Sat, 04 Jan 2003

The 'new' Monas park

National Monument (Monas) park has been given a face-lift. Since the new four-kilometer fence was completed to surround it last month, all vehicles are prohibited from entering the park. Street vendors, who had been operating within the park for years, have voiced great disappointment at being prohibited from working inside the enclosed area.

As many as 1,500 birds have now been released inside the park in the hope that the area can become their new habitat. But soon afterwards, locals reportedly caught some of them and sold them to visitors and passersby. Also, many of the birds reportedly died not long after their release. Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso is also planning to have deer in the park, which is open to the public free of charge.

The recent beautification project and the ambitious plan of Sutiyoso are just a small part of a grand concept estimated to cost Rp 765 billion -- a fantastic amount of money given the currently difficult situation, with the administration and residents alike facing a plethora of problems, including unemployment, security concerns, flooding, traffic congestion and difficulties concerning garbage management.

Sutiyoso's plan is justified under a zoning/spatial plan backed by Presidential Instruction (Keppres) No. 25/1995. President Soeharto was still in power in 1995, and it is not clear if the zoning plan has been reviewed since then. In any event, the plan includes the construction of an underground parking lot at the site.

It seems that Sutiyoso is not a man who gives up easily. In the case of Monas, he seems determined to fulfill his ambition to make Monas park as beautiful and splendid as possible, despite strong criticism from various quarters in society and the media.

An architect has slammed the fencing-in of Monas park as blatant proof of the city administration's inability to properly manage open spaces for the public.

Ignoring criticism, Sutiyoso may revel in his "success" as, indeed, there are people who appreciate the cleaner and quieter park, minus street vendors. Children can no longer be seen bathing and playing in the pond and the stench of rotting garbage, left by vendors and visitors, is now absent.

Morning joggers can now enjoy the park compound as a real running track, without vendors or their scattered paraphernalia. Some 3,000 street vendors occupied spots in the park's vicinity every day before Sutiyoso had erected the fence surrounding it. To date the administration is allowing only around 650 vendors to operate outside the park. The administration has made available a 3,500-square-meter plot close to the park where selected vendors are allowed to operate for free.

After having defied public criticism in carrying out the Monas project, Sutiyoso must now prove that his stubbornness will be fruitful in the sense that he must be able to make the park a safe, green, shaded and secure place for residents to hang out. Given that we have to accept what the city administration has done and will do in the Monas park compound, the city parks agency cannot leave even a small space barren and without greenery. More trees are probably needed to make the park greener.

Preventing vendors from entering the park compound and prohibiting people from littering, plus keeping order, may be the easy part for the administration. Upholding the regulations and maintaining consistency is another question. Monas park is cleaner and more orderly at present. But now is not yet the time for Sutiyoso and the administration to boast about their achievement.

Can the administration be consistent in maintaining law and order in the park? The administration must deploy an adequate number of qualified security guards, who will be on alert 24 hours a day to keep the park free from intruders, including street vendors and criminals. A recent criminal act could be cited as an example of poor security in the park. A visitor cried out for help when four unidentified people stole her handbag. No one heard her screams and the criminals made good their escape with the handbag. This is proof that security in the park has yet to become top priority.

In the past, most of the park compound was dark enough for prostitutes to roam about at night in search of clients. Now that the beautification project has commenced it is imperative that the security and safety of visitors is guaranteed. The park compound apparently needs more illumination at night.

Let's wait and see if the administration can uphold the regulations and maintain consistency. We also hope that the public will participate to make Monas park a clean, green and secure place for all Jakarta's residents and their families.