These are the introductory words of Porta Norte’s architecture charrette report by the Master Planners — Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) in 2015.
Panama City has experienced unprecedented economic and urban growth in recent years. The urban edges, in particular, have been seeing new development, including shopping centers, malls, office parks, apartment complexes, and single-family developments. Many of these, including those infill sites closer to the historic center, are auto-dependent interventions. By design, they isolate themselves from their surroundings and minimally contribute to the public realm.
The northern region of Panama City is not yet overbuilt. It affords Porte Norte the opportunity and the challenge to create a model of sustainable growth. The following few principles outline how the region should relate to its natural resources, pedestrian-oriented development, and sustainability in the long run.
The region should consist of multiple urban nodes with identifiable centers and edges. They should be compact, connected, mixed-use, walkable, and diverse.
Development patterns should not blur the edges of the metropolis. Infill development should be encouraged. New, non-contiguous development should be organized as towns and villages with their urban edges and planned to balance jobs and housing, not as dormitory suburbs.
New development should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries. They should incorporate a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities.
A framework of transportation alternatives should support the physical organization of the region. Transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and other viable systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region, promoting choice while reducing dependence upon the automobile.
Human habitats should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. They are the main structural elements of cities and towns.
Many daily living activities should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, mostly the young and elderly. We should design interconnected networks of streets to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.
We should embed a range of civic spaces, buildings in neighborhoods, and green areas (parks, playgrounds, village greens, sports fields, and community gardens). We should define conservation areas to connect to different neighborhoods, districts, and nature.
Blocks, Streets, and Buildings
A primary task of all architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use, with buildings seamlessly linked to their surroundings. Streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and enjoyable to the pedestrian.
Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, natural traces of the land, history, and building practice.
Civic buildings can be distinctive because their role is different from that of other buildings forming the city’s fabric.
All buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of location, weather, and time using natural heating and cooling methods.
Porta Norte will offer a departure from Panama’s current development trends as a sustainable new settlement based on traditional planning principles. Well-connected to the region and respecting the natural and human-made local context, the new town will create new choices for compact, walkable, human-scale environments.
We envision Porta Norte neighborhoods integrating high-quality housing, associated retail and civic facilities, and employment development. Based on the Transect’s urban-to-rural methodology, the final master plan incorporates a range of human habitats, from the most urban and compact choices to larger homes and rural greenways along the rivers’ edges. Each neighborhood will undergo further detailing in such a large site during the next design and construction phases.
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