From the pedestrian bridge between the Albrook Metro station and the national bus terminal, some salient natural and urban policy facts become noticeable. Here, in the treetops of Albrook, Clayton and the Metropolitan Nature Park, we see how some but not most of the trees in these forest fragments shed their leaves during the dry season.
The city’s sticks
photos by Eric Jackson
Panama’s capital city has a long and sometimes complicated history. How long? We’re just finding out. Spanish conqueror Pedrarias The Cruel gave it a name, but he set up the first European outpost on the Pacific Ocean on the site of an indigenous settlement that had been there perhaps a thousand years, maybe longer, and at the time of its conquest was locally known as a center for goldsmithing excellence.
That place got destroyed in one of the late reverberations of Europe’s Wars of the Reformation — Henry Morgan’s 1670-71 rampage — such that the new city center was moved to a more militarily tenable promontory that’s now the Casco Viejo. Eventually the city grew back from its new center to engulf the old, with roads, bridges, landfills, a railroad and a canal altering the cityscape.
The transforming set of events that set the city up for what it’s becoming today was the 1904 – 1999 existence of the Canal Zone, a US enclave that except for military bases that lingered for a couple of more decades, ceased its legal existence in 1979. Its formal incorporation into the capital district was the apple of many real estate developers, but at the time the ruling military strongman, General Omar Torrijos, was persuaded to leave most of the green areas off limits to the bulldozers and instead create a system of parks that’s the envy of many of the world’s capitals. Yes those battles still continue, but the crown jewel of it all, the commanding heights of Ancon Hill — visible looking the other way from the same footbridge from which these photos are taken — remains relatively natural in the face of proposals over the years to do foolish things like turn it into a theme park “just like Disney World.”
You can go to these parks and learn things about our tropical nature up close. You can also gaze from afar from the concrete, metal and glass “civilization” and learn some things about nature, history and urban planning.
Roads, parking lots, communication towers and city traffic — but further on, the green areas, and beyond that some of the skyscrapers. Your tastes, knowledge and economic interests might tell you which, in general, are the more valuable things.
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