Sat, 21 Jun 2003

Reclaim Jakarta's nature

Marco Kusumawijaya, Architect, Jakarta

We should really push ahead with the reclamation of Jakarta's coastal area. I mean "we" the public, not the four big developers that will help the governor sue the environment minister for his decree that deemed the reclamation project environmentally unsound.

None of the developers is any model of good corporate governance. Remember "Ancol Gate"? Remember floods? And I don't mean reclamation in the sense of dumping soil from other provinces in the sea north of Jakarta to create 2700 hectares of land stretching two kilometers further out to sea.

We should reclaim the existing coast in the real social and cultural sense. We've got to have a real public life there on the beach!

After all, Jakarta has more than 30 kilometers of coastline, but none is publicly accessible for free enjoyable time. And how often do we see the sea during our normal working days? Don't tell me I am asking too much. Just go to Makassar, where in one normal working day the average citizen could very probably see the sea twice. He or she can read the morning newspaper at the beach before work, and after work have a sumptuous meal at the same spot while enjoying the sunset. No entry fee. Likewise in Manado and Baubau in North and Southeast Sulawesi respectively.

There's no need to mention cities abroad that have been too often visited by many officials on their "study tours" without even considering those nearer to home and making use of the cheaper cyber tour through the Internet.

On its birthday, it is quite timely to think again of Jakarta as a coastal city, because that is what it has always been for more than 800 years. Yes, it is older than 576 years, the official reckoning, based on the year 1527 when the Islamic prince Fatahillah took over the capital. Settlements already existed in the 12th century in the coastal areas of the present Sunda Kelapa area.

Many other cities estimate their birthdays from the time they were first settled in the Hindu or Buddhist period. The age of Palembang in southern Sumatra is officially estimated at 682, while Surabaya is said to be have been born in 1250.

Jakarta as we know it now really started only in stones when Jan P. Coen built the present Jakarta Kota in 1619. Coen's was the first intervention that really left a physical pattern that still lives until now and determines the future forms of Jakarta. He was Dutch, of course, and therefore not an acceptable figure as a founding father of the city.

So the developers are not totally wrong to think of a beautiful coastal line as the gateway of Jakarta. This dream was conjured up by Sukarno already as early as the 1960's, albeit with a sense of reclamation closer to mine than to theirs.

We need to feel the presence of nature, the cosmos, and wilderness in this unassuming tropical metropolis. So we could also encourage more presence of animals. We could bring the monkeys from the mangrove swamp in Kapuk up to the National Monument to play with the deer. (Do they get along well?). At least the monkeys, who have been living there for centuries, are more familiar to the heat of the city, unlike the distressed deer. They might even cheer the deer up!

This will help save the monkeys, who are the real native Jakartans if any, from extinction, as the mangroves are being slowly damaged or "reclaimed" by both the surrounding developers and fishermen.

As to the 13 streams that pass through Jakarta, we can clear the banks of the slums and plant trees that attract birds. The streams will lead our imagination to their sources, which are the mountains up south. But we might not be able to bring the mountains back to our sight in Jakarta, because the pollution is too thick for our vision to pierce through, since the cars in Jakarta will still produce 70 percent to 80 percent of all polluting gases for the next 10 years or so.

That would be to my advantage because the pictures that I took on last Feb. 18 from the JSE Tower 2, will be the last ones ever showing the mountains in the south clearly. Even now, of all the people whom I have shown the pictures, no one believes they are real. They think they are computer generated collages.

And the trees along the river banks might not have time to grow strong before they are flushed by the next flood, as the invisible mountains will soon be brown instead of green, sending more and more water as run-off downstream to Jakarta.

Or worse, the river banks will be reoccupied by the urban poor after they return from Lebaran holiday, because there is no security of land tenure, nor a realistic social housing program.

So won't greening the metropolis solve our problem? At least you can never hate more trees.