On a street comer in Panama City's historic San Felipe neighborhood (and World Heritage Site) in December 2007, a vendor was selling tamales and bollos (traditional corn meal wraps). Few foods could be more typically Panamanian than these that were being sold in Panama City's oldest neighborhood. The vendor cries "bollospatrimonio de la humanidad" or "bollos--"patrimony of humanity." This vendor represents the dichotomy evident in San Felipe today. For the past 50 years, San Felipe has been a "popular" neighborhood with a majority low income residents, active street life, and cultural and social diversity. Moreover, the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Government and Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made San Felipe one important node of political activity of the Nation. A two-decade-long movement to protect the architectural heritage of the neighborhood culminated in 1997 with designation of San Felipe as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, as specified by the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Historic preservation legislation, the UNESCO declaration, and new legislation promoting restoration through economical and fiscal incentives has jumpstarted a dramatic process of restoration. The result has been increasing restoration activity with much more on the horizon. At the same time, the majority of the former residents (both renters and squatters) have been displaced by wealthier new owners. 2 Today, the price per square meter of restored residences in the historic district is among the highest in Panama City.3 The danger is that the historic neighborhood of San Felipe in the near future may contain many newly restored buildings occupied by high income (and foreign) residents. Many of these new residents will only spend a fraction of the year in Panama. Chic boutique restaurants will continue to multiply, and the deli will replace the Chinese-owned comer grocery. As a result, the typical Panamanian street life and culture may become increasingly absent, and social diversity may become a distant memory.
"Tamales & Bollos--Patrimonio De La Humanidad/World Heritage: Challenges Faced by Restoration Efforts in Panama City's San Felipe Historic District,"
Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy: Vol. 4
, Article 9.
Available at: http://trace.tennessee.edu/tjlp/vol4/iss2/9