"No Place Like Home:" Revitalization in the Neighborhood of San Felipe de Neri in the Historic District of Panama [City], Panama
Adames, María De Los Angeles
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San Felipe de Neri, a neighborhood located in the Historic District of Panama, is the object of physical, economic and social transformations that are affecting its residents' daily lives. Revitalization and gentrification drive these transformations as wealthy Panamanians invest in the neighborhood, and affluent foreigners flock to it since it became a World Heritage Site in 1997. This dissertation addresses perceptions and reactions residents have because of these physical, economic and social challenges. This study poses four main questions: 1. What physical, economic, and social (quality of life) changes have taken place in the Historic District of San Felipe from the early twentieth century to the present? To what extent are these changes the result of global processes, local processes, or both? 2. How do residents perceive these changes? Is there any significant difference in opinions and attitudes among residents regarding changes that revitalization and gentrification impose on the neighborhood? If so, how and why are they different? 3. To what extent have residents participated in these transformations? and 4. How do residents who have been relocated perceive these changes? My research analyzes Smith's five characteristics of a third wave of gentrification: first, the transformed role of the state; second, the penetration by global finance; third, changing levels of political opposition; fourth, geographical dispersal; and fifth, the sectoral generalization of gentrification and its relevance for my case study of San Felipe. This methodology enlists quantitative and qualitative methods to address these research questions to gain insight about residents' perspectives regarding these transformations. Findings indicate that both residents and ex-residents of San Felipe view the outcomes of revitalization and gentrification in mixed ways. Both groups mostly agree that the improvement of the physical conditions of the neighborhood is a positive outcome for preserving the material heritage, and for encouraging international and national tourism benefiting the country. Regardless of their economic and social status, residents claim that the place where they have lived for a long time is no longer theirs, except in their memories. They face the threat of eviction and an uncertain future. Former residents—those who have been displaced—have mixed views as well. On the one hand, they have improved their living standards because they now have better housing infrastructures. On the other hand, their new locations are scattered about the city and are often in dangerous areas that lack the amenities of San Felipe. Others feel that in the process they have lost a home; a place filled with meaningful memories and to which one day they dream of returning. A diverse residential population is the only way to save historic centers from becoming museums that present a pastiche and a 'façadism' catered to the international consumer. Preserving the human and physical patrimony is the most viable way to achieve sustainability and development in historic areas. Associations had no permanent places to meet with residents. This eroded the desire of residents to participate, and encouraged them to accept whatever owners wanted to give them to move out of the neighborhood. In the end, they became disenfranchised. A lack of both leadership and strong social movements, and the dissemblance of grass-root organizations through co-optation, clientelism, and even deception became the norm in the neighborhood.
- Doctoral Dissertations