What is happening to Jakarta’s Old Town?

Also in The Jakarta Globe

Yesterday I toured Hwaseong Haenggung, a sojourn palace in Suwon, South Korea, originally built in 1789-1796. Most facilities were demolished under Japanese imperialism in 1910-1945. Reconstruction started in 1996, by first demolishing new buildings that had been built over time on the site. The complex was opened to public in 2003. The only restored original building in it is the tiny Naknamheon annex at the northern  corner of the western part of it. It is now a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

Timely I was recently asked by a TV station: What is happening to Jakarta’s old town, the Oude Batavia?

Well, it has several original buildings of 17th, 18th, 19th , and the first half of the 20th centuries all together in its original gridiron pattern. Each represents a unique architecture and splendor of its epoch.  The gridiron pattern represents renaissance rationality that later influenced the expansion of medieval Amsterdam with the three canals. The streets were of course originally canals.

But It is not a Word Heritage Site. Almost all experts have said to me that it could easily qualify as a World Heritage Site. But some one needs to propose it to UNESCO, and a restoration program must be implemented.  Talks about this have been around for decades. So, what are we waiting for? What went wrong?

There have been a dozen or so physical plans. At a time, there were even two plans by two different consultants assigned by two different departments of the city. What is lacking in my opinion is a business plan, that should consists of the city’s commitments on infrastructure and incentives it wants to give to investors who would like to restore the old buildings and retrofit them with contemporary uses. Private investors, builidng owners, also need to be able to make their individual business plans. For that, they need some clarity about the risks they are taking. They need to know the mix of uses that will be introduced into the area: how many restaurants, hotel rooms, dwelling units, souvenir shops, etc?  They also need to be convinced that once they decide to invest based on the announced plan, it will not change arbitrarily without their consent.  And they need to be sure that the government’s commitments on infrastructure and other investments will be realised within committed schedule. To that purpose, the government needs to coordinate a clear legal framework and a unified authority (the old town falls into two municipalities of North Jakarta and West Jakarta). A solid management team is required and should be led by a highly competent CEO with business background and unshaken conviction about the value in restoring this heritage. Income need to be carefully projeced to justify the investments.

Whatever the government has done or going to do, I think, need to be evaluated against those premises. We need to make up our minds to produce one plan and one management with the highest efficiency and effectivity. Unfortunately, this is what seems to be lacking compared to the Koreans or others that have advanced ahead of us. We are slow in coordination and in making right, effective decisions. We are having what economists call “resource curse”. Korea imports 96 % of their energy. Gas costs 1.5 USD per liter. They have to be efficient with every energy unit they use. Perhaps we need that kind of pressure to succeed?

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One Response to What is happening to Jakarta’s Old Town?

  1. Emile Leushuis says:

    The lack of progress in any structural renovation of the Kota-area just shows the lack of commitment of the local government. Heritage buildings are litteraly falling apart. The government claims that it is working to rescue the area but suprisingly it is that same government that owns a large part of the buildings that are crumbling away. If heritage buildings are left empty and not given new functions in the near future, any investment in infrastructure in the area is a waist of (taxpayers) money. I just wonder why it is not possible at short notice to open up some buildings (eg. Toko Merah) and start for example a Kota-history museum, with only old and new photographs of the area. It would be cheap to realize, visually very interesting and I am sure that the 2 institutes in the Netherlands with a large collection of historical pictures from Indonesia (KIT and KITLV) would love to work togehter on an initiative like this. Many more similar creative initiatives would be easy to implement. Small-scale improvements in pedestrian infrastructure, like building a pedestrian bridge from the Pantura monument (north of VOC Galungan) to Menara Syahbandar and another walk-way from Pasar Ikan to Sunda Kelapa would also greatly open up the area for visitors. Commitment, creativity and cooperation, that’s what is needed! And the government should lead the way, as rules and regulations for the private sector are too uncertain, as has been mentioned before. Once the government shows its commitment, the private sector will see business opportunities.

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