(Cartagena, Colombia) It’s rare that you get a chance to look into the future. At least, a future that’s not comprised of alien-fighting space demons or one set on the premise that everyone has a cell phone built into their finger. For me a visit to Cartagena, Colombia was, in essence, a fast-forward to life in Casco Viejo: a window into what Panama’s gem just may look like some years of progress down the road.
It’s a touchy thing, comparing Casco Viejo to other places around the world, as so many of its residents and investors believe passionately that Casco has it’s own unique identity. It’s also a touchy subject to propose the vision of a “finished” or “complete” Casco Viejo seeing as though a major part of this neighborhood’s charm is its anti-completion or its continual evolution and change. That being said, if there’s any destination I’ve been in the world that represents the kind of image Casco Viejo is striving to portray, Cartagena, Colombia would be it.
1. Not everything is perfect: Cartagena, Colombia’s streets are a mish mash of old and new, of shiny and rough, of fancy and rustic. Not all buildings are newly renovated (in fact most have an old worn-in look to them) and the various imperfections we love so much in Casco Viejo are omnipresent. I saw a man peeing in a bucket on a main street corner of Cartagena, and felt oddly at home (is there something wrong with me?)
2. Locals live there: While it’s the most popular tourist destination in Colombia, Cartagena is not all tourists, in fact I didn’t see that many when I was there (the high season). The historic district is comprised mostly of local Colombians (both middle and high class – the poor have yes been pushed out to the suburbs) who eat, drink, and work in the neighborhood. After all, why invest in or move to another country if not to get the local flavor?
3. Historic real estate is timeless: The prices for real estate in Cartagena, Colombia have risen steadily (and justifiably) for years, defying most typical real estate trends simply because it’s a limited edition product. Today, prices for real estate in Cartagena are around double what they are in Casco Viejo – so those arguing Casco is too expensive should compare and contrast.
4. Preservation laws have been upheld: There are very few examples of glaring preservation errors in Cartagena, Colombia, which is a model for Casco Viejo. At only its beginning stages of progress, Casco Viejo has dealt with a number of infractions to historic preservation. Cartagena’s preservation has added infinitely to its value and identity.
5. It’s safe: Many people hear Cartagena, Colombia and they think danger, drugs, and gangs. Well, it’s actually quite the opposite and Cartagena itself is one of the safest places I’ve visited in Central or South America. It’s hard to point out why or how Cartagena has stayed so safe, but it’s a goal for Casco Viejo to follow in those footsteps.
When visiting Cartagena, the amount of ideas that ran through my head with regards to Casco Viejo were staggering. It offers the chance, like a younger brother looking up to an older more successful one, for Casco Viejo to see what a working old-world neighborhood looks like. Which rules to follow, which trends to break, and how to preserve the things that are special without sanitizing everything in sight.