This past December I had the opportunity to visit Panama City for a symposium hosted by the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA). As a Global Program Assistant at Jane’s Walk, I jumped at the chance to explore one of Jane’s Walk’s Latin American cities and to interview Panama City’s City Organizer Pablo Ruesga.
My outsider perspective of Panama City was that it was a city of extremes and opposites. The city is booming with growth, and yet there are still areas that are deteriorating and impoverished. There are enchanting culture and historical hubs such as Casco Viejo, and also very modern and globalized neighourhoods. It is a very urbanized city, yet is surrounded by tropical rainforest that is world renowned for its bird biodiversity.
The most noteworthy theme from my own observations, and from speaking with Pablo Ruesga, was walkability. There are parts of the city that are very walkable, yet other parts that are not accessible, where sidewalks and other walkable elements are left to deteriorate, or are non-existent. In addition, it's a challenge to get folks out and about for walks when the climate in Panama remains hot all year round and residential areas and the downtown are moving further apart. Nonetheless, Pablo Ruesga organizes one or two Jane’s Walks per month, with very positive responses.
A key take-away from this interview was when Pablo noted, “If a new idea or piece of awareness is taken home by someone new each time—it is already a success.” I cannot agree more, especially in the context of Jane’s Walk’s global festival, which continues to grow each year and reach more and more people.
Exploring unfamiliar cities is a valuable experience, which can make you more receptive to urban issues and characteristics at home and elsewhere. Jane’s Walk is a great way to discover your own city, but also a tool to learn about others!