in the city .

Another urban proposal is a large public park on the current site of the Yacht & Fishing Club, a private concession on public waterfront land, including a Botanical Garden and a water sports complex, as well as a street-level pedestrian connection to Urracá Park, an iconic city park.

Finally, the proposal for an urban mangrove park in Juan Díaz and Tocumen, in the vicinity of the Bahía de Panamá RAMSAR site, also stands out, with trails, docks, visitor center, bird watching center and recreation areas.

Without a doubt, Panama City faces many challenges; nonetheless, we are confident that the vision of a renovated promenade, with strategic projects all along the waterfront, represents an opportunity to unlock the potential for urban transformation throughout the city, promoting equity and putting citizens at the forefront.

Download the report here.



Haris Sanahuja

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Alessandra Treuherz

Urban Development Specialist

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