The Creeping City


It’s amazing how fast the clocks seem to tick.  It was only 31 years ago when we decided to tie the knot and move to our new home in Residencial El Bosque.  To be exact, that was on July 12, 1980.  Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge.  My jet black hair has been replaced with snow white hair, I have more than one wrinkle on my face, and my body doesn’t move as swiftly as it used to.  Yep, there has been many changes since 1980.

Residencial El Bosque is a neighborhood of approximately 400 houses sheltered by rolling hills in the Special District of San Miguelito in Panama City, Panama.  It’s mainly a residential area for lower-middle class and middle-middle class dwellers.  El Bosque, means “The forest”, however it’s not a real forest at all.  Most of the trees have been victims of the creeping city as urban growth expands outwards.

In order to get to Residencial El Bosque, you have to drive through Via Ricardo J. Alfaro Highway, commonly known as Tumba Muerto (Place of the Dead).  When this highway was being built in the seventies, it was so far away from downtown Panama, that people were killed in the city and dropped near this  highway, thus the name Tumba Muerto.  There were very few buildings and no residential areas back then.

As the calendar added new pages to its collection, the city started to creep towards Tumba Muerto.  Now it’s practically part of the city with all its baggage; meaning bumper-to-bumper traffic, large malls, city noise, shrieking buses, police car sirens, neon lights, and other typical urban characteristics.  We are currently inserted inside the urban belly of the beast.

In 2011 we got our first two towers right at the entrance of El Bosque.  Obviously, we lost the magnificent view to the city, since El Bosque consists of only one-story homes.  The apartments of the towers are selling for $80,000 and $114,000 apiece.   The new towers will add value to our homes.  I think they call it goodwill appreciation.

Another indication of how the city is spreading out, is the presence of three Caterpillar tractors working on a large building site which used to be covered with tall green grass.  This organic wall protected Residencial El Bosque from the traffic noise of Tumba Muerto.  For 31 years it was untouched and served as a mitigating wall for urban growth.  Even though we were situated within a city, we still enjoyed a certain taste of the countryside.  Chirping birds, tall green grass, quietness, slow traffic—all this was part of El Bosque for more than three decades.  With the new construction projects, we have lost our innocence.  We have been gobbled up by the jungle of concrete and steel.

Before they start building, I decided to capture the area to remind me of how it was before the city bumped into El Bosque.  The first pictures include a large vacant lot which was recently cleaned.  The tall grass was also cut preparing the lot for the arrival of the large mechanical Cats.  The second set of pictures depicts large amounts of gravel and dirt which is being used to refill the area before the construction project starts.  The difference between both areas is impressive—and sad I might add.  Here we go.

Snapshot of a large vacant lot in front of El Bosque. It will soon be populated by buildings of some kind. I will miss this place when it’s gone.  Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Another angle of the vacant lot at the entrance of El Bosque. Notice the presence of small trees in the background. I hope they will be pardoned when the construction begins. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of an enticing piece of land in front of the neighborhood where I live in Panama City, Panama. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of an adjacent lot to the one previously shown. As you can see, it’s being refilled to raise the level of the ground to protect it against floods. It’s very different from the previous snapshots. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of a piece of land being prepared for a building project in the neighborhood of El Bosque in Panama City, Panama. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
As you can see, the big Cats have done their job. Most of the grass is gone and only a barren site is visible. Soon there will buildings here. Soon all this green in the background will disappear.  Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
The buildings towards your right are the houses of El Bosque. The structure at the top towards your right, is our church. The organic wall that mitigated the stress of the city is being wiped out by the big Cats. I will miss this loss of green. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
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2 thoughts on “The Creeping City”

  1. I can certainly identify with this post, Omar. The little town were I grew up on Cape Cod only had a small area in which to grow since we were bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Cape Cod Bay, so land area was limited. But places I used to go hunting rabbits when I was a kid are all covered with cottages and condos now.

    What you were talking about with the creeping city I saw big time in southeast Florida. When my ex wife and I moved to Fort Lauderdale late in 1968 the tallest building in the downtown area was only four stories tall. Now you can see the skyline 15 miles away, if not more, since southeast Florida is as flat as a table top.

    Back even into the early ’70s the population of Broward County, where Fort Lauderdale is, was confined to a small corridor right along the ocean. The western boundary was U.S. route 441. On the east side of the road were a few homes and on the other side of the road it was cows. Not many people realize that for many years Florida, not Texas, was the biggest beef producing state in the country. 441, also known as State Road 7 is a mere six miles from downtown Fort Lauderdale but in the late sixties and early seventies if you were going to 441 people used to say, “What are you going WAAAAAAaaaaayy out there for?” Now 441 is practically downtown. The western part of Broward County is now the town of Westin hard up on the edge of the Everglades just a touch over 20 miles from downtown Fort Lauderdale. While developers would love to expand to the west the Everglades National Park, alligators and swamp prevent it.

    I see development filling in the area between downtown Panama City and Tocumen airport which, I’m sure you remember as being WAAAAAAaaaaayy out there at one time.

  2. Hi Richard:

    I’m surely not against progress, but I hate to see our green areas disappear and being replaced with cement, glass and steel. My post covered a period of only thirty years. I can only imagine what will happen to our vacant lots twenty years from now, as the city rapidly expands outwards and greedy developers dig in to make a fast kill.

    Thank you for your side of the story in the United States. I guess it happens in many other countries as well.

    Hope all is well up in the cool area of Potrerillos.

    Omar.-

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