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Heritage Preservation, Tourism, and Inclusive Development in Panama City’s Casco Antiguo

Ariel N. Espino, October 1, 2008

Many historic centers in Latin America have been the focus of government and private initiatives seeking to rehabilitate the building stock and position the areas to serve the tourism industry. In most cases these efforts have led to the displacement of lowincome residents or of residential activities altogether, due to gentrification and commercialization of the district (Scarpaci 2005). More recently, the rehabilitation of these historic cores has been framed as part of broader debates and efforts that pursue the recovery of the city centers (historical or otherwise) because of their key role as collective symbols or spaces of social interaction, or because of their potential efficiency as dense, well-serviced urban districts (Pérez, Pujol, and Polèse 2003; Rojas 2004).

This article seeks to advance this discussion based on the experience in Panama City’s historic center, “Casco Antiguo.” It describes some recent, innovative policies that have explored the intersections of tourism, affordable housing, employment, and culture in a historical context, and draws some general insights and lessons.