Panama City, a city of 1.4 million citizens that sits at the Pacific mouth of the Panama Canal, has joined the BreatheLife campaign.
The political and administrative centre of Panama and a hub for banking and commerce, the city is responsible for about 55 per cent of the country’s GDP.
While Panama City possesses traits that have kept its air quality largely healthy — a geography that favours dispersion of air pollutants, a lack of large industries, and weather that seldom requires indoor heating systems— it is particularly conscious of a rising threat to this record: traffic.
Vehicle ownership is high in this prosperous capital, and this growth is soaring, with automobiles contributing 90 per cent of the city’s air pollution.
In fact, in an attempt to curb frequent traffic jams, the city brought forward the inauguration of the Panama Metro line in 2014 — the first in Central America — ferrying 200,000 people a day that year alone. A second line is due for launch in 2019 along with plans for the construction of a third.
But, while emissions from road transport may be Panama City’s biggest concern when it comes to air quality, the city government is taking a broader approach to urban growth and sustainable mobility.
“Panama is going through a process of decentralization, giving the Municipality of Panama the responsibility for the territorial organization of the City and the chance to think about the City in an integral and long-term manner,” said Mayor of the District of Panama, José Isabel Blandón.
“It is time to think less about the construction of infrastructure and more about the construction of citizenship,” he said.
Accordingly, the Municipal Action Plan that guides the city’s ongoing development anticipates other factors that could decrease air quality: the lack of institutional capacity to enforce existing air quality standards, lack of maintenance of the current vehicle fleet, and changes in dispersion conditions that fast, unplanned growth could cause.
“It is evident that urban planning is the integrating tool that will allow addressing the problems of the City with a holistic vision,” said Mayor Blandón.
That vision intrinsically favours measures that support good air quality, such as giving pedestrians and bicycles priority in land-use decisions, reducing solid waste, and changing energy use patterns, including energy consumption, demand limitations and energy efficiency of public lighting.
The city’s Zero Waste program aims to reduce waste disposal through the implementation of awareness programs and regulations, improving infrastructure, and the market economy. It is expected that Panama City inhabitants be responsible for and separate their waste “at source” for reuse or recycling, to minimize the final disposal, thus reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in landfills.
A new Green Building Code makes mandatory the installation of efficient energy systems in new buildings or those undergoing comprehensive renovation in Panama City— a significant step in a city undergoing a major real estate and infrastructure boom.
The BreatheLife campaign welcomes Panama City at an important point in its journey, as it accepts the opportunity to change the rules and chart its own path to sustainable urban growth.
Follow Panama City’s clean air journey here.